Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session will focus on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
We wrap up our look at the secondary this week with the strong safety position.
- Daniel Thomas (junior)
- Smoke Monday (freshman)
Answers from spring practice
Who will Auburn use as a replacement for Tray Matthews at safety?
For the last three seasons, Tray Matthews has been a constant for Auburn in the secondary. Matthews was a solid safety who could come into the box and run support like an extra linebacker but also be a weapon in stopping deep passes. In terms of leadership, few on the Auburn roster could match him.
With Auburn’s thin safety numbers behind him, finding a replacement comes down to a select few players. The early edge goes to Daniel Thomas, who has been a reserve at the position and a rotation player in nickel and dime packages over the last two seasons. Thomas didn’t have a highlight game like the 2016 Iron Bowl as a sophomore, but he posted more than 30 tackles and got involved behind the line of scrimmage with several quarterback hurries.
Can Smoke Monday challenge for a starting job?
Perhaps no defensive freshman has more hype surrounding him than Smoke Monday. The Georgia native became a fan favorite before he arrived on campus for his name, his highlight tape and his excellence at a position of need. Auburn coaches haven’t shied away from calling Monday a potential instant-impact player.
Monday should firmly be in the two-deep, and he’ll have an opportunity to challenge for more playing time during fall camp. Now that he has spring practice behind him, he can make a push in August. It might not be enough to unseat the more experienced Thomas, but the talent is there.
Numbers to know
180 and 5: Matthews was responsible for 180 tackles and 5 interceptions during his college career. With one season as a starter at Georgia and three at Auburn, few defensive backs in recent SEC history saw as many snaps as Matthews.
Questions for fall
Can Thomas take the next step and be a consistent starter for the Tigers?
Thomas has definitely played in big moments before, so the stage shouldn’t be too big for him if he is the Week 1 starter for Auburn against Washington. And while his tackling is comparable to Matthews as a strong safety, he needs to improve in some areas of coverage.
That level of consistency is going to be needed for a secondary that will start someone new at cornerback and two other players at positions they didn’t hold last season. After two years as a rotation piece, Thomas is a fine candidate to step up and replace Matthews. He just needs to prove it on the field.
How will Auburn handle the depth at safety in case of an injury?
Although Thomas doesn’t have the injury history of Jeremiah Dinson at free safety, Auburn would be in a precarious spot if he had a long-term absence this season. The Tigers have already addressed some of the depth concerns by adding Minnesota transfer Kendarian Handy-Holly, but he won’t be eligible to play until 2019.
Jordyn Peters makes the most sense as an extra player who could play safety in a pinch. The Tigers also are confident in Monday and Jamien Sherwood’s ability to play either safety position. But with a thin amount of experience in the secondary, the outlook is dimmer for this unit if a veteran safety goes down this fall.