It appears that the injury bug has hit Auburn with less than two weeks remaining before the Tigers' season opener against Washington State. Starting defensive end Dee Ford and reserve cornerback Jonathan Jones will miss the contest against the Cougars, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson told reporters at a post-practice press conference Monday.
At first glance, the injury to Ford -- a ligament issue in his left knee, per Johnson -- is a bigger deal. He's easily the Tigers' top returning defensive lineman, and really, he's the only member of the front four who has proven himself on the field. He led Auburn with six sacks and was third on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss last season, and he added 34 tackles, eight quarterback hurries, one forced fumble and one pass breakup.
Unfortunately, this isn't the first bout with injury for Ford. Last season, he missed a game and was limited in two others with an abdominal issue, and he sat out the final 10 games of 2011 due to back surgery. Johnson wouldn't confirm just how long the senior will be out, but message board rumors flying around earlier in the week indicated it could be two or three games.
With Ford out, redshirt junior Justin DeLaine, who has been working with the second-team defense, could be in line to move into the starting role. DeLaine didn't make much of an impact last season, and he had injury issues of his own when he missed all but two games during his redshirt freshman season due to a knee injury.
Of course, Ford's injury could lead to a bigger role even sooner than expected for one or both of Auburn's talented freshmen defensive ends, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. The two have been impressing coaches in fall camp, and if that continues, they could receive early snaps over the Tigers' veterans.
Johnson said Jones broke a bone in his ankle after slipping on some wet steps. The sophomore isn't the same kind of impact player as Ford, but his injury will really hurt Auburn's depth in the secondary. Josh Holsey, who played at corner last year, was moved to safety in the spring while Demetruce McNeal was out with personal issues, and the coaches had hoped to move him back to corner before the season opener. But after McNeal was kicked off the team, an incident that we initially thought wouldn't hurt Auburn too badly, Holsey was locked into the safety position. With Jones out, true freshman Kamryn Melton, who weighs just 173 pounds, will likely be forced into action behind starter Jonathon Mincy, and freshman running back Johnathan Ford has even moved to cornerback to help with the depth issues. So yeah, it would be nice to have McNeal on the team right now.
Johnson said Jones had surgery to repair the ankle injury, and he wouldn't say how long the corner will be out.
The thin secondary will be a bigger issue than normal against Washington State. Mike Leach's air raid will test the Auburn DBs, and the Tigers will need as much help as possible to stop the Cougars. Gus Malzahn's team missing its top pass rusher isn't ideal, either, but Washington State's offensive line, which could feature three walk-on starters, may have issues of its own.
More from College and Magnolia:
- Demetruce McNeal's dismissal won't hurt Tigers too much
- Gus Malzahn names Nick Marshall starting QB
- Nick Marshall close to being named starter
- Auburn unranked in preseason Associated Press Top 25
- Who's going to step up at wide receiver?