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'Razor thin': Auburn defense on the mend during off week

Sept. 28, 2013

Auburn's Dee Ford, left, and Mackenro Alexander make the hit against LSU (Todd Van Emst photo)

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn is 3-1 and feeling pretty good it put up a fight after falling behind at LSU its last time out. But the Tigers didn't spend their off-week this week resting on what could be a turnaround season. 

Auburn practiced, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was hoping he'd find more depth from a list of injured players who may be getting healthy.   

"The biggest problem we've had all years is musical chairs with guys out of the lineup. We're hoping we can get some guys back," Johnson said. 

Auburn's off week at least opened the door for players to heal. The Tigers play again a week from Saturday when it faces Ole Miss in Jordan-Hare Stadium. 

Defensive players who have missed games are defensive backs Chris Davis and Jonathan Jones; defensive linemen Dee Ford, Jeff Whitaker and Craig Sanders; and new linebacker Justin Garrett as well as Keymiya Harrell. Receiver Jaylon Denson was lost for the season after he hurt his knee against LSU and running back Corey Grant was limited because of a sore ankle. 

The injuries have taken a toll on defense. 

"The list goes on and on," Johnson said. 

But Auburn has discovered its freshmen defensive linemen can contribute, and that has helped make the line one of the deepest positions. Auburn played at least 13 defensive linemen in one game alone. 

But other positions aren't as deep. Johnson called his secondary "razor thin with injuries." 

 "We've got to get some of those guys healthy because I don't think we can make it down through the SEC track without some better depth in the secondary," he said. 

Johnson said Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White have been "outstanding" in relief, that freshman Kamryn Melton has gained valuable experience and Josh Holsey has been an effective swing player, playing inside or out. 

One injury opened the door for a player to get off to a fast start. Robenson Therezie replaced Justin Garrett at Johnson's hybrid Star safety position, and he's responded with a team-best 25 tackles. Therezie is fit in so well that Garrett, when he returned from his foot injury, was moved to Will linebacker. 

He may be there for awhile. 

"He's still learning the position, but it looks like he can be an impact player for us," Johnson said. 

Johnson said he came out of preseason practice with "five or six guys" who were jockeying for position at linebacker. 

"But nobody has really separated from the group," he said. "I think Cassanova McKinzy has had the best production of them all, but he's been a little inconsistent at times because he's inexperienced." 

Johnson said Jake Holland and Kris Frost are "splitting up the Mike" linebacker position, a spot that helps set the defense.

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



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