Auburn, Ala.--The first spring is in the books for Will Muschamp in his return to Auburn as the defensive coordinator and overall he said that he’s pleased with where the defense is at this point. One of the biggest concerns heading into the spring and an even bigger concern coming out is the lack of depth in the secondary however.
With cornerbacks Jonathan Jones (foot) and T.J. Davis (knee) both missing the spring, but expected back next fall, Auburn’s depth at the position is super-thin with junior college transfer Joseph Turner also no longer with the program according to Muschamp. With Josh Holsey stepping up and playing well as a full-time corner once again and safeties Johnathan Ford and Tray Matthews playing well, Muschamp said he’s got a top four right now, but everything else is up for grabs.
“We’re a little thin in the secondary as far as guys we can count on,” Muschamp said. “I told our team yesterday that we’ve got two safeties and two corners and one corner is in a walking boot. That’s not a great situation right now, but it is what it is. We have time and ability and talent to be where we need to be, we’re just not there yet.”
The good news is that at safety the Tigers look to have a pair of difference makers. Coming off a breakout season when he led the team in tackles, Ford brings athleticism and a willingness to come up and hit to the position. Sitting out last season after transferring from Georgia, Matthews brings a physical nature as well. Combined the two give Muschamp a reason for optimism,
"Well, they play fast,” he said. “They play fast, they play physical. Rudy's got elite speed on the top end, but did a much better job on his angles to the ball and his eye control and things. I've been very pleased with his progress. Right now, he'd be our third corner, to be honest with you. But Tray's a guy that continues to learn to communicate a little better, but he's a physical, tough player. I thought again, both of those guys played with a little energy, a little edge, and that's certainly the way we need to play back there. Certainly, the communication needs to continue to improve, but I thought we made strides."
Behind them sophomore Nick Ruffin and redshirt freshman Markell Boston both made strides in the spring, but that completes the depth at the position other than some reps for Tim Irvin during the spring just to get him up to speed if needed.
That’s more depth than at corner however where the Tigers started walk-on Michael Sherwood with the first-team in Saturday’s A-Day game opposite Holsey. Without Jones and Davis available it was Sherwood that got the reps, something Muschamp said he deserved.
“He works hard, he's a very dependable player as far as his assignments are concerned,” Muschamp said. “He's a physical player. A tough young man that does what he's coached to do, and those guys will help us. They'll play. I don't care if they're a walk-on, a scholarship player, an eight-star or a two-star."
While Jones is expected back during the summer and should be ready to go in time for preseason practices, Davis’ injury could keep him out until well into next season. That means guys like Stephen Roberts and Kamryn Melton must step up in a big way early in fall camp or incoming signees like Carlton Davis, Javaris Davis and Jeremiah Dinson may get a shot at immediate playing time for the Tigers.
“That was a very devastating blow for us, for T.J. and him, you know personally, hurt for him,” Muschamp said of Davis’ knee injury. “That was a tough situation. We've got some freshmen coming in we're excited about, and we've got some guys on campus we're excited about. They've got to be more consistent, that's the bottom line. But we certainly feel like they're capable."