AUBURN, Ala. — Junior Demond Washington will move from cornerback to safety to help Auburn fill the spot vacated by Zac Etheridge, who suffered a season-ending neck injury against Ole Miss last Saturday.
“Our goal is to put the four best players on the field and if that is the way that it unfolds, that is what we will do,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Washington, who transferred from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College this summer, has seen his role increase this season. He worked his way into the cornerback rotation in the base defense the last few games and has played, and will remain, the team’s nickelback.
He has 22 tackles in nine games with one sack. He returned a blocked kick the length of the field for a defensive 2-point conversion against Ole Miss.
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“He’s a smart player — just give him a couple of days of practice and I believe he can pick up anything,” cornerback Walt McFadden said. “He plays fast, he wants to be on the field and he’ll do whatever it takes.”
Washington’s move gives Auburn a probable starting secondary of him and freshman Daren Bates at safety and McFadden and sophomore Neiko Thorpe at cornerback.
Chizik said backup safeties Mike Slade and T’Sharvan Bell will still have a role on the defense. One will likely play at safety in the nickel while Washington moves to cornerback.
“We’re going to try to do this with as little disruption as possible,” Chizik said.
A step forward
Linebacker Eltoro Freeman was a step slow to recognize a play early against Ole Miss last Saturday, a pass in the flat to running back Brandon Bolden that went for 43 yards.
But defensive coordinator Ted Roof was proud to see the sophomore linebacker shake it off and still be productive, making a team-high nine tackles in the Tigers’ 33-20 victory.
“I think that’s a big deal and I think that was a major, major step for him,” Roof said. “Because in the past when he would make a mistake he’d really get down on himself. Part of it is growing up and understanding that we’re all going to make mistakes. But it’s not if you make them, it’s how you handle them. And being able to learn from it and put it behind you. I think he took a major step (Saturday) in that process.”
Freeman struggled with his consistency earlier this season, unable to stay on the field for large periods of time before sitting out the Arkansas game for personal reasons.
He’s been a force since returning, leading the team in tackles against LSU and Ole Miss with 21 total stops.
Many Auburn players had the word “Shhhh” written on their wrists Saturday. It was the team’s latest motivational ploy, the brainchild of wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor.
“Basically just be quiet and let our actions speak louder than our words,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “When you think about it, we started 5-0 and I don’t know (if) we were cocky or arrogant. We were talking about it, but we weren’t being about it.”
McFadden took the shtick a step further, writing “Shhhh” on his finger on the inside of his glove, although that just caused confusion.
“I wasn’t even saying the ‘Shhhh’ part because I was trying to get people to read it,” he said, mimicking the situation by holding his finger up to his mouth. “And they were like, ‘Why won’t you say, “Shhhh?”’ So I kind of felt (ridiculous) doing it.”
Auburn will pay Football Championship Subdivision opponent Furman $375,000 to appear at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, although that’s far less than the school paid other non-conference opponents earlier this season.
The Tigers paid Louisiana Tech $750,000 and Ball State $800,000. West Virginia got $350,000, although Auburn received money last year when it traveled to Morgantown, W.Va., for its part of the home-and-home agreement.
Auburn typically generates $3 to $4 million in revenue per home game, athletics director Jay Jacobs said this summer.