Versatile Holsey A Key For Tigers In 2014

Josh Holsey's return is big for Auburn's defense headed into the 2014 season

Auburn, Ala.--One of the most important players on Auburn’s defense in 2014 may be junior defensive back Josh Holsey. A starter at safety last season until a knee injury just before the Texas A&M game ended his year, Holsey is back and better than ever this preseason and appears headed for a key role in Ellis Johnson’s defense this fall.

“He’ll know both the corner and the safety,”Gus Malzahn said of Holsey. “We’re just trying to think through the year. Last year, if you remember, we had a lot of injuries on the backend. He didn’t go through spring but he got a chance to watch. So we had him out there at corner today, but he does understand the boundary safety very well.”

Last season proved to be the perfect example of why depth and versatile players are both needed in the secondary in today’s college football. When Holsey went down last season Ryan Smith moved into the starting role at safety for the Tigers but it was Ryan White that proved to be the key when he switched from cornerback to safety. White was versatile enough to play both roles, giving the Tigers a player at two positions. That’s what Holsey brings to the table this season, something Jermaine Whitehead compares more favorably to a former LSU standout now in the NFL.

“Josh is going to be our X-factor this year in the secondary,” Whitehead said. “He's going to make some plays at corner. He's going to make some plays at safety. He's going to make some plays at dime. He's going to be all over the field. I can't wait to watch. He's going to play a lot like Tyrann (Mathieu) did for LSU. I think he's going to be everywhere and make a lot of plays and market himself for our team.”

What has allowed Holsey to make a move back to cornerback has been the emergence of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief at safety. Playing alongside Whitehead in the spring when Holsey could only watch, Moncrief made huge strides in just 15 practice days and that has continued into preseason practice.

“He just knows what's going on,” Whitehead said of his new running mate at safety. “He's just so confident. He trusts the system (and he's picked things up) a lot faster than what I expected him to. He came in with a player's mentality that he wanted to learn and he wanted to have more knowledge about the game. Him coming from JUCO, he had a more physical background than a high school student, so he definitely has been picking his game up more and more.

Moncrief working on his ball skills in the opening practice

“He's been listening to me and coaches about the things on the film," Whitehead added. "We've been watching film from last year and I was telling him how it felt to be in some of those situations and how you can't let a guy cross your face, how you've got to be patient, stuff like that. That's stuff you really don't get just going through the motions. He's going to (understand) that as the season goes on.”

Even though he’s only started a handful of games for the Tigers his first two seasons, Holsey is a player that commands respect from his teammates for his work ethic and the way he carries himself on and off the field. That should make him a leader and key cog for Auburn this season and linebacker Kris Frost said everyone is glad to have No. 15 back on the field once again.

“I’m glad to see him back, how ambitious he is and how much he wants to succeed on the field,” Frost added. “It’s really, really important that he comes back and just meshes together with everything even with him going to corner. He’s a smart player so it doesn’t take him long to adjust to different things and different situations, even being at a different position. We welcomed him with open arms and it’s exciting to be able to play with him again.”

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