Spring 2002 Preview: Cornerbacks

In part three of our series previewing spring football practice, the cornerbacks are featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Phillip Lolley says he is eager for spring training to get started and he says it with a smile. The AU assistant coach in charge of cornerbacks has a reason to be eager.

The play of his cornerbacks, in what was considered a rebuilding year at that position, was one of the high points of the 2001 defensive season. Carlos Rogers earned second team freshman All-America honors and was named an All-SEC Freshman.

Carlos Rogers saw significant playing time as a true freshman.

Two other cornerbacks who started are back–senior Roderick Hood and sophomore Junior Rosegreen.

New defensive coordinator Gene Chizik will coach the safeties. In Auburn's defensive system for 2002, there will be two cornerbacks, a strong safety, a free safety, a mike linebacker, a sam linebacker, a will linebacker, a weakside defensive end, a strongside defensive end, one defensive tackle and one noseguard.

With Chizik just arriving on the job a week ago, the defensive staff is still in a transition stage preparing for spring drills that begin on March 1. Currently, none of last year's cornerbacks are projected to move to another position, but that is subject to change.

"Coach Chizik is putting in a new system that puts an extra linebacker in the system because we had a five defensive back system last year. Basically, this year we will have a four defensive back system with the ability for the sam linebacker to swing both ways (secondary and linebacker)," Lolley says.

Phillip Lolley is learning the new defensive system being put in by Gene Chizik.

"I basically have got all of my players back and we have pretty good depth there," Lolley adds. "The question is what type of moves do we make to solidify the whole defense. That is something we are still looking at."

Rogers, who has the potential to be a four-year starter, led the team in deflected passes last fall with 12 and finished with 46 solo tackles plus 12 assists. He played part of the season with a hand injury, which will require surgery to repair after spring practice ends with the A- Day Game on April 6th.

Roderick Hood, a former walk-on, will be a senior this fall.

The most experienced of the corners is 5-10, 192-pound Hood, who finished the season with 29 solo tackles and five assists. He intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble while playing with leg and shoulder injuries that nagged him throughout the season. He is healthy now and is primed to have his best season.

Hood will need to play well if he wants to hold on to a starting job. Senior Horace Willis was the most impressive man-to-man coverage guy in preseason until being slowed by a hamstring problem that ruined the first half of the season. Later, the juco transfer suffered an ankle injury. In spot duty, he had just five solo tackles and two assists, but at 6-0, 193 pounds with quick feet, speed and strength, he could easily be one of the best players on the 2002 defense if he stays healthy and wins a starting spot.

A player whose stock rose throughout the 2001 campaign is Junior Rosegreen. He played in every game and ended the year with 21 solo tackles and six assists. He likes to challenge receivers and is one of the heavier hitters among the secondary corps.

Junior Rosegreen will be a redshirt sophomore this season.

Travaris Robinson is another possibility at the corner. The former wide receiver returns for his senior year after what was a personally disappointing season, partly due to several injuries. He managed to start five games and play in 10 regular season contests, however, he was seldom full speed. He finished the year with 21 solo tackles and six assists. Tommy Tuberville has hinted that T-Rob is a player who could get a look at free safety, but for now the plans are to keep him at cornerback.

Dee Durham will compete for a starting job this spring.

Waiting for his opportunity is Dee Durham, who spent last fall on the scout team as a redshirt with his hand in a cast. The 5-11, 188-pounder from Lovejoy, Ga., High has a clean bill of health and the talent to make an immediate push for playing time.

A true freshman, December signee Karibi Dede from Dumfries, Va., will be checked out as a cornerback, Lolley says. "If he can cover people man to man we will probably keep him at corner," the coach notes. "We haven't had a chance to work with him yet, but he looks to be the type of athlete who could play several different positions."

Depth comes from undersized but quick walk-on, Lamel Ages, a redshirt sophomore from Columbus, Ga., who has nimble feet.

Walk-on Lamel Ages.

"We are going to have starters back at my position," Lolley says. "The question now is do we move any of those guys to safety? Do they do some things better than the safeties we have now (Rashaud Walker, Roshard Gilyard, Donnay Young, Stanford Simmons, Jared Nelson and walk-on Gerald Williams. Of course, we feel like the corners we brought in last year are some of the better cover guys in we have had in our system. We have some questions to answer there, but we feel good about it."

Gerald Williams

When asked if the Tigers are in better shape at cornerback than they were a year ago when there were concerns about replacing seniors Larry Casher and Rodney Crayton, Lolley has a strong opinion. "There is no doubt about that," he says. "There is no doubt at all."

Signee Brandon Williams is expected to join the mix in the fall.

Tiger Ticket Extra: Head coach Tommy Tuberville says he will be keeping an eye on how the young defensive backs handle themselves in spring drills. Tuberville, Chizik and Lolley will have even more contenders for playing time in August when signees such as Brandon Williams and Troy Bergeron of Shaw High in Columbus, Ga., join the mix. They are expected to get their first looks at cornerback. Two other signees, Cavari Dailey from Plantation, Fla., High and Will Herring from Opelika High are expected to be safeties.

Editor's Note: This is part three of our series previewing spring football.

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