David Irons, a junior who finished preseason as the first stringer opposite Carlos Rogers, suffered a torn ACL on Thursday at practice that will require surgery and knock him out of action for the season.
The Tigers have also lost backup cornerback Courtney Denson, who plans to transfer to the University of South Florida. Denson played quarterback in high school and wants to return to that position after sitting out last season as a redshirt at Auburn.
"I just hate it for David who has worked so hard to get to this point where he was ready to play for us," says Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville. "It is tough break for David, but he is going to be all right. Dr. (Larry) Lemak will fix his knee and it will be better than it was before the injury. I really believe David will bounce back from this and one day play in the NFL.
"David has been playing well for us in practice, but so was Montae Pitts," Tuberville adds. "Those two guys have been pushing each other and making each other better."
David Irons is shown in defensive back drills.
The Auburn head coach says there is a good possibility that one of last year's starters at cornerback, Kevin Hobbs, will be moving back to that position after working in the spring and preseason at free safety. He was already seeing some spot duty with the cornerbacks prior to the injury to Irons. Hobbs, a junior, has been running second team at free safety behind returning starter Will Herring.
Defensive coordinator and secondary coach Gene Chizik singled Hobbs out for his good play in the spring and the preseason. He also had praise for Irons, who he said had been improving this week.
For Irons, who originally signed with the Tigers as a high school senior out of Dacula, Ga., High, his road to earning playing time at AU has been a bumpy one. He did not qualify academically out of high school and attended a junior college in Kansas. He had to overcome a knee injury there before re-signing with the Tigers to join the team for the 2003 season. However, he came up one class shy of qualifying to transfer to Auburn as a redshirt sophomore and returned to Butler County Community College and played his second season there.
Irons enrolled at Auburn in January as a junior and participated in spring drills. "We are going to miss his quickness, but we will be all right," Tuberville says. "You have injuries in football and that is something the team has to deal with and move forward. We have other players who can step up and play cornerback for us."
Montae Pitts is in his second full season as a defensive back for the Tigers.
With Irons out of action, Pitts, a redshirt sophomore, is the leading candidate to start at the cornerback spot opposite senior Carlos Rogers. That pair started the bowl victory over Wisconsin in what was the first collegiate starting assignment for Pitts. Rogers, a starter since his freshman year, has been sidelined from preseason practice with what his coaches say is a twisted knee. He is expected back on the practice field next week.
Depth at the position took a hit earlier this year when former walk-on Lamel Ages, who graduated earlier this month, decided to transfer to Tennessee State in hopes of earning a starting job there as a graduate student this season.
True freshmen Anthony Campbell and Tristan Davis are working at the position along with walk-on Zach Gilbert from Florence. Gilbert took a step forward in Thursday's practice when he intercepted a pass in an 11 on 11 drill vs. the first team offense.