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Post-spring projections: Auburn’s secondary

Auburn defensive back Jamel Dean looks to the sideline for a play during A-Day on April 9, 2016.
Auburn defensive back Jamel Dean looks to the sideline for a play during A-Day on April 9, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Editor’s note: Projecting Auburn’s two-deep depth chart based on spring performance.

First team secondary

Auburn feels good about the talent it has in the secondary.

New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has the luxury of building the group around returning All-SEC freshman Carlton Davis, who the coach said has the physical tools and technical ability to be a star in the SEC.

Davis made it hard on Auburn’s young receivers this spring.

“I’m glad Carlton Davis plays for us,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “When he presses you and gets those big, long arms on you it’s pretty much over. Coach Burns and I were talking yesterday about how many guys have we had win one-on-one against him. It’s been few. He’s really good.”

The frontrunner for the spot across the field from Davis is Ohio State transfer Jamel Dean. Dean sat out last year as a transfer while rehabbing the knee injury that led the Buckeyes to drop the defensive back from their future plans. Dean declined a medical hardship waiver from OSU after he received a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews.

Auburn likes the idea of pairing the 6-foot-2, 205-pounds Dean with the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Davis.

“We’re both big corners and a big body to get around,” Davis said. “He’s fast and we can maneuver with it. Hopefully he can come in and make an impact for us.”

With a plenty of experience at safety, the team has evaluated a number of different lineup combinations.

Stephen Roberts made a strong case for playing time when he jumped into the starting lineup late last year. Roberts finished the season with 26 tackles and three pass breakups with much of his production coming in the team’s final five games.

New secondary coach Wes McGriff said he would be comfortable with playing Roberts at any position in the secondary. The Opelika native’s versatility gives him a chance to be a constant presence in the lineup.

Rudy Ford, who led Auburn in tackling the past two seasons, adds leadership to the backend of the defense. He missed the early part of spring practice with an undisclosed illness, but jumped right back into the first team lineup.

Second team secondary

Auburn has a number of players in the secondary on the mend to varying degrees.

Defensive back T.J. Davis returned to practice midway through last season from a torn ACL. He didn’t get back on the field, but had no limitations during spring practice.

The same couldn’t be said for Tray Matthews and Josh Holsey. Matthews missed all of spring camp recovering from offseason shoulder surgery while Hosley wasn’t cleared for full contact as he also worked his way back from a torn ACL.

New secondary coach Wes McGriff credited all three players for working hard through the injuries. All three will be in the mix for playing time in the fall.

Markell Boston and John Broussard Jr. could compete for playing time as well. Broussard needs to bulk up, but he was part of Auburn’s second team rotation throughout spring camp at defensive back. Boston is looking to break into the rotation at safety.

“He’s done a good job, very physical, a kid diagnosed with exceptional speed, we just have to make sure he’s consistent and trust what his eyes see,” McGriff said.

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