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Spring Review: Safety

Outside of Smoke, a lot of questions surround this position

auburn football podcast Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Bryan Harsin’s very first spring practice is in the books. Over the next 2 weeks, I’ll take a look at where each position group stands as we head into the long summer off-season.

Post Spring Depth Chart

Free Safety

  • #21 Smoke Monday | 6’3” | 199 lbs | Senior
  • #22 Trey Elston | 6’1” | 193 lbs | Senior
  • #38 Ahmari Harvey | 6’0” | 172 lbs | Freshman

Strong Safety

  • #13 Ladarius Tennison | 5’10” | 198 lbs | Sophomore
  • #11 Zion Puckett | 6’0” | 209 lbs | Redshirt Sophomore

Summer Additions

  • Bydarrius Knighten | 6’0” | 197 lbs | Senior
  • Juwon Gaston | 5’11” | 187 lbs | Freshman
  • Cayden Bridges | 6’2” | 190 lbs | Freshman

Spring Review

I was somewhat surprised to see Smoke Monday not join his battery mate Jamien Sherwood in declaring for the NFL earlier this year. It wasn’t a banner year for Smoke in 2020 but given the coaching change I thought he might take a stab at the league.

Instead, he’s back to help lead Auburn’s secondary in 2021. A player that’s often overhyped due to going by the awesome name Smoke while at the same time often over criticized because any mistakes he makes are easy to see given his role in Auburn’s defense, Smoke is unquestionably an impact player for the Tigers. He’s outstanding coming down hill in the run game and has shown the ability to make some big plays in the passing game. None bigger than last season’s 100 yard pick six against Tennessee.

Top end speed is a concern with Smoke and he can sometimes get caught with his eyes in the backfield too much. However, I think he has a chance to thrive in Mason’s system where he’ll get a chance to play a bit more zone and likely be left out of a lot of man coverage situations. 2021 is Smoke’s chance to prove he’s an NFL safety.

Who will line up next to him remains to be seen. Ladarius Tennison slid back to safety over the spring and looked good during A-Day. Tennison was one of my favorite recruits in the 2020 class given his penchant for delivering big blows. He saw action late last season at the nickel when Christian Tutt went down and performed well overall.

However, there’s a reason I waited to post this until later in the afternoon. Earlier today, Auburn landed FCS transfer Bydarrius Knighten whose versatility gives him the chance to play a lot of different positions in Auburn’s secondary. The Tigers are also still hard after Donovan Kaufman who can also play either safety position or the nickel too. Tennison undoubtedly will see plenty of snaps this fall but where exactly he spends most of his time won’t be sorted out until fall camp after these transfers arrive.

After that group, there’s virtually no proven depth which explains Auburn’s heavy interest in the portal. Zion Puckett and Ahmari Harvey both were limited all spring with injuries. In their place, walk-on Trey Elston stepped up and won defensive MVP honors at A-Day. His fellow second teamer, former 4-star Chris Thompson Jr., elected to hit the portal following spring leaving Auburn woefully thin on the backend of its defense.

That’s why Derek Mason made signing Juwon Gaston and Cayden Bridges priorities in the 2021 class along with pursuing numerous safety transfers. Gaston has the versatility to play the nickel as well and should get some chances in the return game. Bridges was a late find by Auburn’s staff and if he ends up possessing SEC speed then he’s got a chance to be another unheralded AU DB signee turned starter.

Expect a lot of news around this position in the coming days.

War Eagle!