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Depth Emerging in Auburn’s Secondary

The two deep appears to be taking shape on the backend of Auburn’s defense.

Auburn v Mississippi State Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Auburn lost four starters off last year’s strong secondary unit including a first round draft pick. However, despite those losses, Auburn entered fall camp feeling pretty good about the backend of its defense. Roger McCreary, Jamien Sherwood and Smoke Monday were technically not starters for the Tigers last fall but played enough significant snaps that they are far from newbies. All three are expected to step into starting roles joining the lone returning starter in Christian Tutt. With those four solidified as starters, Auburn really only had two questions to answer this fall in regards to its secondary but those are two very important questions nonetheless.

  • Who will start opposite McCreary at corner?
  • Does Auburn have quality depth behind those four?

The answer to the first one is still fuzzy but based off Kevin Steele’s comments yesterday, the answer to question number two will be a resounding yes.

It was believed that the 2nd corner spot was a two man battle between JUCO signee Marco Domio and sophomore Nehemiah Pritchett. Per Steele, both are locked in a battle for the starting role but it’s far from a two person contest.

“As far as the corner position we’ve kind of got a fun battle going on. I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s factual. With (Nehemiah) Pritchett, (Marco) Domio, Devan Barrett, Matthew Hill and Jaylin Simpson, those guys are battling. If you asked me today I couldn’t tell you who would be the starter of that group. That’s how competitive it is. With that we’ve actually gone from having a situation of ‘who’s going to be the starter’ and can we find some backups to having a good competition with five guys not counting Roger (McCreary). The guys are playing at a high level. They’ve all worked with the ones. It has been kind of fun to watch because they’ve all embraced the challenge, like you should.

I was pretty surprised when I saw this quote from Steele. Like most everyone else, I thought this would be a 2 man competition with Domio possibly having a leg up. Instead, Steele believes he has five legitimate options at that 2nd starting spot. That’s a huge boost to Auburn’s secondary especially in this new world of high powered offensive attacks and the always looming fear of positive covid tests. Depth is more important than ever and it appears the Tigers have plenty of it at corner.

It’s not just as corner though that Steele seems happy with his depth. At the “Star” aka Nickel, Auburn decided to move senior Jordyn Peters to safety due to the impressive play of redshirt freshman Zion Puckett and true freshman Ladarius Tennison.

I was a big fan of both of these kids coming out of high school. Puckett redshirted last fall but the former top 150 player looks poised to see more meaningful action this fall. As for Tennison, well it’s no surprise at all he’s fighting for playing time. Two or three inches taller and he would have been a top 100 player in last year’s class. If you ever wondered what it would be like to watch Shaun Shivers tackle someone you will get a chance this fall.

Peters will likely backup Smoke at free safety while true freshman Chris Thompson Jr appears poised to see snaps behind Jamien Sherwood. Thompson’s tape reminded me a lot of Sherwood coming out of high school and the junior agreed with that take earlier this week.

“He is a freshman, but he is doing really well,” Sherwood said. “He is big, he is physical, he is fast. He is smart as well.

“When I had first got here I was fast so he kind of reminds me of myself,” Sherwood said. “As he just keeps growing and molding into the system, keeps getting everything down like the meetings, practices, repetition stuff, he will be great when his time comes.”

That gives the Tigers 14 players they have some sort of confidence in to play on Saturdays. I will be surprised if all 14 see regular action but the fact that Auburn has that much depth heading into this very unique season is huge. It also means the Tigers can begin getting the next wave ready as they did with McCreary, Sherwood, Monday and Tutt. Chances are good that at least two of those starters will be in the NFL next season so having the next man up ready to go will be huge for the Tigers chances in 2021 and beyond.

War Eagle!