Justin Garrett is standing tall once again.
The junior from Tucker, Ga., was on track to be the star of Auburn defense last season in more ways than one. Garrett excelled at the new safety/linebacker "star" position in first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme in last spring's practices.
His hard work at the hybrid spot culminated in a breakout defensive MVP performance at last year's A-Day Game, where he recorded a scoop and score on the first series of the game.
Although Garrett was the most talked-about defensive player of the offseason, he had little chance to prove himself in the fall thanks to not one, but two foot injuries.
After missing the first two games of the 2013 season with a foot sprain, Garrett fractured his foot during Auburn's bye week between the road loss at LSU and the season-changing home win against Ole Miss.
"I was trying to push myself hard, but I came to reality around Georgia week that I still couldn’t walk normally yet," Garrett said about his recovery efforts last season. "I just decided around that time that I should just take the medical redshirt."
The reason behind Garrett's bad injury luck? Flat feet.
"This is the first time I’ve ever had a foot injury," Garrett said. "I didn’t even know I was flat-flooted. I’d never looked at it. When I injured my foot the first time, they actually looked at it and said I was really flat-footed."
But now Garrett is on top of his foot problems. He wears orthotic soles for arch support and a pair of specially made Under Armour cleats as he tries to work his way back up the depth chart during spring practice.
"It feels really good getting that frustration off me after sitting out for a whole season," Garrett said. "I’ve never experienced that before. It felt good getting out there with my teammates and enjoying practice."
Auburn's coaches have been impressed with the former starter's work at practice this spring after he sat out most of 2013.
"It’s kind of the same thing we saw last spring," head coach Gus Malzahn said. "He’s got a nose for the football, he'll really finish. He’s a physical-type guy, and he’s done a very solid job this spring. I think the bottom line is we just got to keep him healthy."
Garrett and his two healthy feet may be back in the mix for the Tigers this spring, but the former outside linebacker faces a tough uphill battle in order to get his old starting job.
After Garrett went down with his first injury, former safety Robenson Therezie stepped into the star position and made a name for himself. Therezie led the Tigers with four interceptions in their SEC championship season and was sixth on the team in tackles.
"I was very proud of him," Garrett said. "We were roommates the year before Coach Malzahn got here. We always talked about whoever got that opportunity first, we’d do everything to support that other person."
Whether he gets back to working at star, rotates as a dime player in the secondary or contributes in special teams this season, Garrett said he is eager to play once again in front of the Auburn faithful.
But while he said he is ready for Saturday's A-Day Game, Garrett has his eyes on another date at Jordan-Hare Stadium—Aug. 30, when the Tigers face SEC West rivals Arkansas.
“I just want to make it to the first game,” Garrett said. “That’s all I’m really worried about, just making it to the first game and staying healthy the whole season.”
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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