Published August 21, 2012 - 3:03pm
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In 2011, the Auburn defense was statistically the worst defense in Tigers history. Auburn gave up 408 ypg and 29.3 ppg last season. In the games against the toughest opponents in its respective division (Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas), Ted Roof’s squad surrendered 41.7ppg in what many fans remember as games they would love to forget.
Ted roof is now at Penn State, and there’s a new sheriff in town named Brian VanGorder who brings an aggressive style of play that has defensive players excited and ready to improve on last season’s dismal showing. The Auburn secondary ranked at the bottom of the SEC in passing defense, allowing 218 yards per game through the air. The Tigers only recorded 11 interceptions, and five of those either came from a graduating player (Neiko Thorpe-3) or another position (linebacker Jake Holland-2).
VanGorder brings fellow former Georgia defensive coordinator and secondary coach Willie Martinez to the Plains to try to rekindle some of the magic they had with the Georgia teams in the early 2000s.
As we looked at the questions for this 2012 team, there is definitely a bright spot on the defensive line. With one of the deepest, most talented fronts in recent Auburn memory, the secondary should have an easier time staying on receivers and also see more ill-advised and hurried passes coming from hurried quarterbacks.
Though a recurring theme for the 2012 team is youth and inexperience, it doesn’t exactly feel that way in the secondary. Yes, overall they are young, but all returners saw significant playing time in some of the most hostile environments in the country.
Players like sophomore safety Jermaine Whitehead and corner Robenson Therezie received praise from coaches early on – Whitehead for his football IQ and Therezie as a bit of a headhunter.
Also from the sophomore class, safety Erique Florence and corner Jonathon Mincy are now well-seasoned and junior safety Demetruce McNeal had two interceptions last year, returning one for a touchdown.
Junior safety Ryan Smith, who fans may remember for his game-saving tackle against Mississippi State last year, seems to have the inside track at the other safety opposite Whitehead.
Don’t forget about senior Nickel T’Sharvan Bell, who has six career picks. Bell has battled injuries during his career, and his leadership and infectious optimism on the field and off should prove invaluable to a group looking for an identity as the season nears.
Junior Chick-fil-A Bowl Defensive MVP Chris Davis has found a home at cornerback, and his physicality should mirror that of Therezie’s on the other side.
Newcomer Under Armour All-American Josh Holsey and the speedy Jonathan Jones will round out a unit that looks to be an asset on a defense that has nowhere to go but up.
Though the depth chart is not written in stone, the starting cornerbacks are looking like Davis and Therezie, and the safeties should be Whitehead and Smith.
Add Bell, Florence, and McNeal to a rotation that could see any number of combinations depending on the situation, and the 2012 Auburn secondary could be very good.
Like the rest of this Tiger team, however, the secondary still must prove it has arrived. This should be a fun group to watch in 2012.