Auburn shuffling defense after injuries take a toll

Aug 19, 2013

KiehlFrazier

Kiehl Frazier goes from quarterback to a chance to quickly contribute at safety at Auburn (Todd Van Emst photo)

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By Charles Goldberg
AuburnTigers.com

AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn's top pass rusher has a bum knee,  a defensive back has a broken ankle, much of the defensive line and many of the cornerbacks have missed time because of injuries, a top freshman running back has  been moved to defensive back and  we're catching our breath here  a guy who was a quarterback just a week ago figures to play at least some at safety. 

Auburn is limping toward its Aug. 31 season-opener against Washington State. 

The headline loss is Dee Ford, the defensive end who is a pass rush specialist and is out with a knee injury. Defensive back Jonathan Jones is out for an indefinite period with a broken ankle. They'll miss the opener. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson  says he's practiced without five defensive linemen, at times, and without three cornerbacks. The situation was compounded over the weekend when defensive back Demetruce McNeal was dismissed because of a violation of a team rule. 

The injuries have mounted so that freshman running back Johnathan Ford was moved to cornerback and quarterback Kiehl Frazier was moved to safety. 

Still, Johnson said he's hopeful everybody would be back, except Dee Ford and Jones, and that "I've been most pleased with the past four practices."

"We stalled out and hit neutral about a week ago with the loss of so many players that were in the playing picture. At one point, we had the best pass rusher out, we had the returning leading tackler out, we had probably our third-best corner out. In fact, one day, we practiced without three of the four best corners. We lost, I think, four guys from the front, in addition to Dee. Thank goodness none of them are extremely serious, we'll get them all back, but it hurts your progress in preseason camp when you've got people missing. 

"That's been the biggest problem is, we've just had a hard time making steady improvement with over the entire big picture." 

The good news, Johnson said, is that Justin Garrett, the standout of spring practice at the new safety Star position, is on his way back from a foot injury and should begin practicing soon. 

"We're going to be fine with most all of them except for Jonathan and Dee," Johnson said. "We've just got to realize they're gone. I've been in situations where it's extremely worse and I've been in situations where we just had a horseshoe and never lost a guy." 

Frazier fell behind in the quarterback race, and now could find himself with a quality role on defense. 

"Mentally he's one of the quickest guys we got," Johnson said. "He's picked up the scheme, talking, making some checks those young JUCO guys and freshmen guys weren't making for two weeks. He's going to be OK in time."

Defensive end Ken Carter, like Ford, has missed time. 

"If we played tomorrow, I don't know," Johnson said. " Looking toward the first game, we're trying to get those older guys prepped up to be the starters. We don't want a true freshman in the starting roles." 

LaDarius Owens, the sometimes defensive end, sometimes linebacker, is back at defensive end. 

"He's way ahead of where we thought he'd be," Johnson said. 

Johnson could only shrug off the injuries. 

"It's just one of those things," he said. "You never know what's going to happen. You can't try to sit there and say it doesn't matter. But you can't try to sit there and say it's not going to give us an opportunity because you've got to work through it. Everybody has this happen and football players have to step up when they get the opportunity and take their turn."

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson looks at practice, injuries:

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: