Two Tigers Out For Season Opener

Ellis Johnson's Auburn defense will open the season with two key players sidelined as the Tigers continue position moves to shore up depth.

Auburn, Ala.--One defensive starter and one defensive backup won't be available for Auburn's season opener vs. Washington State.

That was the word after Monday evening's practice as the Tigers worked on their game plan for their August 31st season opener.

Dee Ford, a preseason second team All-SEC end, suffered a knee sprain in a scrimmage and has been trying to get it well enough to play vs. Washington State. However, Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson said that Ford, Auburn's top pass rusher, won't be available for that game.

"I don't know how long Dee is out, but he is certainly out for an extended time," Johnson said.

Sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones, a second stringer, has surgery to repair a broken bone in his ankle and is out indefinitely.

"Jonathan Jones had an accident off the field," Johnson noted. "That was a heartbreaker because he was doing such a good job and was going to see a lot of playing time. That was a critical loss to us...He turned that thing on some wet steps, I think it was, and it snapped. It broke a bone.

Jonathan Jones

With Jones unavailable freshman running back Johnathan Ford volunteered to move to defense and is learning to play cornerback. Ford has been one of the standouts of preseason with his play at tailback.

Another possibility at cornerback, sophomore Josh Holsey, will stay at the boundary safety spot where he moved to from corner late in spring training when safety Demetruce McNeal missed practice time. On Saturday the Tigers dismissed McNeal from the squad for violation of team rules.

Ford is the second player out of the offensive backfield to move to the secondary this preseason. Previously quarterback Kiehl Frazier made the switch to safety and is trying to work his way into the play rotation. Johnson said on Monday night that it is too early to know how much Frazier will be able to contribute at that position this season.

The defensive coordinator noted that the injuries will impact the team. "It is what it is and it is real," he said. "It is something that is going to affect our ability of how well we play, but that is football. Somebody has to step up. Somebody else is going to get a chance and they are going have to answer the bell."

Johnson also noted the Tigers have had other players miss practice recently such as defensive ends Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter, but noted both of those seniors are back on the field. Because of the injuries, the defensive coordinator said his group hit a lull, but looks to be back in improvement mode.

Nosa Eguae is shown at Monday's practice.

"We stalled out and hit neutral about a week ago with so many players injured who were in the playing picture," he said.

"It hurts your progress in preseason camp when people are missing," added Johnson, who said he has seen recent progress. "Practice has been pretty good the last three days."

"There are two things you can't control in football as a coach," Johnson said. "One of them is football and one of them is the weather. Thank goodness we have got an unbelievable indoor facility and we have not missed a beat from a standpoint of practicing, but frankly we need to be out in the heat a little more and we haven't been able to with all of the rain and the poor field conditions."

On the plus side health-wise, Johnson said that rover Justin Garrett, who was injured in the same scrimmage as Ford, should be back in action soon. "He does not have a real serious injury. He has a foot sprain and we are going to err on the side of caution. We are going to get him a full week of practice. He could have come back a day or two ago, but it is still a little tender."

Johnson said he has been pleased with how LaDarius Owens has played during his return to defensive end from linebacker and noted that a pair of freshman defensive ends, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson, are making progress.

Asked if it has been tough coaching around the injuries, Johnson said, "It hasn't been hard. What all these injuries did, it gave young players the opportunities to compete so they got better.

"As far as the best pass rusher, we're always trying to find that group that we feel like can come on the field in an obvious passing down--who are the best four--and that's given Rodney (Garner) a chance to see what they can do. Carl and Elijah and Owens have all shown some bright spots and I think by the time we play we'll have a group, a special pass rush group, to come on the field with our long yardage package.

"The DB thing has been a little bit more concerning," Johnson said. "We were busting so many assignments back there when the older kids were banged up it was hard to tell whether we were making any progress, but then again the opportunity to have practice and reps and make those mistakes, that's how they learn.

"Every program in the country is in a similar situation, the coordinator added. "I'm sure everybody's got people out of the lineup, a lot of times at South Carolina we said guys were hurt and we didn't want them to practice because we wanted to get them to game field."

The Tigers were able to go outside for a two-hour workout in full pads on Monday and will work out again on Tuesday before having Wednesday off as fall semester classes begin.

Johnson said the scout team has been doing a good job of giving the defense looks at Washington State's defensive schemes.

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