2009 Auburn Spring Football: Defensive Backs

The Auburn secondary has the potential to be one of the team's strengths.

Auburn, Ala.—Rather than having just one defensive backs coach, the Auburn secondary will be split into two with Phillip Lolley tutoring the corners and Tommy Thigpen the safeties.

Lolley has worn many hats in his 10 seasons at Auburn and is back on the field after serving as Director of NFL Relations for the past five years. Thigpen, who will be in charge of the safeties, comes to Auburn after coaching linebackers at North Carolina for the previous four seasons.

The lone loss from 2008 in the secondary is a significant one. Jerraud Powers, Auburn's top cover corner the last two seasons, decided to test the waters of the NFL Draft. On the flip side, Auburn gets one of its top players back in Aairon Savage, who missed all of the 2008 season with a torn ACL suffered in preseason practice. Savage is still rehabbing and is at practice, but is expected to spend most of his time observing. "I am still working on rehabbing it," the senior says.

Savage is wearing an orange non-contact jersey for spring practice.

Walter McFadden returns for his senior season after starting all 12 games in 2008, but with a new staff on campus he'll have to earn his spot once again. Savage and McFadden may be the favorites to win starting jobs, but several youngsters could also earn their way onto the field at cornerback this fall.

Neiko Thorpe, D'Antoine Hood and Harry Adams got experience at corner last season as true freshmen. Despite playing in a backup role, Thorpe had as many tackles (29) and interceptions (two) as McFadden. Hood and Adams played significant roles on special teams as well.

Walt McFadden is a proven performer at cornerback.

Another player who could join the mix at cornerback or safety is T'Sharvan Bell, who redshirted last season after being injured. Bell played quarterback and safety in high school and broke his foot playing basketball prior to arriving on the Auburn campus last summer. He could get in the rotation at corner or safety this spring.

Both of the starting safeties return to the lineup for their junior seasons–Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil. Etheridge played almost all of last season with an injured shoulder. He had surgery in December, but could be ready for contact this spring.

Mike Slade and Christian Thompson return as the top backups after seeing the field very little on defense last season. However, the opportunity is there for either to make a push to be a starter when the Tigers take the field on Sept. 5 against Louisiana Tech. Spring will be important for both to gain experience working with Thigpen.

Drew Cole, a possibility at corner or safety, practiced at safety in 2008 as a true freshman but played almost exclusively on special teams. He is currently working at safety. Marcus Jemison is another young face in the secondary. He took a redshirt last season after breaking a bone in his ankle during two-a-days.

With a lack of experience and depth at linebacker, it is certainly a possibility that a defensive back or two could be moved down into the box to facilitate needs at other positions. However, nothing has been done on that front so far this spring.

Drew Cole (20) is working at safety this spring. Zac Etheridge (4) and Aairon Savage (2) are trying to come back from injuries.

For a couple of possessions against Ole Miss in 2008 the Tigers were down to cornerbacks number five and number six last year because of injuries. An unhealthy Etheridge at safety was also in the lineup. It would be improbable that the injury bug would bite the secondary this year as much as it did 2008, but the Tigers would likely be in better shape after playing five true freshmen defensive backs a year ago.

There are plenty of veterans in the group as well. McFadden and Savage are a pair of battle-tested senior cornerbacks while juniors Etheridge and McNeil saw significant playing time as freshmen and sophomores.

There are six scholarship sophomores and two redshirt freshmen also participating in spring drills. If some of the younger players step up and prove they're ready for the SEC then the defensive backfield could be a team strength coming out of the spring.

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