Note - Auburn starts preparing for the Birmingham Bowl this week, but with the regular season in the books it’s not too early to take a position-by-position look at how the Tigers performed in 2015 and what the future holds.
Grading Out: There were plenty of bumps on the road for Auburn’s secondary. The lowest of the lows weren’t as bad for the group as they were in 2014, but they didn’t have the quick turnaround many had hoped for.
Opposing offenses were able to break long gains even when the group’s overall execution improved late in the season.
In the Iron Bowl, Alabama quarterback Jake Coker didn’t have consistent success in the passing game, but his two long gains — 46-yard throw to Calvin Ridley and 34-yard touchdown in the third quarter to ArDarius Stewart and — were key plays in a 29-13 win.
The group also notably struggled in regulation against Jacksonville St, in overtime against Arkansas and a loss to Ole Miss.
Curtain Call: Graduation won’t hit Auburn hard in the secondary numbers-wise, but Jonathan Jones and Blake Countess won’t be easy to replace. Countess filled in wherever former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp needed including defensive back, safety and at nickel.
The graduate transfer also returned kicks and was a strong voice in the locker room.
Jones didn’t have the same kind of impact he had as junior when he finished in the top 10 nationally in interceptions, but his level of experience (28 starts) provided stability on one side of the defense.
Stockwatch: True freshman Carlton Davis needed a few games to adjust to the speed of the Division 1 game, but it didn’t take long for the 6-foot-1, 190-pounder to become Auburn’s breakout talent of 2015. He had 45 tackles with eight pass-breakups and was one of the Tigers’ few consistent playmakers. He had a team-high three interceptions and forced a fumble. Davis made the All-SEC freshman team and was awarded the defensive newcomer award at Auburn's year-end banquet.
A positive development late in the season was the improvement Auburn saw from safety Stephen Roberts. Injuries gave the Opelika native an opportunity and he played well starting the final three games of the regular season. The team allowed far fewer long gains with Countess and Roberts as the last line of defense than it had earlier in the season.
Davis and Roberts will be a major part of the next defensive coordinator’s plans.
Class of 2016 Commits: DB John Broussard (Central); S Marlon Character (Grady)
Outlook: Injuries hurt Auburn’s depth at the position, but Joshua Holsey is working to get a medical redshirt and T.J. Davis should be ready for the spring. The pair of upperclassman should provide the Tigers a nice blend of talent to work with as it brings back a number of players with experience — Carlton Davis, Rudy Ford and Tray Matthews — and mix of younger guys looking to get into the mix.