Auburn Position Preview: Secondary

We continue our preview by taking a look at Auburn's secondary in the preseason.

Auburn, Ala.--New Auburn secondary coach Travaris Robinson has his work cut out in helping to transform a talented, but small group of experienced players following a rough 2014 season when the Tigers allowed 2,991 yards passing and 22 touchdowns.

The good news is that Jonathan Jones returns following a productive junior year to lead a group that has a chance to make some big strides in the first season under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

Cornering The Market:

Instrumental in Florida’s outstanding secondary play the last four years with the Gators finishing in the Top 10 in the country each season in pass efficiency defense, Muschamp and Robinson have some talent to work with starting with Jones. A preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate for the nation’s top defensive back, Jones is the headliner of the group after picking off six passes a year ago. Out for the spring with a foot injury, Jones is back healthy and ready to go in the preseason.

Also healthy is fellow senior Josh Holsey. Coming back last season gradually from a knee injury that cut short his 2013 season, Holsey made 41 tackles a year ago and was just coming into his own at the end of the year. Playing cornerback opposite Jones in the spring he could also work at the “nickel” position in Muschamp’s defense as the fifth defensive back.

That may be the future for Holsey if Michigan transfer Blake Countess is as good as advertised. A three-year starter for the Wolverines and 30-game starter, Countess was named All-Big 10 as both a sophomore and junior before heading to Auburn. With a mature approach and obvious ball skills after making six interceptions as a sophomore, Countess has been impressive in summer workouts and how quickly he adjusts to the defense is important because of his experience.

Blake Countess forces a fumble as a freshman for the Wolverines.

Behind the trio of corners are sophomore Stephen Roberts and walk-on Mike Sherwood. Roberts has the talent to take a big step forward in year two while Sherwood was impressive enough in the spring to earn a starting spot in the A-Day game.

With Joseph Turner, Kamryn Melton and Kalvaraz Bessent all gone from last year’s roster that means help will be needed from the 2015 signing class. Carlton Davis, Javaris Davis and Jeremiah Dinson are all talented enough to make an impact at a position of need for the Tigers.

Carlton Davis is shown at practice for the Semper Fi All-American game.

Safety In Numbers:

While Jones is the leader of the group at corner the same can be said of returning starter Johnathan Ford at safety. Leading the team with 93 tackles a year ago and also adding three interceptions, Ford transitioned well in his first season at the position after playing both running back and corner as a freshman. Extremely fast and developing more and more of a physical nature, Ford should flourish in the new defense.

Beside him will be Georgia transfer Tray Matthews. Starting six games as a true freshman for the Bulldogs in 2013, Matthews finished with 36 tackles and an interception. Sitting out last season gave him an opportunity to mature both on and off the field. Doing well academically and then stepping in with a solid spring, Matthews should bring a linebacker mentality to Auburn’s secondary as an enforcer over the middle.

Tray Matthews is fired up about being back on the field this season.

Behind the expected starters the Tigers have sophomore Nick Ruffin and redshirt freshman Markell Boston back along with a pair of physical freshman newcomers. Playing sparingly a year ago, Ruffin made just nine stops, but is now bigger and stronger with a year under his belt. Impressive last preseason until an injury led to a redshirt, Boston is athletic and brings that dimension to the group.

They will have work to do to hold off freshmen Montavious Atkinson and Jordan Colbert, however. An all-around athlete who has a knack for making plays, Atkinson is long and lean and can cover plenty of ground in the middle of the field. Looking more like a linebacker at 6-1 and over 220 pounds, Colbert has the ability to make plays all over the field and could do that early if he can learn the finer points of the defense early enough.

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