AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn returns a lot of talent across the board this season, but there are still plenty of questions on the depth chart with two weeks left before the 2014 campaign kicks off.
This second week of fall camp was focused on finding answers to those questions.
Over the last week of practice, Auburn had a scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium and an off day to evaluate the depth chart. Most starting jobs have already been locked down, but the coaching staff is looking for who will step up and take over several important roles, from third-down pass-rusher to top backups at key positions.
"There are a few more guys that will have a few more looks," head coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week. "Before you get into the season you just want to make sure you're right. The good thing is we have some very talented young guys and newcomers that could have a chance who can definitely help."
The Tigers will wrap up regular preseason practice this weekend and start preparing for the season opener against Arkansas on Tuesday.
Here is a look back at the biggest news and notes—mostly from the defensive side of the ball—from the second full week of fall camp:
Defensive depth continuing to take hits
After Tuesday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Malzahn said he and his staff would take the Wednesday off day to get closer to a two-deep depth chart.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson isn't at that point yet.
"The scrimmage was mainly what we call Blues, it was some guys who are competing for starting jobs," Johnson said Thursday. "I didn't think we made a lot of progress in that area. We've got a lot of information on some individuals, it did help us clear up a little bit, but I think our two-deep is still a little bit murky now."
Johnson said the murkiness has a lot to do with continuing health issues behind his first team, which he called his biggest frustration so far in fall camp.
Just like he did in his press conference last week, the defensive coordinator gave an expansive injury report for his defense:
|Ellis Johnson's Week 2 Defensive Injury Report|
|DE LaDarius Owens||Senior||Infection||Unknown|
|DT DaVonte Lambert||Junior||Knee||"Few days"|
|DT Devaroe Lawrence||Junior||Back spasms||"Few days"|
|CB Josh Holsey||Junior||Knee||Still recovering, limited reps*|
|CB Jonathon Mincy||Senior||Shoulder||Day-to-day*|
|S Markell Boston||Freshman||Undisclosed||Day-to-day|
|S Stephen Roberts||Freshman||Hip pointer||Day-to-day*|
|*Confirmed back at practice|
|Auburn DC Ellis Johnson|
"The nagging injuries kind of have us two steps forward, one step back," Johnson said. "There are some guys who've got the chance and the skill set to get right into the middle of things, but the limitations in practice have just been holding them back in fundamentals and understanding what we're doing in the scheme."
For a defense that struggled with depth last season, another rash of injuries during practice is definitely a problem. Auburn needed to see development at several positions this offseason, so the pressure is on for players to stay healthy and give clarity to the two-deep with two weeks left before the Arkansas game.
Therezie "may not play early" this season
One more major note from Johnson's time with the media Thursday was the status of senior Robenson Therezie, Auburn's returning starter at the Star position and a second-team preseason All-SEC pick.
"We're a little nervous about our depth behind Justin [Garrett]," Johnson said. "Therezie right now, we're not sure he's going to be able to play early, and the rest of them are freshmen. But a game like Arkansas, that guy is going to end up on the box a lot, so I'll have a linebacker that can play that spot also to back up Justin."
When asked for clarification on why Therezie would not be able to play early, Johnson said Therezie "just hasn't had a lot of practice reps."
"We're getting Justin ready, and right now, we've got to get some depth out there," Johnson said.
Rumors on Therezie's status have flown around message boards and social media for most of the week, but Auburn has not officially confirmed any suspension or injury for the senior. Malzahn is scheduled to meet with the media after Saturday's practice.
|Robenson Therezie in 2013|
|Tackles per Game||4.07|
Losing a returning starter like Therezie, who emerged as one of the Tigers' top defensive players last season, is never good, no matter the length of time. But the staff sounds confident in Garrett at the position—after all, he was the breakout star of the defense last spring before recurring foot injuries caused him to miss most of the 2013 season.
Shakeup in the secondary
Through all of the injury and possible suspension updates, Ellis Johnson also announced there has been a shift among the Auburn defensive backs.
With the staff limiting Josh Holsey's reps, Jonathan Jones has moved ahead as a first-choice cornerback for the Tigers. The speedy junior is at the top of the chart at the field corner, and returning starter Jonathon Mincy is moving back to his old position at boundary corner.
"Holsey missed a whole half of a year last year, and, of course, Jonathan did, too," Johnson said on the shakeup. "The one thing we do know is that Mincy can play either."
Senior Trovon Reed, who has impressed coaches and teammates since his switch from wide receiver, is now behind Jones at field cornerback.
Another player who once roamed the field on offense is high up on the depth chart on defense—sophomore Johnathan "Rudy" Ford. The former running back is ahead of junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief, who missed a few practices with dehydration and a virus, for the time being at boundary safety.
"I feel comfortable at either [safety position]," Ford said. "Both of the safeties, I’ve been very ready and open to both of the safety positions and all of the safety positions, and I’ve just been focusing, staying in the meetings and listening to everything Coach and Whitehead has to say to help me go along."
These new defensive back starters aren't set in stone at this point—Holsey and Moncrief could move back up the depth chart with consistent practice time. But the Auburn coaching staff should feel confident in having at least three strong options at both cornerback and safety this season.
Johnson stepping up as season opener looms
Numerous Auburn coaches and players have said second-string quarterback Jeremy Johnson would be a starter at any other school in the country.
And since he will get his first chance to start in an SEC game in two weeks, the highly touted quarterback is leading the offense like a full-time first-stringer.
"We're getting better throwing and catching the ball just because of repetition, timing and continuity," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "It's been really good the last couple of days. I'll say this: Just from a leadership standpoint, I've seen a little bit of a change, that he's more confident stepping up and it doesn't matter if it's a guy older than him or not—and taking charge of his group when he's out there."
Senior quarterback Nick Marshall will not start the season opener against Arkansas because of his July marijuana citation. He spoke to the media for the first time since the incident Sunday, and he took an opportunity to praise his backup.
"I see Jeremy coming out there and practicing [well] every day," Marshall said. "He's leading the team just like he's going to be the starter, and I'm just behind him 100 percent."
Although the coaching staff hasn't officially named Johnson the starter for Aug. 30 against the Razorbacks, it's a foregone conclusion at this point. Johnson struggled at the annual A-Day Game, but his teammates have full confidence in him heading into preparations for Arkansas.
- True freshman linebacker Tre' Williams could crack the two-deep in his first season at Auburn. Johnson, who is Williams' position coach, said the Mobile native has impressed in the team's search for depth at the position, and Johnson has made it clear that he is "not big on redshirting" as a SEC coordinator.
- Two more young players, running backs Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber, stood out in Tuesday's scrimmage. Wide receiver Tony Stevens said Thomas had a touchdown run and both backs are "hitting the hole pretty fast, and they’re breaking it."
- Redshirt freshman Daniel Carlson has solidified himself as the first-team kicker as he continues to battle for the starting punter job. Third-string quarterback Jonathan Wallace is getting most of the snaps at holder and "Batman" conversion specialist.
- Malzahn confirmed earlier in the week that Gage Batten, a former walk-on linebacker and current backup H-back, had suffered an injury. The head coach did not disclose the severity.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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