Oct. 20, 2013
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - At the end of practice last Thursday, senior Ryan Smith was a cornerback. When Auburn's defense took the field against Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel less than 48 hours later, White was a safety for the first time in his college career.
It all started when sophomore Josh Holsey suffered a season-ending knee injury on a freak accident on the final play of practice. Holsey, in addition to being a starting safety, was the No. 1 dime back. Holsey's injury changed everything.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, safeties coach Charlie Harbison and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith had to come up with an answer. And they had little time to do it. Because safeties Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead had practiced at the dime position, they would share Holsey's role there. And White would move into Holsey's safety position with no practice.
They made it work. Auburn beat then-No. 7 Texas A&M 45-41 at Kyle Field on Saturday.
"We brought him in that morning," Johnson said Sunday. "Coach Harbison spent a few hours with him. He had a walkthrough that afternoon with the unit. Just being a defensive back, he knows what that guy does. But the adjustments and the alignments and being in the right place and leverage and all that, I thought he did a magnificent job with no practice."
The changes, Johnson said, had no impact on how he called the game.
"We didn't change anything," Johnson said. "In fact, I might have called too much dime package. I thought fatigue was an issue. Looking back after the game was over, there are certain coverages we cannot run with the Will backer out there. I didn't want to get handcuffed. Frankly, we could have played a lot more base personnel."
The move also presented an opportunity for junior Trent Fisher
, who got significant playing time at safety.
"We felt like that was the best thing to do because (Jermaine) Whitehead and Ryan Smith had been working at the dime backing up Josh and knew the position," Johnson said. "So we put Ryan White back at deep safety. He did a good job picking that up. I think he had one busted coverage and one where he got out of position a little bit."
The Tigers, 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, jumped to No. 11 in the Associated Press poll and the BCS standings in the wake of their victory over Texas A&M. They returned to practice Sunday to begin preparations for next Saturday's game against Florida Atlantic at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Holsey, Johnson said, won't be easily replaced.
"That is something we really have to focus on down the road, because we've lost him for the year and he was so critical to us in our dime package," Johnson said. "Those guys stepped up and did a great job."
Smith said White's ability to change positions with no practice was a key to the Tigers' victory over the Aggies and the ever-elusive Manziel.
"That was a big key with Josh going down," Smith said. "He had to make a change and move to safety without having a day of practice. We just needed him to go out and play ball, and he did a good job of that."
After Tre Mason scored what proved to be the winning touchdown with 1:19 left, the Aggies moved to the Auburn 18 before the defense turned them back.
"As a defense, we felt like the offense had come through for us," Smith said. "We wanted to just play together and finish like we knew we could."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: