2014 Key Returnees:
Jermaine Whitehead, Rudy Ford, Brandon King
Derrick Moncrief, Markell Boston
2014 Key Returnees:
Jonathon Mincy, Josh Holsey, Jonathon Jones, T.J. Davis, Kamryn Melton, Trovon Reed
Kalvarez Bessent, Joseph Turner (JUCO), Stephen Roberts
I combined the two DB units into one for the position reviews to ease the process along and shorten the length of time it will take.
I didn't really know what to think about the DBs before last season. I had to struggle to even remember Jermaine Whitehead off the top of my head. That seems funny looking back on Whitehead's play this past season. He led the team in interceptions with six, and that's even with missing four games completely and playing only Special Teams in a fifth. Mincy was suspended for the start of the Arkansas game, but he got in to the game on the second series and then played for most of the season in a starting role.
I was excited about the DBs, but I didn't really have reason to be. I think it was primarily due to the fact we signed a pretty good class of freshmen, including flipping Kalvarez Bessent from Alabama. Bessent ended up redshirting and is now no longer with the team. Stephen Roberts saw some limited playing time. Markell Boston redshirted, and I have no idea what happened with Joseph Turner.
The play of the DBs was much maligned this year. I don't know that this is a product of schemes, lack of a pass rush, or other factors. I don't want to believe it was just a talent issue, and I really don't think that's the case. There were some very bright spots, as well. Jonathon Jones tallied six interceptions (tied with Whitehead), and a number of those were in the endzone. He was a beast of a redzone defender.
If you're going purely on interceptions, Auburn's defense performed exceptionally. They helped Auburn chalk up more INTs than any other Auburn team in the school's history with 22 on the season. This is just two years removed from a team that only garnered two in a single season, and one of those was by a reserve DB against an FCS team. The 2013 team intercepted 13 passes. So this season's team was close to double the number of INTs overall.
The defensive backs were responsible for 12 of the 13 INTs in 2013. It goes down to 8 if you count Therezie as a LB, but since his roll was typically as a more traditional DB when he played, I'll leave him in there. In 2014, the DBs pulled down 19 of the 22 INTs. The other three were by Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, and Montravius Adams. I'm still disappointed Adams' INT didn't result in a Fat Guy Touchdown.
-As a quick aside, I just remembered that INT while researching these numbers. Adding that in with everything else, and Adams' 2014 season really was a big improvement over his freshman campaign and gets me even more excited for his future.
Things aren't viewed in a vacuum, however. Auburn's DBs had more opportunities to create interceptions, because Auburn's pass rush was weak enough that QBs got more passes off, you might say. You would be wrong. Auburn faced 421 total pass attempts in 2014. The 2013 defense faced 493 passing attempts. Pass break-up percentages stayed the same. 11% of attempts faced were broken up in both 2013 and 2014. So, by this you can determine that Auburn's DBs were much more effective in 2014 than they have been in recent years.
This is one of those units that I came into expecting to say lots of bad things about. The reality is that this unit was much better than it has been given credit for. Sure, there were blown coverages. There were mistakes, misalignments, etc. I'm not saying they were GOOD. I'm just saying they were much better than many give them credit for.
The DBs lost Jermained Whitehead, but they are going to get an immediate boost in transfer Tray Matthews. Matthews has all of the tools to be All-SEC, and he will now be ready to go. Kalvarez Bessent transfered, and Moncrief has moved to linebacker, but there will be some big time new comers, such as early enrollee Tim Irvin. They will be coached by Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson. I have every confidence that this unit will improve significantly this season.
One thing that will help them will be the increased pass rush. With QBs feeling more pressure, they will be more apt to make mistakes and give the DBs a chance to make a play on the ball. If the DBs on the team this season (and of those who graduated, only Trovon Reed contributed to the total in 2014 (and he contributed THREE!)) can continue at the level they played last season, there is potential for Auburn's defense to break the 2014 record for INTs.
I was a bit excited last season. This season I'm actually very excited. I think the defensive backs are going to be killer. It's hard not to talk myself into predicting great things for the defense as a whole. It's that Muschamp Effect taking hold of me.
Next up: Special Teams
For all previous entries in this series you can check out this Section I've created for them.