By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - A fifth-year senior surrounded by younger players in Auburn’s defensive backfield, Joshua Holsey is the voice of wisdom, the sage of the secondary.
“Just stay poised and stay calm,” Holsey tells his younger mates. “You know your job, and you know what to do. There’s no real pressure. Pressure only comes when you don’t know what to do. You’re just playing against another guy in another uniform.”
“I tell them, ‘You’ve just got to play it like it’s a normal game,’” he said. “You can’t go out there and look in the stands because you might get shell-shocked because there are going to be a lot of people out there, and they’re going to be rocking for this game on Saturday.”
Auburn’s defense will face a challenge in Saturday’s 8 p.m. season opener against No. 2 Clemson and star quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“Deshaun makes people better, just because he’s Deshaun Watson,” Holsey said. “He’s playing at a very high level of football. They’ve got a very good offensive staff, and a very good offensive corps right now. It will be a good challenge for us, for the first game to see how we respond to it.”
In addition to being a gifted passer, Watson’s mobility helps him avoid pass rushers, creating an extra challenge for opposing secondaries.
“It makes it a lot harder,” Holsey said. “As a defensive back, you don’t really like covering receivers for 7, 8 seconds, because it’s kind of unrealistic. When you’ve got a great pass rush like we have, it makes our job a little bit easier. Because we know he can’t just sit back there and pat the ball for too long.
“With a great rush, that kind of helps us not have to cover for 7, 8 seconds. If it does happen, you just have to continue to play. When he scrambles, you have to stay with your man, you’ve got to plaster with your man. If you’re in zone, you’ve got to find somebody to plaster to, so he doesn’t have an easy throw down the field while he’s scrambling. Because that’s probably when he’s at his best, when he’s outside of the pocket.”
Fully recovered from two knee surgeries in the past three years, Holsey says he’s the third fastest Tiger, trailing only fellow defensive backs Javaris Davis and Rudy Ford in the 40.
“I’m looking forward to each and every game, and especially this game because it’s a big one,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are going to be watching us, so I can really showcase what we’ve been working for, and what I’ve been working for to come back, even off a second ACL.”
For a team whose motto is “Earn it,” Holsey says Clemson is a “perfect” opener for Auburn.
“It’s going to be a good game for us to go out there and earn all of the respect we need to get back,” Holsey said. “We felt like we didn’t do as well as we should have done last year. We had a lot of team meetings without the coaches to tell everybody that this year is the year we’re going to get back to doing what we do best. Playing Auburn football. And playing hard-nosed defense and putting up a lot of points on people.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer