Will Auburn football ‘be OK’ at safety in 2018 after losing both starters?

Auburn football will return to action this week with the start of spring practices on Thursday. Between now and then, SEC Country will preview each of the Tigers’ position groups heading into those workouts. Up next, we move to the cornerbacks.

Auburn safety depth charts

Free safety

  • Jeremiah Dinson (junior)  or Jordyn Peters (sophomore)
  • Smoke Monday (freshman)

Strong safety

  • Daniel Thomas (junior)
  • Jamien Sherwood (freshman)

D epartures, arrivals

  • Departures: Tray Matthews, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Jason Smith
  • Arrivals: Smoke Monday, Jamien Sherwood (early enrollees), Kolbi Fuqua (summer enrollee)
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Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is confident the Tigers will be ready to replace four seniors at safety. (Peach Bowl/courtesy)

The question

Can Auburn’s defense stay elite while completely resetting at safety?

Basically every position on Auburn’s 2018 roster has a decent amount of returning experience. That isn’t quite the case at safety, where the Tigers lose two multiyear starters, a key reserve and another depth piece to graduation. The Tigers have been strong over the top of their defense over the last two seasons, and they can’t afford to fall too far here.

Replacing the older talent might be tricky. Auburn didn’t have a lot of depth to begin with, and it brought in two freshman safeties after the departure of four seniors. From a numbers game, this won’t be a deep position. Auburn most likely will have to move multiple players from cornerback and nickelback to get the right mix.

SPRING PRACTICE PREVIEWS:  QB | RB | WR | HB/TE | T | G/C | DE | DT | LB | CB

Peters is expected to make nickel his full-time home after moving around as a freshman. That could move the experienced Jeremiah Dinson back to safety, where he was listed as a backup in 2017. Daniel Thomas will have a great shot at a starting job after two seasons of backing up Matthews and Roberts. Auburn must rely on its freshmen to contribute in 2018 — and no one is ruling them out of nabbing a starting job.

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Auburn defensive back Daniel Thomas picked off 2 passes in the 2016 Iron Bowl. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The star

Daniel Thomas

For a player who was a late National Signing Day take in 2016, Thomas has been a nice addition. Thomas picked off 2 passes in the Iron Bowl as a freshman and had a solid sophomore season, intercepting 1 pass against Georgia Southern and averaging a little more than 2 tackles per game. While Peters’ and Dinson’s exact positions could be up in the air, Thomas should be locked in at safety.

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Auburn safety Smoke Monday should play a role for the Tigers as a freshman in 2018. (Benjamin Wolk/SEC Country)

The wild cards

Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood

Auburn needed instant-impact talent at safety, and it got it with early enrollees Monday and Sherwood. Both have the look of players who are college ready. Getting on the field in spring practice will be crucial, as Auburn can fast-track their development under position coaches Greg Brown and Marcus Woodson. This easily could be Auburn’s next famous safety duo, and they won’t waste any time getting on the field as freshmen.

The prediction

Either Monday or Sherwood leave spring practice looking like a potential starter.

We’ll hedge our bets here by putting both Monday and Sherwood down, but don’t be surprised if at least one of these freshmen look like starter-quality material after spring practice. Monday has been described by Auburn coaches as a player that could contribute right away, and Sherwood might be the most underrated pickup in the 2018 class. With races for playing time wide-open, look for the freshmen to shine.

The stat

95. Between Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts alone, Auburn must replace 95 games of experience at safety in 2018. Most of those were starts, as Matthews was a first-team player for most of his freshman appearances at Georgia, and Roberts became a full-time starter as a sophomore. The drop-off in experience at safety is significant.

The quote

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele on developing replacements at safety:

“I know you’re probably saying, ‘Whoa, you lose Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts, two starting safeties. What are you going to do at  safety?’ We’ll be OK. We’ll be OK. I’m just laying it out there for you … when you get into the nickel and dime defenses and you’ve got corner-type guys, we’ve got guys, but we’ve got to get them in the right position. And that’s not done yet.”

The post Will Auburn football ‘be OK’ at safety in 2018 after losing both starters? appeared first on SEC Country.

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