Aug. 10, 2013
Safeties coach Charlie Harbison says he looks for "uncommon focus" from his players (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - You can call him Coach McNeal. For now.
Senior safety Demetruce McNeal has missed the first eight practices of Auburn's preseason camp as a result of an infection that required minor surgery. But Charlie "Cheese" Harbison, who coaches the safeties and the star position, says McNeal has made a strong contribution just the same.
"He's out there helping me coach," Harbison said. "He's staying focused on the task by helping me with the young guys. When a player can coach other players, he has it. He's doing good helping me. He's been great in meetings. Hopefully, when he gets back out there he'll take right back off."
McNeal, second on the team last season with 90 tackles, has been there when the crowd is up and screaming and there is a big game to be won. In those times, Harbison says, talent isn't enough.
"Uncommon focus," Harbison said Friday on the eve of the second scrimmage of preseason camp. "You have to have uncommon focus one snap at a time. Then, when that ball comes, you make your play."
Harbison says junior safety Jermaine Whitehead and junior star Justin Garrett have shown that uncommon focus. Even without hitting a lick, McNeal has shown it, too. He says he believes sophomore Josh Holsey, a converted cornerback, has it and others are getting close to having it.
"We have several players, but we have to get the whole unit that way," Harbison said. "I have to get my segment that way. When we get that, I think we are going to have something special."
Practicing against head coach Gus Malzahn's offensive scheme, Harbison says, leaves players with little choice but to be focused.
"You can't go out there cockeyed," Harbison said. "It makes you be disciplined. We have to be a disciplined team. All that comes under having uncommon focus - tackling, run to the ball, effort, communication, being physical, just being relentless. Being a unit and not individuals."
Going into today's scrimmage, with McNeal still out, Whitehead is the No. 1 field safety and Holsey the No. 1 boundary safety. Competing behind them are senior Ryan Smith, junior Trent Fisher, redshirt freshman T.J. Davis, junior college transfer Brandon King and freshman Khari Harding.
Garrett and junior Robenson Therezie are set at star. Freshman Mackenro Alexander is behind them.
Ideally, Harbison says, he would like to have eight players ready to play the three positions. But six would be acceptable.
"The way the game is now and the way we special teams, I like to play seven guys," Harbison said. "Eight would be great. I have to see if we can get there. If I can get six, I'll be blessed, but I'd like to have eight. When we get Demetruce back, I think we'll get close to that. You talk about the dime package, that's six. That's really 12 guys (two-deep). You have to have two deep because, if somebody gets hurt, you can't just dump the package. I can't wait until we play and I see what we have."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: