Tigers Counting on "Veteran" Etheridge

Auburn safety Zac Etheridge is now one of the most experienced secondary members for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn sophomore safety Zac Etheridge burst onto the scene in 2007 for the Tigers and had a very good year in his first season as a starter, earning Freshman All-SEC honors after racking up 65 tackles on defense.

This year Etheridge goes from one of the young guys in the secondary to a veteran as only Jerraud Powers returns with more experience in the secondary. Because of that Etheridge says he and Walter McFadden have had to take on a bigger role on and off the field with younger players expected to see action this fall.

"We just provide leadership and show them how we work," Etheridge says. "They're all coming along. It starts with how we answer questions in film and they listen, too. They also ask questions now. I see a lot of improvement by them working hard and in the film room."

Despite the loss of Aairon Savage, Auburn's secondary is still in good shape with Mike McNeil the fourth starter along with Etheridge, Powers and McFadden. Having four guys back who have all played makes for an easy transition to a new year and new defensive coordinator in Paul Rhoads says the Troy native.

"It's very good," Etheridge notes. "The progression is very good. Everybody knows their calls. We're starting to play a lot faster by knowing the defense and the scheme. You just try to know your alignment and key every play.

"We're meshing together," he adds. "We're understanding him and what he wants on every play. I think we'll be able to play fast without thinking a whole lot, just reacting and playing."

That is something that is second nature for Etheridge, but still a struggle for a young player learning his way at the position. Moving from cornerback to safety, redshirt freshman Mike Slade is one of the players adjusting to playing the position on the collegiate level as is true freshman Christian Thompson. Etheridge says both have looked good to this point and they'll both be counted on to play in 2008.

"Mike will be able to help us," Etheridge says. "He's just got to gain a lot more confidence. He's still thinking a lot. You're supposed to think, but he's thinking way too much about what he's supposed to do. He's coming along great.

"Christian is coming along good," Etheridge says. "He knows the defense, but he's got a long way to go in terms of knowing everything. He's coming along. I like how he works hard and pushes himself past that tired point."

With the days counting down until the opening kickoff against Louisiana-Monroe a week from Saturday, Etheridge says he's just focusing on getting better and trying to stay patient while waiting on a new season to begin.

"It seems like it's right around the corner then the days start slowing down," Etheridge says. "It's moving every day. We're all just trying to stay healthy right now and make it to that first game."

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