Auburn, Ala.--With Auburn’s season opening game week almost here, Inside the Auburn Tigers takes a look at defensive freshmen who are making a strong push to earn significant playing time in their first football seasons on the Plains.
Auburn’s 2014 signee class featured a variety of highly-regarded prospects and that has been showing up on the practice fields in the month of August.
With serious knee injuries to Carl Lawson and Keymiya Harrell in the spring and last year’s top pass rusher Dee Ford now in the NFL, getting help from newcomers at end has been a high priority for the Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson and his line coach, Rodney Garner.
The door is wide open for six-foot-six, 230-pound Raashed Kennion to contribute as a pass rusher from his end position. A standout at an Auburn football camp last summer when he was committed to the University of Cincinnati, the former First Coast High star from Jacksonville, Fla., is a promising player.
“We lost a lot with Dee and Carl,” Garner said. “Those are major blows so we have got to find guys who can step up and affect the quarterback.”
“The Kennion kid can run, he can bend, he is long, he can accelerate,” Garner pointed out.
“He can rush the passer,” Garner added, who noted that Kennion is a smart player. “The problem is he needs to get stronger.”
With senior LaDarius Owens also battling health issues, the Tigers could play Kennion early this season. “Unfortunately, he is a kid you want to redshirt, but he has natural stuff” Garner said. “We don’t know how it is going to develop, but I would say he is the best speed guy in that young group.”
Commenting on the group of new defensive linemen, Garner said, “I think they are all going to good players. I am pleased with the whole group.”
Stephen Roberts, a former University of Alabama commitment, is coming off a busy season at Opelika High. During his senior year he flipped to Auburn and changed positions, taking over as quarterback for the Bulldogs when the starter at that position was injured and lost for the season.
Lining up at safety for the Tigers, Roberts has caught the attention of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson as well as Charlie Harbison, who works with the safeties.
Stephen Roberts is off to a good start in practice.
“Stephen Roberts is coming around,” said Harbison, who notes that the freshman has a chance to earn playing time in the secondary this year where the Tigers are trying to build quality depth.
Roberts, who had a preseason setback with a hip pointer that caused him to miss some practice time, has bounced back from that and is also getting a look on special teams as a punt returner.
With the Tigers being short on numbers at the safety spots last year the starters rarely came off the field, something Harbison said the defensive coaches are going to try to avoid if players like Roberts step up and prove they are ready to hand prime time action.