Building Secondary Depth The Focus For Tigers

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson talks about depth in the secondary and moving players around as the Tigers close in on their season opener.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the biggest question marks for the Auburn Tigers the last few seasons has been concerning depth in the secondary. Signing a large group of players for the 2014 recruiting class, Coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson have been looking for several players to step up at both cornerback and safety.

So far the questions still remain for the Tigers despite impressive early looks from Markell Boston and Stephen Roberts at safety. With both trying to get back to full speed at the moment, Boston with a sprained ankle and Roberts with a hip pointer, it has made it a three-man race at safety with converted running back Johnathan Ford making a big jump early in the preseason to move ahead of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief, who has been bothered by dehydration and a virus.

With Jermaine Whitehead solidly entrenched at the field safety, Johnson said it’s just a matter of building depth at the moment.

“Well, no question, Whitehead is the best at free safety, and right now, Rudy has pushed ahead at boundary safety,” Johnson said. “Moncrief is right behind him. I would say if something happened to one of those first two, Rudy would move to the field safety and Moncrief would step up. He (Rudy) could play either. Whitehead could, too, but we like him at free.

"Moncrief has settled at boundary only. Those are the guys right now who are way ahead of the others, but we have been really pleased with Boston, then he got hurt," Johnson said. "We've been really pleased with Roberts, and then he got hurt. For young freshmen that's a hard thing because when they miss two or three practices and you're in the middle of installing things, and they miss it, it can be really hard for them to catch up, but I've got confidence that Roberts will get back in the swing, he will get right back in the mix when he gets healthy.”

Trovon Reed and Jonathan Jones are two of the corners in the mix for the Tigers

While there are questions about the top two guys at safety, that’s not a problem at cornerback Johnson said. With senior Jonathon Mincy the unquestioned leader of the group and capable of playing both spots, the veteran defensive coordinator said Jonathan Jones has emerged as his second-best guy at the moment and that means moving Mincy once again to get his top two on the field.

Also making a move is former wide receiver Trovon Reed. Learning the boundary corner position to start with, Reed is flipping to the field corner to alleviate depth concerns. Johnson said the moves were made to strengthen the overall defense and so far the moves are going well.

“We feel like right now, the two best corners are Mincy and Jones,” Johnson said. “We want to get somebody behind them that's really pushing them, that you wouldn't have a big drop-off, and at the time, we had Trovon and Holsey over on the boundary so we moved Trovon over to the field side and we feel like we've got a little bit better situation with the two-deep.

“Right now, as a cover corner and a complete player, they are guys that are both ahead right now,” he added of Mincy and Jones. “Holsey missed a whole half of a year last year, and, of course, Jonathan did, too.

"The one thing we do know is that Mincy can play either. He can play the field or the boundary. Jonathan is limited to playing the field. We needed some depth over there with Mincy and Holsey, and felt like Trovon had the speed and the athleticism to move over to the field, but I would say the ones who had the best camp, no question, have been Mincy and Jones.”

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