Nov. 1, 2013
Auburn's Jermaine Whitehead heads up field after an interception against Florida Atlantic (Lauren Barnard photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. – Want a chance to play in Auburn's secondary? Take a ticket. Your number may come up.
Injuries have knocked out some of Auburn's defensive backs, but, in turn, they've opened up opportunities for others. Finding the right mix will be Auburn's goal again when the Tigers play Arkansas at 5 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville.
Gone is Josh Holsey, now out for the season after knee surgery. Gone is Justin Garrett, who got in two games in a star-crossed injury-filled season. Gone, for a few games, was Chris Davis.
In is Jonathan Jones, who missed the first half of the season with an injury. Ryan White, a cornerback by trade, found himself at a completely new position when he was moved to safety a day before the Tigers played and beat Texas A&M.
The secondary is critical in Ellis Johnson's defensive back-heavy 4-2-5 defense. Six of Auburn's top seven tacklers are defensive backs. Those defensive backs have led the Tigers to nine interceptions. Auburn had only two last year.
But injuries have been a wildcard, says DB Jermaine Whitehead, who had an interception last week.
"The crazy part is when we sit and talk, we talk about 'what if I had to move to safety, what if I had to play corner," Whitehead said. "Those situations, when they present themselves, we find it as an opportunity to showcase another skill level that we have. I think we’re taking it as good as probably anybody could. We’re growing on it, we lost a couple of key players and guys stepped in and made remarkable moves and it’s been a great turnaround."
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said the likes of Khari Harding, Mackenro Alexander and Brandon King may get more opportunities.
"Those three guys are getting a lot of reps in practice," he says. "Safety, our Star position, are critical positions."
White didn't much of a chance to show his defensive skills until this season. He was solid at cornerback. But Holsey hurt his knee on the last play of a Thursday practice before Texas A&M, White found himself playing Johnny Manziel with almost no practice as a safety.
He got more experience in last week's win over Florida Atlantic.
"For him to go through a week of practice – he did a great job," Whitehead said. "It’s a couple of things all of us have to work on, but he’s learning, he’s seeing the field better. He understanding why he had to do what he had to do at corner from the safety position. Those positions are vice versa and he understands the responsibility of both and it’s going to make him a great player at safety."
Whitehead said he and Davis push each other, starting in the film room.
"We’re usually on the opposite sides of the field. He kind of controls his side, while I control my side and we meet in the middle with an agreement because I already know what he’s talking about, he knows what I’m talking about," Whitehead said.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine