Rhoads Busy Training Young Defensive Backs

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads discusses Auburn's young players in the secondary.

Auburn, Ala.--New Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads inherited experience and depth at linebacker and what looks to be quality depth on the defensive front, but in the secondary he faces the challenge of getting true freshmen ready for game action.

"Slowly, slowly, they are coming along slowly," Rhoads tells Inside the Auburn Tigers in describing the performance of his young defensive backs. "The experienced kids, the veterans, are playing like that. They are far less of a concern than our backups, who are babies.

"I have continue to feed them step by step, bring them along and help raise their confidence," Rhoads says of the 2008 signees who are expected to see action as backups this fall. "They are certainly talented so we are going to give them the experience and the knowledge they need and they will be alright."

Neiko Thorpe makes a play in practice.

Two freshmen cornerbacks are expected to see action on Saturday evening when the Tigers open the season against Louisiana-Monroe. Neiko Thorpe and D'Antoine Hood are likely to be in the playing rotation and there is a possibility that Harry Adams could see action there, too, in addition to his scheduled duties on special teams. Adams is the fifth cornerback behind Thorpe and Adams plus starters Jerraud Powers and Walt McFadden.

The Tigers also signed Drew Cole as a cornerback, but he has moved to safety and is expected to redshirt.

At strong safety, another true freshman, Christian Thompson is pushing for playing time. "He is in the mix at the strong safety position and is battling Jonathan Vickers," says Rhoads. "He is still adjusting to the college game and trying to figure out the pace and me, quite honestly. The faster he does that the more ready he is going to be sooner for our football team."

Asked about the new defensive backs who have caught his eye in practice recently, Rhoads says, "The three guys who are going to have to play in the back end have more than caught my eye. They have kept my attention and demanded my attention.

D'Antoine Hood defends a pass play in a scrimmage.

"Neiko Thorpe, D'Antoine Hood and Christian Thompson are all guys who have stepped up for one reason or other. That doesn't mean they are better than the other freshmen, it just means they were ready a little earlier. Those are the guys who are part of the two-deep."

Powers, a preseason All-SEC pick, will double as a nickel back when the Tigers play five defensive backs and one of the true freshmen will take his spot at cornerback. Rhoads says the junior is smart and talented and should handle the assignment well. Rhoads says he is counting on Powers to be a leader for the whole defense along with redshirt sophomore safety Zac Etheridge

Kickoff time for the opener is 6 p.m. Saturday and Rhoads says Louisiana-Monroe, a team that won at Alabama last season, has some talented players on offense to provide a test for the Tigers in his first game as Auburn's defensive coordinator.

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