Rhoads And Secondary Coping With Losses

Paul Rhoads discusses the direction of the secondary potentially without Aairon Savage.

Auburn, Ala.--Secondary depth was a primary concern for the Auburn football heading into preseason practices. With Aairon Savage injuring his knee on Monday, it has become more of an issue as he was competing for a starting role at cornerback.

The extent of the damage to Savage's right knee is still uncertain more than 24 hours after his injury. However, he will be in Birmingham on Wednesday for further evaluation.

Jerraud Powers returns as the Tigers' top cornerback. Savage and Walter McFadden were competing for the other starting spot.

"Walt had a very good spring," says defensive coordinator and secondary coach Paul Rhoads. "He and Aairon were definitely in a competition to be one of our starting two corners along with Jerraud Powers. Now we count on (McFadden's) leadership even more. He's a veteran player that understands when it's time to step up and I believe Walt is in those shoes right now."

True freshmen Harry Adams, D'Antoine Hood, Neiko Thorpe and Drew Cole were also fighting for a spot in the rotation at cornerback. Savage's injury moved all four one spot closer to playing time this season.

"They're all working hard and they're all catching my eye because they're doing a lot of wrong right now, and they're doing a lot of things right," Rhoads explains. "It's been a fast and furious four days with installation flying at them. They're trying to pick it up and they're trying to please in every way. That's hard to do as a 17 and 18-year-old kid. Overall there have been no disappointments and everybody is progressing in a way that is pleasing to us."

Returning sophomore cornerback Ryan Williams is also in the mix, though he attained Tommy Tuberville doghouse status and moved back home to Mobile for a period of time earlier this summer.

"He definitely can be a factor," Rhoads says of Williams. "Any time you miss as much conditioning as he did you're behind other people. The game of football has changed in the fact that you're a whole football team all summer. That's a lot of conditioning that takes place and as he gets in better shape he'll show up more."

During practice on Tuesday, several young players got an opportunity to run with the first team defense at cornerback.

"Jerraud had to leave for academics--the fine student/athlete that he is," Rhoads says. "So a bunch of guys rotated in and out. I think it's important at this point in camp for everybody to step up. There's no bigger burden on any corner or DB because Aairon is down right now with an injured knee. If everybody in jerseys out here doesn't feel the need to step up then we're not in the position that we think we are."

Depth at safety isn't one of the team strengths either. Whether or not DeRon Furr could have made an impact at safety this season will never be known as Tuberville announced on Tuesday the Furr has decided to transfer.

"You just step up and you move on," Rhoads says. "That sounds kind of cold-hearted, but that's just the way it is. Aairon was in a battle to see if he could start with a number of other guys. Now a number of other guys will now have to step up for this football team. Tomorrow it could be some other position--knock on wood that it isn't. That's just the state of this sport and that's what you do.

"Whatever form of attrition, you step up and move on," he continues. "The thing with Aairon right now just makes you sick to your stomach because he's such a tremendous young man and he's worked extremely hard to be in the position that he was."

Under Will Muschamp the last two seasons, it was common for the defense to use six defensive backs against teams that spread the field with extra receivers. However, the Tigers will likely run more 4-3 this season under Rhoads.

"It takes two of each," he says of corners and safeties. "It takes two of each, so we'd better have at least two.

"With all three of them healthy it would have been a good committee and a good rotation," Rhoads adds. "Three corners is ideal to stay fresh through the course of the game and stay fresh through the course of the season, plus nickel and dime. Walt and Jerraud would step up or be mature in any light, and they'll continue to do that."

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