Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium was the first true test for a few of the players hoping to get into the mix at corner. Coach Tommy Tuberville said he saw some good things out of the group, but they're hoping for a lot of improvement before the season gets started.
"We're counting on trying to get some of these younger guys ready," Tuberville said. "Zach Gilbert really played well for a freshman. Kevin Hobbs was a little rusty. He's got a long way to go, but we're going to have to have him in the mix. We're going to be fine, but we don't need any more injuries. I know that."
Some help arrived on Sunday as senior Carlos Rogers returned to practice for the first time since early in the preseason practices. The most veteran of Auburn's defensive backs, along with safety Junior Rosegreen, Rogers brings a different attitude to the defense and Coach Gene Chizik said he enjoyed seeing the senior back on the practice field.
"It was great to see him run around a little bit," Chizik said of Rogers. "He's kind of going to go at his own pace and what the trainers let him do, but it's good to see him out there. I can assure you."
Zach Gilbert is having a productive preseason.
Rogers sat out Saturday's scrimmage, giving players like Hobbs, Gilbert, Montae Pitts, Anthony Campbell and Patrick Lee a chance to get some work in against a live offense in a game setting. Freshman Tristan Davis sat out of the scrimmage because of flu-like symptoms.
Chizik said things went about as expected for his defense in the first scrimmage and that there's a lot of work to do in the coming weeks.
"It was about what I thought on third and long," Chizik said. "We weren't very good at it. We were just too soft on the edges right now with the corners. We have to find a way to tighten them up. The young guys have to step up and play."
The young guy who has garnered the most attention in the last few days of practice has been the redshirt freshman Gilbert. Listed at 5-10, 189 on the roster, Gilbert isn't the most physical defensive back on the Auburn team, but he makes up for that by being aggressive in everything he does. Chizik said Gilbert is a player that Auburn fans will see playing this season in the secondary.
"He's going to have to help us," Chizik said of Gilbert. "He's a competitor. He's not a big guy at all, but he loves the game. He's out here because he loves it and he pays his own way. He's going to help us and he's got to help us. He's a competitor. He had an interception Saturday where he just mainly took a ball out of the guy's hands because he competes. For that reason he has a chance to help us right now."
Another young player who has improved significantly is Campbell. A running back as well as a defensive back in high school, Campbell is also a smaller player who makes up for his lack of size with his speed. A speedster, Campbell showed a glimpse of his talent during Sunday's practice and that caught Chizik's eye.
"We're looking for anybody and everybody," Chizik said. "Anthony Campbell came out here today and had an interception. I told him, after seeing some positive things from him, that we're going to find out in the next week or so whether he can help. If he can help then he's going to play."
With two more scrimmage sessions scheduled before the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 4, Auburn's young defensive backs will have plenty of chances to learn Chizik's defense in a game setting. Chizik said that he's been pleased with the development of the young players to this point, but he said that they have to keep improving every day to get ready for the Southeastern Conference.
"We've got some young guys coming along, but we've got a long way to go," Chizik said. "They know that."