Young Safety Trying to Earn Playing Time

Tony Bell discusses his efforts to move up Auburn's defensive depth chart.

Auburn, Ala.--Tony Bell is a talented sophomore safety, who is trying to battle his way into the playing rotation in his second season as a member of the Auburn University football team.

Kevin Hobbs for second string status at free safety behind two-year starter Will Herring, who is a junior.

"Practice is going pretty well right now," Bell says. "If we keep improving, two weeks from now we should be a pretty sound defense for the first game against Georgia Tech. I can't wait for that first Saturday night."

Bell made nine tackles during the 2004 season when he immediately showed his potential. However, a nagging hamstring problem limited his effectiveness much of the season and he saw most of his action on special teams.

Tony Bell came to Auburn as a highly regarded recruit last season.

He was healthy for spring training and expected to push Herring, but he missed 10 of the 15 workouts after head coach Tommy Tuberville ordered Bell to concentrate on his academic work so he would be eligible to play this year. The safety came back for the final practices of the spring and played well.

This preseason he is getting an additional challenge for playing time from veteran Kevin Hobbs, who moved to free safety from cornerback when Tristan Davis was moved from safety to tailback.

"I am pretty much going in and out with the twos (second team)," Bell notes. "Kevin is playing really good. I am still learning the defense. I think I am doing pretty well. Hopefully, I can get it all down before the first game so I can get some playing time."

Defensive coordinator and secondary coach David Gibbs has been keeping a close on Bell and Steve Gandy, another member of the 2004 signee class. both are good athletes with an aggressive style of play. Gandy, who redshirted last year, is running second team at strong safety behind Eric Brock.

Bell says that he knows his assignment is to gain the confidence of Gibbs, who took over the secondary coaching from Gene Chizik in spring training after Chizik left for the University of Texas. Gibbs has talked about taking advantage of Auburn's good depth in the secondary by playing the reserves in prime-time if he concludes they are ready for the assignment.

"Coach Gibbs is going to play the best player," Bell says. "The secondary is an important position and the guys are running around all of the time so I expect he will do some subbing back there because we have a lot of pretty good corners and pretty good safeties. I am sure he is going to be subbing people in and out a pretty good bit."

Chizik liked to go with a set group in the secondary and didn't normally play the backups when games were on the line. However, Bell says he believes the similarities in the two coaches are greater than the differences.

"I don't think there is a big difference at all," Bell says. "Both coaches are honest about everything. When you do something wrong, they will get on you about it. When you do something well, they will congratulate you. I think they are both hard-core, and I think they are both good coaches."

Bell and the Tigers got a break from on the field workouts on Monday, but will be back on the field Tuesday evening for what has been a hot and humid preseason practice schedule. Bell says he is glad he is in good shape.

"If we hadn't done our summer workouts, we would be in trouble with this weather, especially when we practice on the turf field because it gets really hot," he notes. "A lot of guys are making it through. All of the time we spent in the heat in summer workouts has really helped us."

There is a different kind of heat just around the corner with the Tigers putting their 15-game winning streak on the line in the season opener on Sept. 3rd vs. Georgia Tech. Bell is expected to contribute to the AU effort on special teams and could see action at safety, too. How much he plays will likely be determined in this week's practice as players have another chance to impress their coaches before the Tigers settle into their game week routine.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories