Today’s offenses throw the football with greater efficiency and volume than at any point in the history of the game. In turn, having a quality secondary has never been more important to a team’s success. A modern defense that hopes to compete with high octane offenses requires play-making defensive backs … and lots of them.
Auburn must replace four of the top players from last year’s secondary, including first round draft pick Noah Igbinoghene. Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele and defensive backs coach Wesley McGriff will look to returning starters Christian Tutt and Roger McCreary to lead the last line of the Tiger’s defense in 2020.
Today, we look at the most productive returning player, a talented newcomer and a wildcard from the defensive back position group. Auburn is counting on these players to do their part in continuing the tradition of strong Tiger defenses.
Most Productive Returning Player – Roger McCreary, 23, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – 36 tackles, 1.0 TFL, I INT, 1 Fumble Recovery, 11 Pass break ups
Roger McCreary was not one of the more highly heralded prospects in his signing class, so the Mobile, AL native was one of the last additions to the Tigers recruiting class in 2018. But he appeared in seven games, mostly on special teams, as a true freshman.
Last season, he burst on to the scene in his first career start against the juggernaut LSU offense. In that game, he made a team-leading 10 tackles and intercepted eventual Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow. Although Auburn came up short that day, McCreary proved that he was ready to lock down the cornerback spot opposite of Noah Igbinoghene.
With Igbinoghene now departed for the NFL, McCreary figures to be the next in line for the Tigers’ number one corner this season. What stands out about McCreary is his strength and toughness. His 40-yard dash time is unclear (though he is clearly a very good athlete), but there are very few receivers who will look forward to having McCreary beat them up all day. McCreary will need to neutralize opposing offenses’ primary receiving options for the Tigers to be a dominant defense this year.
Talented Newcomer – Ladarius Tennison, 13, Fr.
Key 2019 Stats – Under Armour All-American, 98 tackles, 24.0 TFL
Although Ladarius Tennison only stands about 5-10, his impact was among the biggest in Florida high school football last season. The dynamo from Rockledge, FL, returned kicks, played running back and lined up all over his team’s defense in 2019. Tennison is another member of the 2020 signing class that graduated high school early and enrolled in classes at Auburn in January.
Auburn must replace two starters at safety and needs someone to play in the rotation at nickel cornerback with Christian Tutt. Since Ladarius likely projects as a nickel/slot corner or safety for the Tigers defense moving forward, he may have opportunities to see the field at multiple positions. Players as explosive as Tennison are often game changers, and he is one to watch as a valuable contributor for Auburn even as a true freshman.
Wildcard – Smoke Monday, 21, Jr.
Key 2019 Stats – 20 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT
Smoke Monday has been a key back up in his first two seasons at Auburn. Although he was a reserve, Monday managed to accrue multiple sacks, interceptions, tackles for loss and even a blocked kick on special teams. In the 2019 Iron Bowl, Monday had 4 tackles, 1 sack and returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown. The Auburn defense graduated two senior safeties last season, so the Tigers will likely look to Smoke Monday and Jamien Sherwood to fill those roles in 2020.
Smoke has made big plays and delivered big hits from the moment he stepped on the field as a true freshman. However, Monday had several missed tackles and struggled at times with tracking receivers on vertical routes last season. Monday must eliminate some of the mental mistakes that are often made by younger players to reach his full potential.
If Smoke Monday can minimize errors, then all that will be left are the highlight plays that he has already proven capable of making. Expect Monday to play with more consistency as a junior and help solidify the back end of Auburn’s defense in 2020.
For other Auburn positional breakdowns:
Zack Shaw is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News and former walk-on for the Auburn Tigers. You can contact him by email: email@example.com or on Twitter @z_m_shaw