Auburn football: Looking at the Tigers' safeties for 2014

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 21, 2014 

Jermaine Whitehead's status as Auburn's starting free safety is set in stone.

KYLE TAYLOR — Auburn University

Editor's note: The 2013 season is in the books. Any underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft have decided whether to return to school or pursue a pro career. And national signing day has passed. With that in mind, Auburn beat writer Ryan Black breaks down the team's 2014 roster, going position-by-position and giving his take on each spot's future. The series continues with the Tigers' safeties.

Who's Staying: Jermaine Whitehead, senior: Started all 14 games; 65 tackles (44 solo, 21 assisted), 2.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, six pass breakups, one fumble recovery

Trent Fisher, junior: Appeared in all 14 games; Nine tackles (seven solo, two assisted)

Josh Holsey, junior: Started first six games before tearing his knee and missing rest of season; 17 tackles (11 solo, six assisted), 0.5 TFL, one INT, one PBU, two QBHs

Who's Leaving: Ryan Smith: Appeared in all 14 games (eight starts); 68 tackles (44 solo, 24 assisted), 0.5 TFLs, three INTs, four PBU, one QBH, one forced, one blocked kick

Ryan White: Appeared in all 14 games (two starts); 54 tackles (36 solo, 18 assisted), one INT, six PBUs, one QBH, one fumble recovery

Who's Coming In: Markell Boston: 105 tackles, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) five pass breakups, two forced fumbles (Numbers from senior season at East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, Ga.)

Derrick Moncrief: 66 tackles, three interceptions (Numbers from past season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Perkinston, Miss.)

Stephen Roberts: 26 tackles, 14 pass breakups (Numbers from senior season at Opelika High School in Opelika, Ala.)

Outlook: If one replaces the word "cornerbacks" with "safeties," it would be hard to tell a difference in Auburn's case.

Just like the cornerback position, the Tigers know that one spot is already settled — Whitehead will resume his duties at field safety this fall.

But who will step in at the boundary safety position vacated by Smith?

If he fully recovers from his season-ending knee injury without any lingering issues, one would think Holsey is the man to beat. It won't help Holsey's cause that he won't be allowed to take part in any contact drills during spring practice — at least early on — according to coach Gus Malzahn. And he'll face stiff competition from all sides.

After making little headway last season, junior college transfer Brandon King will be looking to assert himself, though if it doesn't work out at safety, he might be switched over to Star. Khari Harding knows the feeling. The sophomore, who appeared in only three games last season, could play at safety. Or Star. Or even linebacker.

Then there are the newcomers. Moncrief is already enrolled and will get a chance to soak up what he needs to now about defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme as he prepares for the fall. Sturdily built at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he should be able to compete for a starting job immediately. Like King and Harding, he could figure into the plans at either safety or Star.

Boston and Roberts won't arrive until fall camp, and while not as big as Moncrief, making up for it with top-notch cover skills.

With Whitehead's starting job in no danger, expect Holsey to be penciled in beside him for the time being. But given his uncertain injury situation, his hold on the spot is tenuous at best.

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