Rhoads Looking For Help In Secondary

Coach Paul Rhoads talks about Auburn's defense and the young guys challenging for playing time in the secondary.

Auburn, Ala.--Now a week and a half into preseason practice, the Auburn Tigers have started to fine tune things on both sides of the ball to get ready for a game week that is quickly approaching. Defensively that means getting more familiar with Paul Rhoads' scheme.

Last Saturday was the first real test for the defense as the first scrimmage took place at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Rhoads said while everything wasn't perfect, he got a chance to take a look at many different things on the defensive side of the ball to help prepare the team for down the road.

"It was good and bad," Rhoads said. "There was no intent to go out there and scheme and work to be successful in every call and every situation. What we wanted to do was run through our installation, get everything on film, and get everything looked at. We got an opportunity to do that. We learned we've got a lot of work to do on our tackling yet. We've got to tackle better. Our assignment knowledge was about where I expected it to be at that point. It has increased greatly since then."

One player that got very little work in the scrimmage was junior cornerback Jerraud Powers. The most experienced member of Auburn's secondary, Rhoads said Powers has a knack for making plays and it comes from the hard work he puts in every single day.

"He's a football player," Rhoads said. "That's a phrase that many coaches use over and over and over. He's a football player. He understands leverage and understands positioning, he anticipates, he knows what's coming before it happens. You do that because you're intelligent, you study film, because you understand the scheme. That's what makes you a football player when you don't necessarily have the prototype skills that are expected out of a great player at your position."

Neiko Thorpe works on stripping the ball from Antoine Carter.

While Powers and Walter McFadden are locks as the starters at cornerback and the same with Michael McNeil and Zac Etheridge at safety, the backups are a different story. Rhoads said at the moment several freshmen are making a move for playing time and that's good because they're going to have to play.

"They are growing and maturing on a daily basis," Rhoads said. "You can see it, which is exciting. I think they know they're in the storm. There are three or more of them that are going to be part of the two-deep probably before we line up Aug. 30. I think they realize the gravity of that situation as they approach every day's learning and physical practice."

One of those players is Neiko Thorpe, a true freshman cornerback from Georgia. A tall, rangy player at 6-2 and 175 pounds, Thorpe has good instincts and Rhoads said that is something that allows him to make a mistake and still be in the right position when the ball is thrown.

"Instincts and the ability to play the position and not necessarily do everything right that you're supposed to do," Rhoads said. "A lot of times a great cornerback is a guy who gets beat but has the skills necessary to finish the play and still be successful. He sort of has some of those skills at this early point in his career. Now it is expected of him and being demanded of him to fine tune the rest of it."

Not the most physically imposing defensive back, Rhoads said so far Thorpe has shown him he's willing to stick his head in there and make a tackle when the opportunity arises.

"He can do that," Rhoads said. "He'll bite a hot biscuit. He'll put his face right in there and won't shy away from any kind of contact whether it's a pulling guard or a fullback heading down the field North and South."

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