Young Safeties Forced To Step Up

Safety coach Tommy Thigpen talks about filling the void at safety following an injury to Mike McNeil.

Auburn, Ala.--The safety position was one that seemed to be the deepest for the Auburn Tigers heading into spring practice with the return of starters Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil as well as a large group of talented backups. Following Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the need for that depth to step up has become paramount.

That's because of an injury to McNeil that will end his spring. Breaking his leg during the scrimmage, McNeil will be out for up to two months, but hopefully should be ready for fall practice in August. That won't help the defense in the final week and a half of spring practice though, but coach Tommy Thigpen said they'll just have to find someone to get the job done like they did on Saturday.

"The guys were flying around," Thigpen said. "Unfortunately we lost Mike in the scrimmage. It was good to see 11 (Mike Slade) step up and Cole (Drew Cole) stepped up. They got a lot more reps. Somebody has got to grow up real fast."

With the injury occurring on Saturday it meant a lot more work for the reserves as the Tigers finished up the scrimmage with the defense winning against the offense. Thigpen said while you never want to see an injury, forcing the younger guys to see more playing time can only help them down the road.

"It's always good," Thigpen said. "Number 11 (Slade) got a ton of reps. He must have taken triple the reps because he didn't come out after Mike got hurt. He stayed in for the rest of the scrimmage. It's invaluable for him and it looked like he did pretty well out there."

With four practice days left in the spring, including Saturday's A-Day game scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m., Thigpen is in charge of finding the right player to step in for the injured McNeil. While there are plenty of replacements, he said they're going to work to make sure it's a move that fits both the player and the defense.

"We're looking right now at Slade, Cole and C.T., Christian Thompson," Thigpen said. "All three of those guys will have an opportunity to go in there and play. With Zac out we had been playing Christian to the other side of the field. Right now it's looking like Slade and we might move Cole over there. We'll watch the tape and see what guy is the best fit for that position."

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