AUBURN, Ala. The list is long.
Jeff Whitaker. Dee Ford. Craig Sanders. Justin Garrett. Chris Davis. Those are just a few of the players on Auburns defense who have missed time due to injuries this season. The injury bug hasnt played favorites, as no unit from the defensive line to the secondary has been able to avoid adversity.
The Tigers acknowledged that it has been irritating, but they know nothing can be done about it.
Its one thing that you have to deal with, Ford said. Its nothing that you can really plan for, and its nothing to get down about. It happens. Its football. That is the risk we take coming into this game. Its definitely frustrating, but we just have to build from it.
Ford can speak to it better than most. The teams top returning pass-rusher was forced to sit out the first two games of season after suffering a knee injury during the second scrimmage of fall camp. Sanders stepped in to take Fords place, but it didnt last long. As fate would have it, Sanders went down last week with an undisclosed off-field ailment, which caused him to miss Saturdays game against LSU.
He wasnt even the first defender to get injured away from the field, as cornerback Jonathan Jones slipped on wet steps and broke his ankle days before fall camp ended. It didnt surprise Jermaine Whitehead. Mishaps, whether on the field or off, happen all the time," he said.
The main thing is not letting it affect you.
It kind of hurts that our teammates couldnt be out there, but we cant do nothing but play for them, the junior safety said. I know theyre watching and proud of us for fighting. I know theyve got some things they wish they could have been out there to help on, but were going to get better with them. Hopefully this week theyll get back.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is hoping for the same thing, and is pleased to have a bye week to help his players continue to heal.
In fact, if he had things his way, the bye week would have happened even sooner.
We physically are beat up, he said. Weve been through musical chairs on defense and still are going through it. Ive got guys even that have played in games that are practicing one and a half days a week. Weve got guys that are missing. An open date could have helped us earlier.
Cassanova McKinzy would agree. Hes one of the players Johnson referred to, after all. The sophomore missed a majority of practice during Mississippi State week due to a knee injury, only to start that Saturdays contest at weakside linebacker.
Being banged up is part of the makeup of a football player, he said, which is why he pushes himself to always think hes 100 percent even if his body tells him otherwise.
I still just try to play through it, he said. It is what it is. Ive got to play and help my team; I just cant give up. If I can play through it, I can play through it.
The Tigers have been able to take one positive from the numerous ailments that have afflicted them, though.
It has given younger players a chance to get live reps in games, with the youth movement most notably taking effect on the defensive line, with freshmen Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel impressing teammates.
More importantly, they have caught Johnson's eye.
They just continue to progress, he said. Thats an area where weve got some guys back and weve got a lot of competition.
Injuries might continue to hit Auburns defense this year. Or they might come to a stop. Regardless, its not something the Tigers can predict, anyway.
And as McKinzy would point out, it doesnt change the way the game will be played.
Whether it has every member of the first-team defense available or it has to use a mix of starters and backups, the Tigers still have to trot out 11 defenders on every snap.
Weve got to give guys a chance to prove what they can do instead of paying attention to whos out and whos not out, he said. Either way it goes, were going to have to put somebody on the field.