Defensive Depth Still A Concern For Tigers

Auburn continued prep for Florida Atlantic with the focus on third downs and the red zone on Wednesday.

Auburn, Ala.--The focus for the No. 11 ranked Auburn Tigers this week has been to put the win over Texas A&M behind them and improve as a team heading into Saturday night's game against Florida Atlantic. Not pleased with Tuesday night's practice, Malzahn said Wednesday night's two-hour session in shells saw his team focused and he was pleased with the effort.

"We had a solid practice tonight," Malzahn said. "Focused on third downs and red zone again. Guys responded better today. Tuesday, really overall, I told them I didn't think we were locked in enough. They guys responded, came back and had a solid practice. That was encouraging to see."

One of the keys for Auburn this week in practice will be to continue to try to develop depth in the defensive backfield with the loss of Josh Holsey last week in practice to an ACL injury. Thrust into the playing rotation against Texas A&M last Saturday at safety, senior cornerback Ryan White has enjoyed a few days to get in some work at his new home and coach Gus Malzahn said he's responded well.

"I think any time you get practice reps, it's going to be different," Malzahn said of White. "He never had any practice reps and played a big game at safety and did some good things. I think he'll get more comfortable as he goes and he'll get more comfortable each game."

That White was able to come in and give the Tigers immediate help didn't come as a surprise to longtime teammate Ryan Smith. A player who has also seen a resurrection of his career, Smith said that getting the next guy to step up has been the theme for this team and the coaches have them prepared to do just that.

"That was a big key," Smith said of White's play. "With Josh going down unexpectedly he had to make a change and move to safety without even having a day of practice. The defensive backs know the defense like the back of our hands. We just needed him to go out and play ball and he did a good job of that."

White is one of several guys getting some important work in this week as the Tigers prepare to face Florida Atlantic at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday night at 6:30. Practicing for two hours on Wednesday night, Malzahn said the focus continues to be on improving all areas of the game and getting young players such as Jonathan Jones and Johnathan Ford more work at cornerback to get them ready to play.

"Johnathan Ford, the great thing is he's gotten a lot of practice reps all season," Malzan said. "You can tell he's getting more comfortable. Jonathan Jones is a veteran guy anyway. He's been banged up, but each practice you can tell he's getting it back."

Because of the injuries in the secondary it has forced players such as Smith to take on different roles for the team. Whether it's playing the traditional safety spot or moving into the box to act as the nickel and dime backs, the senior said he is prepared to do whatever it takes to help the team win.

"I like moving around and playing different positions anyway," Smith said. "As a secondary we have three or four guys who can play safety and dime so if we're on that side of the field or that side of the formation then we might just stay and line up how it comes."

With so much movement going on in the secondary, Smith said it's good to see Jones back healthy as well as Mackenro Alexander, who suffered a neck sprain in the Texas A&M victory. Losing true freshman Kamryn Melton to an injury during the Western Carolina, Auburn's defensive backs will need to continue to be iron men at least for this weekend.

"It's tough, but it's what you train for in the summer," Smith said. "When it's a time like that or a big game like that, you don't even think about coming out of the game. You don't think about being tired or needing a rest or want somebody to come in because you live for that moment. That's the spotlight you want to be in."

News and Notes

*Red zone defense has been one of the most improved areas of the team this season and the stats back that up. Auburn is second in the SEC through seven games, allowing opponents to score 17 of 24 times (70.8 percent). Teams have scored 11 touchdowns and six field goals in the red zone this year. The Tigers are currently 13th in the country in that department. The best Auburn finish in the past five seasons was 72nd in 2010.

*With the numbers in the red zone it's no surprise that Auburn's defensive numbers are down in terms of points allowed. Giving up 22 points per game (154 points total) through seven games is the fewest for an Auburn team since 2008.

*Plenty has been made of Auburn's streak of winning games when scoring 30 or more points (82 consecutive victories), but also impressive is the record for the Tigers when scoring 20 or more points. Since the 2001 season the Tigers are 107-15 when topping the 20-point mark. Going back to 1993, Auburn is 145-22-1 (.870) when scoring at least 20 points.

*Auburn's game vs. Florida Atlantic can be seen on Fox Sports Net this weekend. Bob Rathbun will be handling the play-by-play duties with former Kentucky QB Tim Couch doing the color. Elizabeth Morneau will handle the sideline duties.

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