If there’s a position group on Auburn’s defense that may be a question mark next season, it’s the secondary. The back end of Kevin Steele’s 2018 defense loses All-American corner Carlton Davis, and safeties Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts, all to the NFL.
But to senior linebacker Deshaun Davis, the idea that the Tigers’ secondary is a “weak spot” is comical.
“I always laugh when people say our back end is going to struggle,” Davis said Thursday. “(Jamel) Dean is a freak of nature. Javaris (Davis) made a lot of plays for us. Daniel Thomas has the speed and ability to cover receivers. But (Jeremiah Dinson) is the brains of the operation back there. He makes a lot of plays on the ball and has great ball skills.
“I’m not worried at all. I don’t know why people are.”
If Auburn’s secondary is going to play all season like it did at Thursday’s scrimmage, there’s little reason for anxiety. Take a team’s first scrimmage of fall camp with a grain of salt, but defensive backs Traivon Leonard, Jayvaughn Myers and John Broussard Jr. all hauled in interceptions inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, according to Gus Malzahn and Davis.
For the coaching staff, it was a welcome sight.
Davis said the defensive coaches’ primary point of emphasis has been creating turnovers in camp, and understandably so. Even with Carlton Davis, Matthews and Roberts prowling in coverage last year, Auburn was 110th in the nation with only six interceptions and 60th in the FBS with 19 total takeaways.
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“The ‘question’ for our defense is the back end,” Davis said. “I don’t think it’s really going to be problem. They made some plays today, some big tackles in the box. It’s a big confidence booster for those guys to see that they’re actually able to make those plays.”
Davis couldn’t recall which defensive back made which interception, but photographs released later in the day by Auburn Athletics revealed that Myers’ pick came against freshman wide receiver Anthony Schwartz. Then came this video:
Malzahn called Myers’ interception “the play of the scrimmage.” According to the head coach, one of the other picks was a “really good play” by either Leonard or Broussard, but the final interception was a “poor decision” by either Joey Gatewood, Malik Willis or Cord Sandberg.
As Davis alluded to, Auburn is locked and loaded with the likes of Javaris Davis, Dean, Dinson and Thomas. Sophomore Noah Igbinoghene is expected to start alongside Dean at corner once healed from the undisclosed injury that held him out of Thursday’s scrimmage.
In the summer, junior Javaris Davis was projected as the starter at Nickel, but Myers held down that first-team role in the first few practices. Steele has advised against reading too deep into that situation, as a snapshot of his defense in practice may be a “mixture” of first- through fourth-team players.
Even in his non-contact jersey, Dinson fully participated Thursday, according to Malzahn. The safeties have big shoes to fill with the departures of Matthews and Roberts but are a position laden with ability down the depth chart, as true freshman standouts Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood lie in wait as the backups.
Deshaun Davis acknowledged Monday and Sherwood’s promising futures but is seeing untapped potential from fellow Mobile native and true freshman Roger McCreary, who made “a lot of plays” in the scrimmage.
Because McCreary is still learning the playbook, he’ll eat his lunch and take his breaks faster to talk to coaches and work through defensive schemes, per Davis.
“He wants to know all the adjustments,” Davis said. “He’s trying to become a student of the game. What stood out to me today was he made a lot of open-field tackles and big plays on third down.”
Already having “shown the ability” to effectively cover Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton in practice, per Davis, the former three-star McCreary has enough skill to contribute immediately. The Tigers’ back end is stacked for now, so McCreary will have to wait for his shot at proving himself on the big stage. But when he does get that opportunity, Davis knows he’ll turn heads.
“If he was out there, I wouldn’t be worried at all,” Davis said. “I know the heart’s that in him … I don’t know how much they’re going to use him, but if he’s out there, he’ll make some plays.”
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