Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Secondary overview

If there is one spot on the Tigers roster that actually boasts modest depth, it’s the secondary.

Auburn returns three cornerbacks with starting experience including Walt McFadden, of whom much is expected this season. Even with Jerraud Powers’ early departure and Aairon Savage’s injury to his Achilles, the Tigers should be fine at the position to start the year.

Both starting safeties – Mike McNeil and Zac Etheridge – return, though McNeil’s status is still unclear after he broke his leg during a spring game.

Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley and safeties coach Tommy Thigpen both like their depth situations, but there still aren’t players aplenty available in case of emergencies.

Walt McFadden, Sr.
Neiko Thorpe, So.
D’Antoine Hood, So.
Harry Adams, So.
Demond Washington, Jr.

Mike McNeil, Jr.
Drew Cole, So.
Mike Slade, So.

Zac Etheridge, Jr.
T’Sharvan Bell, RFr.

CB/S – Aairon Savage, Sr. (Achilles)

S – Daren Bates


McFadden is expected to be both a playmaker and a leader on the defensive side of the ball. Neiko Thorpe will have the first shot at a starting spot and should seize it.

D’Antoine Hood played well in his lone start last year. It wasn’t an easy intro to SEC play, either, going against Jevan Snead and Ole Miss. He should be able to provide quality depth.

Harry Adams moved from corner to receiver during spring practice. After Christian Thompson was kicked off the team and T’Sharvan Bell moved to safety, Adams moved back to corner. He lost valuable practice time at the position in the spring and could be behind to start.

JUCO transfer Demond Washington passed through NCAA Clearinghouse today and should push for the nickel spot.

At safety, Etheridge says he is finally healthy after playing much of his sophomore season with a shoulder injury. He knows he and McNeil – or whoever fills in for McNeil while he recovers from the broken leg – need to produce more takeaways after the pair combined for just two last year.

Mike Slade and Drew Cole are battling for the top spot while McNeil is out. McNeil should reclaim the position when he’s healthy.

Bell is still learning the safety position, but Lolley spent part of spring practice singing his praises when the redshirt freshman played corner.

Another JUCO transfer, Daren Bates will likely be behind to start practice. AuburnSports.com reported that he should be cleared by the end of this week.


Lolley on McFadden: “The main thing we talk about every day is we want to be more physical. I think he showed an ability to cover people, but our deal this year is to not just be a cover guy, but to be a defensive back – a real true corner in all aspects of the game, be more physical in supporting the outside and try to be physical.”

Lolley on Thorpe’s playmaking ability vs. risk-taking: “First of all, he’s got tremendous rebound ability. If something does go wrong – a wrong step or something – he has the ability to make up a step. You don’t coach a lot of that. That’s natural instinct. We don’t call it taking risks. If anything, from what I’ve coached these guys, I coach against that. We’re constantly talking about breaking to the up-field shoulder – preventing the guy from hitting his head on the goal post for a touchdown. That’s the most important thing. At the same time, you used the word ‘risk,’ but what I like to use is the word ‘anticipation.’ We don’t take risks when we anticipate. We anticipate to the up-field shoulder. That way if guys double-move us, we have a way to get out of that situation. The thing I never want my guys doing is always worrying about the deep ball. We don’t want it to happen.”

McFadden on how Thorpe, Adams and Hood are preparing differently this year from last year: “It’s totally different – especially with D Hood. He’s starting to understand the game a whole lot better. He’s starting to understand different formations. He’s in the film room a lot more. Neiko as well. He’s in the film room a lot more. The thing that stands out about Neiko now is instead of him being out there by himself, he’s talking to the linebackers about where they’re going to be at so they can kind of help him. That’s something good about Neiko right now.”

Thigpen on who has the best chance to push McNeil or Etheridge: “Drew Cole really came on. I was really pleased with the way he progressed. First day, I was really like I don’t know if he can do it. Second day he didn’t make the same mistakes twice. Third day he slowly started to become comfortable. By the end he was playing as good as anyone. He can run, he can hit, he can make tackles in space and that’s really all the game is. He was making plays that he was supposed to make and he was making some plays that he wasn’t supposed to make. I felt good with where he was at. I feel good about where Slade was getting to. From the first day to the last day, he was progressing until he got hurt. He’s making some plays for us.”

Etheridge on whether he should have sat out last year when he injured his shoulder against LSU: “I think I should have missed just a couple games for it to heal up a little bit because my shoulder was very swollen after the LSU game. I should have just sat out a couple of weeks. I didn’t hit in practice but in the games I did. I think I could have played on it if I had just sat out a couple of weeks and let it heal on its own.”

Etheridge on Bell: “What’s exciting about T-Bell is he’s always been smart. I could go out there and show him one thing and he’ll pick up on it just that quick. I think that’s pretty smart about him just being able to learn the defense.”

Etheridge on if it’s fair to criticize safeties for lack of takeaways in ’08: “That’s very fair. The guys tease me a lot for dropping interceptions. I probably could have had four on my own last year but I dropped three. That’s something I’ve been working on all summer long. I’ve been doing JUGS, I’ve been working with the receivers, I’ll go out there and runs routes with them just to work on my hands and eyes to catch the ball. I think, as a unit this year, we will be stronger at causing turnovers because we’ll be all around the ball a lot.”

McFadden on Cole: “Cole’s looking really good. He’s a head hunter. We have to tell him to slow down because he’s so excited to get to the ball. We’ve got quarterbacks that are kind of old back there – Chris Todd, Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle – they’re doing a couple play-action plays and he’s running in like it’s a run and a lot of times they throw the ball and he’s sacking them. He’s supposed to be in Cover 2. He’s so excited. He’s a good player. He’s coming along really well. He’s playing on my side so he’s got me talking to him and he’s learning and he’s listening. I don’t see any difference between he and Mike McNeil except Mike McNeil, I don’t have to talk to him. He knows what I was going to do because he knew the play and he knew the formations. But now that I speak to Drew Cole, he’s picking up on his own. That’s how it’s been for the last four weeks.”

McFadden on Slade: “Mike Slade, he’s an older guy. The only thing that’s different about those two is Mike Slade’s got the experience. Mike Slade can pick up some things and he understands the game. Drew Cole, he’s learning it right now. I don’t know who’s going to be the starter at that position. It’s going to be a good battle.”

No comments: