Auburn's Burning Questions: No. 5 - How much can the secondary improve?
Several questions abound as the Auburn Tigers begin their quest to become the first team to repeat as SEC Champions since 1998. Leading up to the first day of fall practice on Aug. 1, Saturday Down South will examine the 10 burning questions the Tigers face in their quest to win back-to-back SEC Championships.
Auburn’s burning questions:
- No. 10: How reliable will the kicking game be?
- No. 9: How will Tigers handle success/off-the-field issues?
- No. 8: Who will be the biggest surprise?
- No. 7: What does the addition of Duke Williams mean?
- No. 6: Can Nick Marshall thrive in balanced offense?
- No. 5: How much can the secondary improve?
Some of the criticism that the Auburn secondary got last year was not justifiable. Once known for its defense, the entire SEC seemed turned on its head with offenses putting up huge numbers last year. Nine of the league’s 14 teams averaged over 30 points a game.
To say that the Tigers defense got thrashed, specifically the secondary, might be harsh or might be accurate but so did a majority of the secondaries around the league. Auburn gave up 19 passing touchdowns. Five teams were in the same ballpark as Auburn. Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri, Tennessee and Vanderbilt gave up 18. Others gave up more. Kentucky surrendered 22 while Arkansas gave up 25 and Texas A&M let in a league-high 31 touchdowns.
Auburn’s secondary and all the other secondaries in the SEC are more than happy to say goodbye to a quartet of quarterbacks that made their lives miserable in 2013. A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, Johnny Manziel and Zack Mettenberger lead their teams to a combined average of over 38 points a game.
With these skilled passers now playing on Sundays and the Tigers bringing back a slew of seasoned veterans along with a quality JUCO player, the Auburn secondary should get its swagger back. For a half against Florida State in the national championship it looked like the Tigers were halfway there.
Seniors Jermaine Whitehead, Robenson Therezie, Jonathan Mincy have a combined 115 games under their belt. Whitehead, a two-year starter, has easily been the most productive of the seniors. Last year the Mississippi native led the secondary with 76 tackles and defended 8 passes. Coming out of spring camp, Whitehead seemed to have won the free safety position. Therezie thrived in the hybrid star position last season, picking off a team-high four passes while registering 57 tackles. He’ll most likely get the nod there. Mincy defended a team-high 15 passes from the boundary corner spot in 2013 while making 56 tackles. His status for the beginning of the season is still uncertain because an arrest for possession of marijuana. If Gus Malzahn chooses to punish Mincy one of three capable juniors, who are versatile enough to play different positions, can take Mincy’s place.
The health of junior Josh Holsey will tell just how deep the Tigers are. As a true freshman, Holsey proved he was talented enough to start six games. He won the boundary safety job last spring. In the first six games of 2013 Holsey’s had 22 tackles and 1 interception. The day before the Tigers went to Texas A&M, Holsey tore his ACL on the very last play of practice. He was held out this spring. JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief might have locked up the boundary safety spot in Holsey’s absence. Moncrief, at 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, impressed the coaches during the spring to give him the early nod. In two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, Moncrief had 66 tackles and three interceptions. Jonathan Jones, another junior, could be Mincy’s replacement at boundary corner if Mincy is suspended. Jones played in 19 games for Auburn.