UPDATE: Throw the Joe Turner stuff out, too, now. Couldn't do more than this quick sentence while stopped at a redlight, but he has said he's transferring, too. Yaaaay. Pour me a drink.
To say Auburn's depth at Defensive Back right now is low is like calling the desert "a little parched." Things look bad right now. Sure, we hope it improves come fall with a healthier Jay Jones, but right now? Woof.
So, let's see what that depth looks like.
Josh Holsey & Jonathan (Jay) Jones
This is dependent on Jones being healthy after his foot surgery during spring practice. He's supposed to be back 100% in the fall and was playing hurt through much of late last season. Even with that he tied for the team lead in interceptions with six. It's safe to say that a healthy Jay Jones is essential to Auburn's success in the defensive backfield.
Josh Holsey is a senior who has spent time at both Safety and Cornerback. I think it's safe to say he's going to be at Corner exclusively in 2015. He missed half of the 2013 season with a torn ACL, played Corner for the first part of 2014 before moving over to Safety with the Jermaine Whitehead suspension. Now he's back at the position he earned a starting spot in as a true freshman.
With these two healthy, Auburn has good options at the Corner position. I've never really been worried about our starters (with the exception of their health, given the torn ACL of Holsey and foot surgery of Jones), but it's past that where things get a bit scary.
Rudy Ford & Tray Matthews
Similar to the Corner position, I am not worried about Auburn's starters at the Safety position. Rudy Ford played admirably last season and I think Tray Matthews will be an upgrade over Jermaine Whitehead (and I really liked Whitehead). Matthews was heavy in the rotation as a freshman at UGA and has impressed coaches at Auburn in his time on the Plains so far. I look for him to have a big year.
Our defensive staff has said that right now the next option at Corner past Jones and Holsey is... Rudy Ford. Yep, that's starting Safety Rudy Ford. It's not like our Safety position is one of great depth at the moment, either. That's the point of this article, after all. When I wrote the main portion of this article (which was going to only be about Corners, initially) I was suggesting things wouldn't be terribly bad if we had to move Ford over to Corner because Derrick Moncrief would be available back at the Safety position. WAYLP, about that...
So where does that put the Tigers, now? According to the 247Sports roster (which differentiates between CB and S, as opposed to the official site which just lists "DB"), the only other ACTIVE Corners with any college expereience are Stephen Roberts and Nick Ruffin. Both are sophomores with a lot of talent, but limited actual game time. Behind them there is only true freshman (and early entry) Tim Irvin. Irvin has garnered praise and I'm 100% certain he will see the field this fall (due to both talent AND necessity), but he's still new to the college game.
At the Safety position things aren't much better. In fact, it could be worse. There's sophomore Markell Boston and then there's walk-on Michael Sherwood. Sherwood performed well during A-Day and was apparently pretty good on the practice field during the spring, but can that translate into a quality backup option in the heart of SEC play? I have no idea.
So where are the rest? Well, Mackenro Alexander, Kalvarez Bessent, Kamryn Melton and now Derrick Moncrief have all transferred since the end of last season. JUCO transfer Joe Turner's status with the team is uncertain (though it appears this is not a disciplinary issue). T.J. Davis tore his ACL in spring practice and won't be available until late in the season at best. That's six DBs gone from the end of last season.
Help On The Way?
Tim Irvin enrolling early at Auburn is monumentally huge right now for Auburn's success at the Corner position. Having him with the team in spring to learn the defense and meld with the rest of the defense is going to be clutch. However, he alone can't fix the woes of losing five CBs.
Joe Turner could still return to the team. That will ease things a bit. T.J. Davis could return and get some playing time near the end of the season, but I'm not too confident in that. Remember, Carl Lawson suffered a similar injury last spring and he was not ready until at best the bowl game.
Two freshmen are going to join Tim Irvin in the fall: 4* Carlton Davis and 3* Jeremiah Dinson. Both were late additions to the 2015 class and are people DB coach Travaris Robinson really wanted. Will they be ready to contribute immediately? I doubt it. They may be ready by season's end. You never know, though. Holsey earned a starting job as a true freshman. Safety Tray Matthews was starting at Safety for UGA as a true freshman (or at least providing significant contributions). We can't rule out that one (or both) of these two will be ready to see the field in a major fashion in 2015.
The only Safety recruit coming in for Auburn this season is 4* Jordan Colbert from Griffin, Ga. That's not helping depth very much. Colbert is going to need to be ready to contribute immediately.
Then there's the outlier. Jamel Dean. The one-time Ohio State early entry tweeted his intention to sign and play for Auburn this fall. Auburn hasn't acknowledged this, yet. They likely won't until he officially signs and enrolls with the Tigers. If he does sign, could he be another contributor?
Honestly, I doubt it. He's obviously talented enough since Urban Meyer wanted him at OSU, but his numerous knee injuries (and still recovering from an ACL tear) means he may not be medically ready to see the field in the fall. He may be cleared to practice, but I don't know that he'll be ready to play.
Auburn recruited Darius Slayton as a wide-receiver. I think the chance to play WR may have been a key factor in his switching from UGA to Auburn at the last second. Could Auburn ask Slayton to make the switch to DB? It's possible. Even if it's one of those "only for this season" type offers, I could see the Tigers making that move for depth.
One other possible move would be Kerryon Johnson. Johnson was recruited as a running back. Sources have indicated to the beat writers that RB is the only position Auburn ever pushed for with Johnson and that he WILL be a running back. With all of these DBs leaving, though, I have to wonder if Johnson - who played in one of the high school All-Star games as a Safety - may also be asked about making the switch to DB. It happened with Rudy Ford in 2013 and that has worked out very well for us. Johnson is a top-quality prospect on both offense and defense.
Yes, we're thin in depth. There's talent there, though. The starters are excellent. A healthy Jay Jones may get some recognition as one of the better DBs in the SEC, eventually. Holsey has been a stalwart in the defensive backfield his whole time at Auburn. I'm perfectly happy with the starters. Matthews has All-SEC talent. Ford has been a very pleasant surprise from the time he beat out Moncrief for the starting job at the beginning of 2014.
I'm a bit concerned with the backups just because of the lack of experience. I know they're talented, but we've got to get them into games and see what they can really do. Nick Ruffin spent most of last season at the Star position, so he's a bit further behind the CB power curve, but I think he fits in very well at CB, so he'll be fine. At Safety, it's even worse. There is virtually zero big-game experience in the back-ups. None.
Getting Joe Turner back will be a big boost, as well. He may not have much SEC experience, but he does have college experience from his time at JUCO.
I think Auburn will be ok in the defensive backfield if everyone stays healthy. If we lose one or two players to injuries, then things will get very dicey. Our wafer-thin defensive backfield's production could explode apart like Mr Creosote. Particularly if it happens to one of the starters. And don't be surprised if we see some skill players making some position changes before the season begins.