Secondary coach Gene Chizik says he is expecting his free safeties and strong safeties to play like veterans when the Tigers hit the field this season.
The most experienced of the bunch is strong safety Junior Rosegreen, who has played in 38 games for the Tigers, including 27 in a starting role. The senior split his time between cornerback and safety last year. Chizik says that won't be happening again.
"Junior will stay at safety this season and I believe he will be better because of that," the defensive coordinator says. "He moved over to cornerback last year because he is a team player first and we needed help there. That wasn't necessarily fair to Junior, but we are expecting him to have a better senior season as a full-time safety. This is Junior's year."
Junior Rosegreen will be one of the more experienced players in the SEC this season.
Rosegreen was in on 52 tackles last year and has 139 for his career with three interceptions. He says that he is excited about being a leader on a 2004 defense that has some rebuilding to do after graduating five of its starters from the front seven. "Coach Chizik is going to make sure we have a strong defense again this year," Rosegreen says. "He is a great coach and I enjoy playing for him."
Rosegreen was named a second team all conference selection by voters at the 2004 SEC Media Days. The former Dillard High star has been one of the leaders in the voluntary summer workouts.
The starting free safety is back with Will Herring coming off a solid spring performance. He looks primed to step up and have a strong redshirt sophomore season. "We challenged him and I thought Will Herring made a great deal of improvement in the spring," says Chizik, who notes that Herring came to AU with a background primarily as a quarterback.
Will Herring is looking to be a more physical defender this fall.
Herring was more physical in the spring with the secondary's emphasis on becoming better tacklers. Offseason work in the weight room has helped, too. He has added eight pounds this year and will play at around 220 pounds on his six-foot-three frame. Herring intercepted three passes in 2003 and made 48 tackles.
Herring isn't the only returning starter at the free safety position. Kevin Hobbs, a 6-0, 183 junior, played in all 13 games last year, however, it was at cornerback where he started seven times. In the spring, Chizik experimented with several position changes and that was one that he really liked. "I think Kevin is catching on," Chizik says.
Hobbs, who is from Tampa Bay Tech High in Florida, originally signed with Texas Southern. He transferred to Auburn and sat out the 2002 season as a walk-on. Now on scholarship with the Tigers, Hobbs has two seasons of eligibility. He made 31 tackles last year and intercepted three passes.
Almost gone as he heads into his final year, but certainly not forgotten by the coach of the safeties, is fifth-year senior Donnay Young. The 6-0, 204-pounder from College Park, Ga., should be a quality reserve at both free safety and strong safety, Chizik says.
Young started two times last year and played in all 13 games. He has played in 38 college games for the Tigers and has six career starts. Young has 67 tackles and one interception. "Donnay is a phenomenal young man who is a good football player," says Chizik, who adds that the senior could push for a starting job this fall.
Eric Brock returns as a redshirt freshman after a disappointing spring training. "He needs to mature on the field and off the field," Chizik says. The 6-1, 203 Brock goes into two-a-days listed as a free safety, but could play either position.
Another redshirt freshman is Blake Shrader, who has two spring trainings under his belt.
Donnay Young gives the Tigers experienced depth in the secondary.
The Tigers must replace only two safeties from last year's team in backup strong safety Roshard Gilyard, who was a senior, and Karibi Dede, who moved to outside linebacker. Potential help is on the way from the freshman class. Tony Bell from Thompson High in Alabaster, Steve Gandy from Wayne County High in Mississippi and Tristan Davis from Tri-Cities High were February signees.
Another incoming player, Lorenzo Ferguson, who is a late addition to the 2004 freshman class, is expected to get his first look at cornerback, but could play safety, too.
If the returning players are as improved as Chizik wants them to be, the newcomers should have a challenge on their hands to break into the playing rotation this fall at what head coach Tommy Tuberville is hoping will be one of the most solid parts of his 2004 Auburn football team.