The good news is that seniors Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathon Mincy are back to lead the group and have plenty of experience to build on. Fourth on the team in tackles with 65 last season, Whitehead drew praise from the coaching staff for his knowledge of the defense and play in 2013.
Coming on strong with perhaps his best game of the season against Florida State, Mincy returns as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC after totaling 56 tackles and adding an interception as a junior.
With a lack of depth being one of the concerns in spring practice because of the seniors being gone and Holsey's expected non-contact status, the Tigers welcome the addition of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief to the mix at safety this spring. A physical player expected to get his first look at the boundary safety spot, Coach Gus Malzahn said he's one of the guys that could get moved around this spring in an effort to get the best players on the field.
"Coach is going to mix and match some during the spring, with Moncrief and a couple of those other guys," Malzahn said. "With the safety positions, we're going to mix and match a little bit. We'll see where we're at, and probably by the middle of the spring we'll have a better idea moving forward."
Jermaine Whitehead is a returning starter.
Another player who will have a chance to make an impact at safety this spring is former running back signee Johnathan Ford. Starting out last season in the backfield, Ford made the move to cornerback early in the year. Seeing time at both last fall, Ford will now be strictly on defense at safety and Malzahn said it's the right fit for him.
"First of all, we felt like he's capable of being a very good player for us, and just felt like there was more of a need at that position right now," Malzahn said. "He's got a great attitude and really looking forward to seeing how he does."
Johnathan Ford will be a sophomore this fall.
Another player who will line up at safety this spring is sophomore Khari Harding. Playing mostly special teams last season as a true freshman, Harding is a physical player that could make a move this spring with more knowledge of the defense.
Another player making a position move that will get a chance to make some noise in the secondary this spring is longtime wide receiver Trovon Reed. A player many thought would get a shot to play cornerback coming out of high school in Louisiana, Reed caught just nine passes for 98 yards last season. With plenty of depth at wide receiver and a lack of bodies at cornerback, he will get his shot at the position this spring.
Working alongside Mincy, Jonathan Jones, Kamryn Melton and T.J. Davis, Reed should get plenty of reps this spring as he tries to get into the mix at the position before the arrival of a large group of newcomers.