Auburn Spring Football Preview: Secondary

Editor's Note: This is the 10th in a series of articles on Auburn's spring football practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Will Muschamp says it looks like he will have some good talent to work with in his first season coaching Auburn's secondary.

Muschamp, who is taking over as defensive coordinator from David Gibbs, is also handling the role of position coach for the cornerbacks and safeties.

The Tigers must replace 2005 senior backup safety Kevin Hobbs, but everybody else who saw any significant playing time in the secondary is back for the 2006 football season.

Since being hired by Coach Tommy Tuberville in February, Muschamp has been busy making the move from the NFL's Miami Dolphins back to the collegiate scene. A major part of his transition has been studying what the Tigers did last year on defense as a group and individually.

"I have watched all of the games and have tried to evaluate the best I can the athleticism of the players and athletically what we feel the kids can do," Muschamp says.

At cornerback, the Tigers return starters David Irons, a 6-1, 188 senior, and 5-11, 182 junior Jonathan Wilhite plus former starter Montae Pitts, a 6-2, 195 senior. Depth at the corners also looks promising.

Jonathan Wilhite saw significant playing time last season for the Tigers after transferring to Auburn from junior college with three years of eligibility.

"I am pleased with the coverage ability of David Irons, Jonathan Wilhite, Montavious Pitts--three guys who have played a lot of football for Auburn, and at times played really well," Muschamp says.

"I am really pleased with the upcoming kids–Aairon Savage, Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden. They are three freshmen who have a lot of potential, but potential is kind of a bad word. It means you haven't done a whole lot yet. I am anxious to see those guys." All three were 2005 signees who redshirted last season.

Savage and McFadden have used their redshirt year to add more than 20 pounds. Savage is up to 5-11, 187 and McFadden is up to 6-0, 177. Powers, who missed much of the on the field workouts last fall after suffering a broken bone in his foot, is 5-9, 184.

"I am also anxious to see Patrick Lee," Muschamp says of the junior, who was a 2005 opening night starter at cornerback. "We plan to play him at both safety and corner to see what he can provide for us.

"We moved Lorenzo Ferguson to safety, but he will play both positions for us this spring as we try to continue to find the best guys we can put on the field in Auburn," Muschamp says. Lee is 6-0, 203 while Ferguson is a 6-2, 208 sophomore.

Montae Pitts makes a play last fall at Kentucky. Auburn coaches considered moving the senior to wide receiver this spring.

Will Herring, a 6-3, 220 three-year starter at safety, is another player who will try a new position this spring. "We are going to try Will Herring at linebacker to see how that works out," Muschamp says. "The bottom line is spring to me is the time for experiments, looking at different people in different positions and roles. It is our job as coaches to get the best 11 on the field.

"We are going to look at Will at sam (strongside) linebacker for the first week," Muschamp says. "Right now, we have Eric Brock (6-1, 213 junior) and Steve Gandy (6-1, 198 sophomore) playing strong safety and Tristan Davis and Ferguson playing free safety. We need to develop some playmakers out of that group. Those are guys who have got ability, but they need to make more plays in the open space."

Will Herring led the Tigers in tackles last season.

Safety Tony Bell, who would have been a junior, has left the team. However, he had basically been only a special teams performer for the Tigers. Auburn does return another defensive back who has seen significant game action in the secondary. "Zach Gilbert will stay at corner," Muschamp says of the 5-10, 186 junior. "He has played nickel before and I am looking forward to him contributing."

Blake Shrader, a 5-10, 193 sophomore, is listed as the number three strong safety. Josh Hebert, a 5-10, 190 junior walk-on, opens the spring as the number three free safety.

Muschamp says he likes to coach an aggressive style in the secondary, but says the way the corners and safeties play will be dictated by their abilities and how the entire defense works together.

"I want to evaluate them first," the defensive coordinator says. "We will play a little more up coverage--a little more bump and run. We are going to do what our players can do and it is our job as coaches to evaluate them and make decisions on what is best for them and we will do that as a staff."

Muschamp coached a national championship team at LSU prior to heading to the NFL for one season so he is very familiar with what it takes to win in the SEC. He says that Auburn looks to have enough talent in the secondary to match up against conference competition. "I think athletically the staff has done a good job of recruiting," he says. "We just have got to get these guys in the best position where they can be successful."

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