AUBURN, Ala. — Perhaps no player on Auburn's defense received more rave reviews during the spring than Derrick Moncrief.
The junior college transfer, who enrolled in January, practiced with the first-team defense for the entire spring. He then backed that up with his play in the A-Day game, recording two tackles and a pass breakup as well as recovering a fumble. Now, just three days into the Tigers' preseason camp, Moncrief appears to have locked down the starting spot at boundary safety.
That's the plan, anyway.
"That’s kind of how we want it to work out," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "But hey, if another player can beat him out, so be it. That’s kind of where we feel like we’d love for it to fall. We feel like we have the experience level and the skill sets that we want."
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And the praise from teammates that was so prevalent for Moncrief this spring has carried over into the fall.
"I love him. I love the emotion he brings," linebacker Cassanova McKinzy said. " He's learning really, really fast. He's the type of player who doesn't want the interception. He wants the hit. I like players who play with a lot of emotion, and he plays with a lot of emotion."
He plays with confidence, too. Jermaine Whitehead picked up on that quickly. Few teammates witness Moncrief's day-to-day improvements more than Whitehead, after all, who is set to start at free safety.
Coming in from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College — where he made 66 tackles and picked off three passes last year — Whitehead said Moncrief arrived with an innate understanding of the game.
"He just knows what's going on," Whitehead said. " ... He trusts the system (and he's picked things up) a lot faster than what I expected him to. He came in with a player's mentality that he wanted to learn and he wanted to have more knowledge about the game. Him coming from JUCO, he had a more physical background than a high school student, so he definitely has been picking his game up more and more."
And Moncrief's knowledge will only continue to grow as time passes.
"We've been watching film from last year and I was telling him how it felt to be in some of those situations and how you can't let a guy cross your face, how you've got to be patient, stuff like that," Whitehead said. "That's stuff you really don't get just going through the motions. He's going to (understand) that as the season goes on."