By Greg Ostendorf
AUBURN, Ala. -- It's been a little strange to look back and not see Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts patrolling the Auburn defense through the first couple practices this spring. The safety duo had become a staple in the secondary, but both players graduated and moved on and both will likely be playing on Sundays next fall.
That void, though, has created opportunities for other players -- most notably, Jeremiah Dinson.
As a sophomore, Dinson played in all 14 games and finished with 47 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 4 passes broken up, but his coaches moved him from nickel to safety this spring with every intention of giving him more responsibility and making him more of a leader. They believe he can fill that void left by the departures of Matthews and Roberts.
"Every really good secondary that I've ever seen always had a point guy back there that could make the calls," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "Especially nowadays with all the offenses with the motions and different formations, some unbalanced formations -- it really is critical that you have somebody on the back end that can get everybody on the same page.
"We believe Dinson can definitely do that. He's like a coach on the field."
The biggest thing for Dinson as he makes the transition to safety this spring isn't necessarily learning how to play the position. He's played safety before, both in high school and some for Auburn last season. It's more about speaking up and making the calls, something that was passed down to him from his predecessors, Matthews and Roberts.
"I think the biggest thing I got from them is being vocal," Dinson said. "Last year I talked, but I was all about signs. I would give you the sign, and I wouldn't talk to you very much.
"Once those guys left, I talked to them and both of them said, `You messed up. You've got to be the leader. You've got to be that vocal leader.' I'm taking that in practice every day starting now, so in the fall it's just second nature to me."
The move to safety has also forced Dinson to get stronger. He went from 185 or 190 pounds last season to 200 pounds this spring as a result of putting time in the weight room. Plus, he and fellow defensive back Daniel Thomas are learning how to play together this spring as Auburn's possible safety tandem next season.
"Our chemistry right now is high," Dinson said. "When we were in the game last year it was pretty good. Having these practices, it's only going to get better."
Between the likes of Dinson, Thomas, Javaris Davis, Jamel Dean, Jordyn Peters and others, there are plenty of talented options for Auburn as it looks to retool the secondary. Incoming freshmen Smoke Monday, Christian Tutt and Jamien Sherwood could also contribute immediately.
The key, though, will be finding leaders like Dinson to emerge.
Greg Ostendorf is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: