AUBURN, Ala. — Defensive backs can tackle, too.
That’s what Jonathon Mincy felt he and his fellow secondary mates proved last Saturday. Senior corner Chris Davis was the Tigers’ top tackler, totaling 10 in all, seven solo and three assisted. Corner Ryan White (five tackles) and starting safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey (four tackles apiece) had their share of stops as well.
Seeing so many takedowns attributed to those on the back end of the defense brought a smile to Mincy’s face.
“It makes us feel good. And that’s something (where) we don’t want to base ourselves on just being coverage corners, we want to be up there with the tackles as well,” he said. “So that was good seeing (Davis) come out and lead the team in tackles.”
Mincy didn’t get in on the action as much himself, collecting only one tackle. He was pleased to see Davis took care of the other side of the field, though.
“I know their offense was more so going toward the boundary, so it was a great opportunity for Chris to make a lot of plays, which he did,” Mincy said. “So we were very happy with that.”
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn agreed. He said that the play of the secondary — and the corners specifically — was one of the highlights of the spring.
More importantly, that high level of play has carried over to the fall.
“We felt like that was one of the strengths of our defense,” Malzahn said. “(Cornerbacks) Coach (Melvin) Smith's done an excellent job with those guys and he's put them in position to make plays, him and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Ellis) Johnson. They're playing extremely well, not just in the pass game but they're helping us in the run game, too.”
Mincy made one thing clear: giving all the credit to the secondary would be wrong. Take away the push the defensive line gets up front, and Mincy’s job becomes much harder.
“It’s just made this defense click a lot better when you have pressure,” he said. “You have some outstanding people on the line that (are) going to rattle a quarterback or make any kind of interruptions and that will help us in coverage and make us better (at forcing) turnovers.”
Frost ejection a learning experience for Tigers
Malzahn never considered appealing Kris Frost’s ejection when it occurred Saturday.
Of course, that’s because he couldn’t. Showing off his familiarity with the rules on reviewing plays, Malzahn noted that once the call was made, there was nothing Auburn could do about it.
“You can challenge it, but once the booth guy makes the call, it's set,” he said. “I did not challenge it.”
Much like the players, coaches are still learning the intricacies of how targeting will be officiated going forward. Malzahn said Frost’s ejection and subsequent suspension would serve as a teaching moment for the coaching staff.
“You've got to coach it different,” he said. “We kind of understood that before, but there's also experiences. I believe every team that has to go through this will learn from it and get better for it.”
Defensive end Dee Ford and “Star” Justin Garrett practiced on Monday, Malzahn said. He also said the pair would take part in Tuesday’s practice. However, the coach didn’t hint whether either would be available to play Saturday.
There were no such worries about the team's reigning tackle leader, Davis. The senior cornerback gingerly walked off the field late in the game and did not return.
“Chris is doing fine and we expect him to play,” he said.
Defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who has been sidelined since the spring following surgery on his right knee, may be back soon.
“(He’s) getting close, or closer,” Malzahn said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Jonathan Jones. Jones broke his ankle in an off-field accident days before the end of fall camp.
Malzahn said it is “going to be awhile” before Jones takes the field again.