Auburn’s secondary starts its season Saturday with arguably its biggest challenge of the year: trying to stop Oregon’s quarterback, Justin Herbert.
“I think he is well-deserved of one of the top quarterbacks in the country,” said head coach Gus Malzahn. “He can make all the throws, he can keep plays alive.”
Herbert is projected as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft, and over the last three years of his college career, he’s continually proven to be one of the best QBs in the nation.
For the Tigers, there are no questions about the defensive line. Everyone knows what the likes of Derick Brown and Marlon Davidson can do. Where the question lies is whether or not the defensive backs can stand up to the test.
“The sky’s the limit for this secondary,” said senior safety Daniel Thomas. “I know a lot of times people question our secondary, but this is going to be a good secondary this year.”
Last year, the Tigers allowed 219 passing yards a game which was middle of the pack in the SEC. That was with cornerback Jamel Dean, who was selected in the third round of last year’s draft. Now, Noah Igbinoghene, the former wide receiver, is looking to fill those shoes.
Auburn does return seniors Javaris Davis, Jeremiah Dinson and Thomas, who will each provide a steady veteran presence. Also, this year Kevin Steele is moving to the sideline during games which will help streamline the adjustments made in-game, according to the Tigers.
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“He’s a smart defensive coordinator,” Dinson said. “He’ll probably be calling plays out before it even happens. We probably won’t hear him, but it’s good to have him down there just for the adjustments.”
Dinson and Thomas both understand the challenges that come with facing Herbert. Pro Football Focus has him as the 12th-best player in the country going into the season. He can torch any defense that isn’t ready. This isn’t lost on Dinson.
“Being a senior, you want these types of matchups,” Dinson said. “He’s an NFL-caliber quarterback. I’ve been studying since this summer and this past week.”
As the game gets closer, more and more people will talk about Herbert’s prowess, but that’s not concerning the Auburn secondary.
“It’s not about Oregon,” Dinson said. “A lot of people are going to make it about them. But it’s not about them. At the end of the day, it’s about Auburn, and how we go out there and execute, how we give effort.”
Saturday night will be an indicator of what this unit actually is for Auburn. Whether they can rise to the level of the defensive line or will they continue to be average remains to be seen. Against Herbert, they have the chance to make a statement. Let Dinson tell it — they think have the talent to do just that.
“We know what we’re going to do before the play even happens, to be honest with you,” Dinson said. “I feel more comfortable than I did these past years. So, I’m ready.”
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