AUBURN, Ala. — No other group on Auburn football’s roster needed this current bye week more than the defensive backs.
When the Tigers left the field after their 52-20 win at Arkansas last weekend, the secondary’s injury list was quite long. Senior safety Tray Matthews missed the whole game with a hamstring issue. Sophomore cornerback Javaris Davis didn’t make the trip, having missed the equivalent of five games with a leg injury.
Junior cornerback Carlton Davis and junior nickel back Jeremiah Dinson hadn’t missed any contests, but they picked up minor injuries of their own throughout the course of Auburn’s first eight games.
“Yeah, it got real thin,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Tuesday night. “It got real thin, and there were times where we were just from play to play. … There were a couple of series in which [senior safety] Stephen Roberts had to go to corner, so we kind of mixed and matched.”
Auburn’s top priority during this bye week, according to coach Gus Malzahn, is for its many injured players to heal. When the Tigers return to action a week from Saturday at Texas A&M, they expect to be closer to 100 percent.
That goes for the secondary, which hasn’t played at full strength in several weeks.
“Hope so. Hope so,” Steele said when asked about the injured defensive backs’ chances of playing in College Station. “That’s a plus.”
Steele is quick to make sure Auburn’s pass defense, which ranks No. 8 nationally in yards allowed per attempt this season, doesn’t use injuries as an excuse.
The veteran defensive coordinator noted the Tigers are much better off that other teams in college football.
“We can complain and sit there and ‘woe is me’ that we’ve had guys with injuries,” Steele said. “We’ve had to rotate guys and play at different times and different situations that wasn’t the normal rotation. That having been said, there are a lot of teams throughout the country that have lost guys for the year. And we have not done that.”
Some of the injuries, like the ones to Dinson and Carlton Davis, haven’t kept the Tigers on the sidelines at all. Steele praised the toughness of his defensive backs Tuesday night for playing through the pain in a physical conference schedule.
“That’s the SEC,” Steele said. “If they’re really, really are injured and can’t go, you don’t want them there. But the doctors tell us, ‘Hey, if they can say they can go, good. They can’t injure it any more.’ But they have not been full speed.”
The injuries to Auburn’s top defensive backs opened the door for a few younger players to contribute in the first eight games and build additional depth.
Sophomore Daniel Thomas started in the place of Matthews against Arkansas. That changed the rotation all the way down to Auburn’s dime package, where freshman Jordyn Peters became the sixth defensive back in the formation.
Thomas is fourth on the team in tackles despite not being a regular starter. Peters is the only true freshman on Auburn’s defense who has double-digit tackles this season with 12.
“Daniel Thomas and Jordyn Peters have progressed nicely, and they’re in playing form for young guys and doing quite well,” Steele said.
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Still, Auburn would much rather have its full squad in the secondary back for the Texas A&M game. The Aggies run a lot of spread concepts, so getting all the depth it could possibly have at defensive back will be crucial.
Auburn still has more than 10 days before it has to decide who can play in College Station, but it’s hopeful.
“We just have to fight through it, and hopefully we’ll get them back for the A&M game, all of them,” Steele said. “We may not. But we haven’t lost them for the year, so that’s a plus.”