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Rookies, veterans: Auburn's secondary enjoys solid start
Sept. 21, 2014

Auburn's Rudy Ford closes in on Kansas State's Tyler Lockett

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala.  Last week, and at the same time, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson saw Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Trovon Reed and Derrick Moncrief playing in his secondary against a Top 25 team.
None of them, he pointed out, played a defensive snap at Auburn last year.
"That's a tough job against a good football team in a tough environment," Johnson said Sunday as he reviewed Thursday's 20-14 win over then-No. 20 Kansas State. "There were some mistakes, alignments and things that could be better, but I thought they competed and had some production."
Auburn's defense is ahead of the game compared to last season. The Tigers are ranked fourth in total defense in the SEC, compared to seventh in total offense. Auburn, which held Kansas State to 30 yards rushing, has allowed only 258 yards rushing in three games, the fewest to start a season since 2008.
It has not allowed a third-quarter touchdown. It has allow only one in the fourth. It'll try to keep up those numbers against Louisiana Tech in a 3 p.m. Saturday homecoming game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn already had to juggle its secondary before Kansas State, in part because Jermaine Whitehead was suspended indefinitely just days before the game. The starters were cornerbacks Jonathon Mincy and Johnathan Jones, safeties Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford, and Robenson Therezie, at the hybrid Star position. 
Then entered the reserves: Roberts and Ruffin, the freshmen; Reed, the senior and former wide receiver; and Moncrief, the junior college transfer; and Justin Garrett, the junior at the Star.
Holsey, also a junior, was juggled the most, moving from cornerback back to safety to replace Whitehead.
"I thought he did a good, solid job," Johnson said. "It was a tough move for him. It was done during the week and he didn't have but one-half of a practice and another small light practice. 
"I thought all our guys out back played pretty well. We put a lot of pressure on them. We had to play a lot of man coverage to make sure we loaded the box on the quarterback. And I thought they really competed well."
And there was Ford, the player who, on signing day, was listed as a running back but has been a defensive back for a year-and-half.
"He continues to improve drastically," Johnson said. "He just shows up. He catches your eye. You can see how explosive he is, how fast he closes on things. He's been a good tackler, he's been doing well in coverage.
"He's got to still get real consistent with his eyes, make sure he's looking at the right things and playing the right reads. He had a pass thrown on him the other day where he took a couple of false steps and was able to recover, almost made an unbelievable play. He made a hard play out of an easy play, just because of his experience level. But he's getting better and we really have a lot of confidence in him right now."
Johnson's other observations of the secondary:
• On Nick Ruffin: "Really, one of the more bright ones, picking up on things and getting us lined up."
• On Trovon Reed: "He had three big plays that were obvious. He had the interception, he had a breakup on a double post, and one other play on a screen, but overall, he played very solid.
"He's made steady progress, and I think now it's to the point we can play him as much as those starters, and that's important."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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