Secondary Depth A Concern For AU In Opener

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson talks about the lack of depth in the secondary as the Tigers prepare to face pass-happy Washington State.

Auburn, Ala.--While the defensive line will get quite a workout on Saturday night when the Auburn Tigers face off against Washington State and its pass first offense, the group that will be challenged more than any other will be a secondary already short on depth heading into the 2013 season.

With just one interception as a group in 2012, that coming from walk-on safety Trent Fisher, Auburn's secondary will have its hands full against Mike Leach and his air raid offense.

One of the positives for Coach Ellis Johnson and company is that while there is not a lot of depth to go around, the players on the field as starters were all recruited as cornerbacks by the Tigers. Starting cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy along with safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey all came to Auburn as cover guys as did "star" Robenson Therezie.

Johnson said after practice on Sunday night that could be big for his team, but it will take more than coverage from that group to get it done.

"You have to have cover ability, even your linebackers have to have some," the defensive coordinator said. "That should be an advantage to us.

"My only concern about our perimeter people is that we're not very deep right now due to injuries and other issues," Johnson noted. "We're not very deep. You get one dinged up or one has to come out the game, you cannot have a huge drop-off to that next guy against a team like this. They're going to keep throwing it and keep pressuring you."

The depth is challenged because of an injury to Jonathan Jones at cornerback and the loss of Demetruce McNeal as a safety. Without McNeal, who was dismissed from the team, the Tigers were forced to leave Holsey at safety and move running back Johnathan Ford to play cornerback.

With senior Ryan White a solid third on the depth chart, Johnson said the goal now is to find the fourth guy at the position.

"Kamryn has had a full camp, and Johnathan has just been over a few days," Johnson noted. "Johnathan's (Ford) still learning. He's not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch. You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally.

"Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally," Johnson said. "If we clean that up, I think he physically is really going to be a good player there, but right now it would really be kind of a three-way deal there too. It would be Mincy and Chris Davis and Ryan White, kind of a three-way there until we knew we had to put one of the young guys out there."

Safety Jermaine Whitehead had a solid sophomore campaign for the Tigers.

The situation at safety is much of the same as Whitehead and Holsey are the clear starters with Ryan Smith the top backup at the position. When Holsey needs a breather, Johnson said Smith would enter as the field safety with Whitehead moving to the boundary side. As for the fourth guy Johnson noted that former quarterback Kiehl Frazier has continued to look good and, while he's not ready for full-time work just yet, it won't be long at this rate until he's on the field.

"Right now it's pretty much a three-man rotation, I think," Johnson said. "You've got Holsey, Ryan Smith and Whitehead. So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go."

Kickoff for Saturday's season opener is scheduled for 6 p.m. and it will be televised by ESPNU.

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