Injuries Force Young Safety To Step Up

Sophomore safety Drew Cole talks about his development and the injuries at the position.

Auburn, Ala.--With returning starter Zac Etheridge missing much of the contact portion of spring practice after having shoulder surgery following the 2008 season, the young guys at the safety position had already been called upon to step up and make plays.

Last Saturday that call to duty turned into a distress signal when fellow returning starter Mike McNeil went down with a broken bone in his leg. That has meant an increase in time on the field and responsibility for young safeties such as Drew Cole, Mike Slade and Christian Thompson, something Cole said they're having to adjust to without one of their leaders with them right now.

"Anytime you lose a player like that it's obviously going to hurt you on the field," Cole said. "It's going to be a big hit for us off the field too. He's one of the biggest leaders for us everywhere. He's one of the leaders of the secondary. It's going to be a big hit."

Without the two projected starters, the trio has become the full extent of Auburn's depth at the safety position. Cole said that will put some pressure on the guys to respond in Saturday's A-Day game, but he feels like they are ready for the challenge.

"I think when we get Zac back that's going to help a lot," Cole said. "He's a leader so when we get him back on the field it's definitely going to help. Right now the young guys, we've got to come together and play. There's really only three of us left now that Marcus (Marcus Jemison) moved down to linebacker. We're just going to have to use a three-man rotation and step up and play."

With three players for two positions, it has also forced some changes in how coach Tommy Thigpen is using the guys. Starting out as a strong safety in the spring, Cole said he's now working at free safety as well. He added that's just something all three of the guys have to do with the injuries at the position.

"I'm working at both right now," Cole said. "There are some differences. They are the opposite of each other, but at the same time we're in the meetings together so you're learning both sides. It's not that much of a difference."

Coming in as a cornerback last fall, Cole made the move to safety during the season and was mainly used on special teams for the Tigers. He said now a year older and stronger, he feels much better about his game, but noted he's still got plenty of room for improvement as he heads into his sophomore season.

"I feel like I have made a lot of strides this spring," Cole said. "I still have a long way to go. I need to gain a little weight and get a little faster, but I've definitely made some strides in my game. The game has slowed down a little bit.

"I'm learning how to watch tape and learning how to do the small things. At this level that's one of the most important things is getting your alignment right, your calls right. I've definitely made strides in that."

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