Auburn didn’t release its depth chart until Tuesday, but freshman safety Daren Bates has known for 2 1/2 weeks that he would start the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
Bates, who didn’t get approval from the NCAA Clearinghouse until after August practice began, impressed teammates and coaches, leaping Mike Slade and Drew Cole on the depth chart after the second scrimmage to gain a spot in the starting lineup opposite junior safety Zac Etheridge.
“If you want to name anybody else (he’s like), it’s Junior Rosegreen,” cornerback Walt McFadden said, referring to the former Auburn safety who stood out on the undefeated 2004 team. “A big-time hitter.”
“He did some things that kind of make you go, ‘Wow,’ and he has continually gotten better every practice,” coach Gene Chizik said. “There are some challenges for any freshman that plays at this level in this league, but we just thought he could handle it. He’s going to make his share of mistakes, and there will be growing pains with that; we know that. But all the indications that we get from a young guy, we feel confident about it.”
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Chizik said he and safeties coach Tommy Thigpen “force-fed” Bates football after he got on campus to see what the freshman could handle mentally.
“I’d get here at 7 o’clock in the morning and wouldn’t leave until midnight during camp,” Bates said. “We’d watch film. He’d give me quizzes on the plays and what La. Tech was doing. He kept on me and got me to where I needed to be.”
As for Saturday, Bates has a few goals in mind.
“Just not getting beat,” he said. “The first thing is not getting beat or run over.”
Bates isn’t the only newcomer in line to play. In all, nine true freshmen dot the depth chart, although Chizik said if “he were a betting man” that 10 to 12 would have some sort of role this season.
Highlighting the Tigers’ depth problems on the offensive line, freshman John Sullen and walk-on Jorell Bostrum are the backups at right and left guard, respectively.
“It’s kind of a trial by fire to get thrown in there early, because we don’t have very much depth up front,” center Ryan Pugh said. “They’ve done good so far.”
While the release of the depth chart clears up some questions, it raises others. Freshman Onterio McCalebb is listed as the backup to Ben Tate at tailback, but Mario Fannin is the starting fullback, making no distinction of who will get the majority of carries when Tate is not in the game.
Only two starting wide receivers were listed — Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams — even though Auburn likely will use three-receiver sets. Kodi Burns, DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake are listed as backups, although Tommy Trott, who is the No. 1 tight end, also will spend time as a slot receiver.
On defense, end Antoine Carter was not listed. Chizik did not clarify whether the junior is injured but said he will not play Saturday.
That leaves the Tigers with two true freshmen as their top reserves at defensive end: Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford.
Eguae is raw but a quick study. Ford weighs 214 pounds, about 50 less than starters Antonio Coleman and Michael Goggans, which might limit him to playing only in pass-rushing situations.
“(They’re) both young guys who we think have bright futures that are different kinds of players,” Chizik said. “One’s a little bit bigger, one’s a little bit more sleek and brings a little bit more of the speed element to the game. But we feel good about both of those guys.”