Auburn safety Demetruce McNeal was dismissed from the team after being arrested Saturday morning on charges of second-degree marijuana possession.
Head coach Gus Malzahn provided his reasoning for the dismissal, according to Ryan Wood of the .
“After visiting with Demetruce, I made the decision to dismiss him from our team," Malzahn said in a statement released by the university. "We have high expectations both on and off the field for our players."
What does Auburn do now?
This is already a young team that ranked 13th in the SEC in total defense, dead last in run defense and eighth in pass defense. McNeal was one of the few bright spots, as he finished the year with 90 tackles, seven tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He was expected to start and continue to play a key role in hopes of a defensive performance turnaround.
Can Auburn replace Demetruce McNeal?
Like any team that loses a player for whatever reason, the next guy must step up and take advantage of his opportunities.
Sophomore Joshua Holsey moved from cornerback to safety during the spring and has made a big impression on the coaching staff. It's quite clear that he will hold down the fort at his new position. Per Greg Ostendorf of ESPN. Malzahn said, “Josh is a very savvy football player,” Malzahn said. “When we made the move, he really didn’t miss a lick. He’s got a lot of natural instincts, and he’s a guy you can count on.”
Holsey made an impact as a freshman, producing 30 tackles and breaking up six passes in 11 games. Jermaine Whitehead will start at the other safety spot after seeing considerable playing time as a sophomore and finishing third on the team with 86 tackles. His production and experience gives Auburn a solid one-two punch in the secondary.
The two guys who must step up and add depth are former walk-on Trent Fisher and former quarterback Kiehl Frazier. Fisher saw spotty playing time last season, but he showed potential by returning an interception 60 yards for a touchdown against Alabama A&M. He's bulked up to a solid 205 pounds and earned reps as the No. 1 boundary safety in spring practice, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com.
The X-factor is Frazier, who is making a bizarre transition to safety after some considered him the quarterback of the future. Of course, 753 passing yards, two touchdowns and eight interceptions quickly ended those discussions, but there could be a future for him on defense.
Frazier is extremely athletic and has impressive size at 6'2", 225 pounds. He moves well in space, has great top-end speed and could use these tools to slowly rise up the depth chart. In fact, Coach Malzahn is already seeing the potential and wouldn't rule out possible playing time early in the season, per the ESPN report.
He’s really got off to a good start, Malzahn said. Coach [Charlie] Harbison is very excited about him. Coach [Ellis] Johnson is, too. He understands football, and he understands offenses and what they’re trying to do with splits and everything that goes with it.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's job just got a little more difficult, but he still has a handful of players who can step up and fill the void McNeal has left behind.