AUBURN — Defensive backs can tackle, too.
That’s what Jonathon Mincy felt he and his fellow secondary mates proved Saturday, in Auburn’s 38-9 victory over Arkansas State.
Senior corner Chris Davis was the Tigers’ top tackler, totaling 10 with seven solos. Corner Ryan White (five tackles) and starting safeties Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey (four tackles apiece) had their share of stops, as well.
Seeing all those takedowns attributed to those on the back end of the defense brought a smile to Mincy’s face.
“It makes us feel good, and that’s something (where) we don’t want to base ourselves on just being coverage corners,” he said. “We want to be up there with the tackles as well, so that was good seeing (Davis) come out and leading the team in tackles.”
Mincy didn’t get in on the action as much himself, collecting only one tackle. He was pleased to see Davis took care of the other side of the field, though.
“I know their offense was more so going toward the boundary, so it was a great opportunity for Chris to make a lot of plays, which he did,” Mincy said. “So we were very happy with that.”
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn agreed. He said that the play of the secondary (corners specifically) was one of the highlights of the spring.
More importantly, that high level of play has carried over to the fall.
“We felt like that was one of the strengths of our defense,” Malzahn said. “(Cornerbacks) Coach (Melvin) Smith’s done an excellent job with those guys, and he’s put them in position to make plays, him and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Ellis) Johnson.
“They’re playing extremely well. Not just in the pass game, but they’re helping us in the run game too.”
Mincy made one thing clear: giving all the credit to the secondary would be wrong. Take away the push the defensive line gets up front, and Mincy’s job becomes much harder.
“It’s just made this defense click a lot better when you have pressure,” he said. “You have some outstanding people on the line that’s going to rattle a quarterback or make any time of interruptions, and that will help us in coverage and make us better (at forcing) turnovers.”
FROST EJECTION LEARNING EXPERIENCE: Malzahn never considered appealing Kris Frost’s ejection when it occurred Saturday.
Of course, that’s because he couldn’t. Showing off his familiarity with the rules on reviewing plays, Malzahn noted that once the call was made, there was nothing Auburn could do about it.
“You can challenge it, but once the booth guy makes the call, it’s set,” he said. “I did not challenge it.”
Much like the players, coaches are still learning the intricacies of how targeting will be officiated going forward. Malzahn said Frost’s ejection and subsequent suspension for the first half of Saturday’s SEC opener against Mississippi State would serve as a teaching moment for the coaching staff.
“You’ve got to coach it different,” he said. “We kind of understood that before, but there’s also experiences.”
INJURY UPDATES: Defensive end Dee Ford and “Star” Justin Garrett practiced on Monday, Malzahn said. He also said the pair would take part in Tuesday’s practice. However, the coach didn’t hint whether either would be available to play Saturday.
There were no such worries about the team’s reigning tackles leader, Davis. The senior cornerback gingerly walked off the field late in the game and did not return.
“Chris is doing fine, and we expect him to play,” Malzahn said.
Defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who has been sidelined since the spring following surgery on his right knee, may be back soon.
“(He’s) getting close, or closer,” Malzahn said.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Jonathan Jones. Jones broke his ankle in an off-field accident days before the end of fall camp, and Malzahn said it is “going to be awhile” before Jones takes the field again.
— Ryan Black
TUSCALOOSA — This week’s matchup against Texas A&M presents an interesting task for Alabama’s defensive linemen. The Crimson Tide want to rush the passer, but have to be disciplined and keep Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel contained.
“Our strategy is to keep Johnny Manziel in the pocket as much as possible and try and keep good pass rush lanes, try and keep him as a traditional quarterback,” Tide defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan said. “When he gets outside the pocket, that’s where he makes the most plays.”
But how do you keep him in the pocket?
“It’s all about the games we run, the stunts that we’ll have up front,” Pagan said. “If we have a game where something is inside, then we’ll have somebody outside to cover the game. It’s all about really our rush lanes and us staying in the right position.”
What about when Manziel escapes the pocket?
“You’ve just got to look at his hips and look at the right things,” Pagan said. “You can’t get caught looking at his feet or hands or his head or anything like that. You’ve just got to look at his hips because his hips will never lie.”
Still, there’s no secret formula to stopping Manziel.
“We’ve just got to play Alabama football, play the way the coaches have our game plan mapped out and just pretty much do what we do here,” Pagan said.
TRASH TALK: Tide coach Nick Saban sees no reason for his players to ever talk to Texas A&M players during the game.
When asked whether trash talk is a part of the Tide’s game, Saban shot down any notion of his players using it against any opponent.
“It’s never a part of our game,” Saban said. “I mean, we tell our players there’s no circumstance where you need to talk to another player, and there’s been very little of that with our team.”
Manziel received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the Aggies’ season opener against Rice for taunting. Aggie coach Kevin Sumlin benched Manziel following the flag and said he wouldn’t have returned to the game no matter the circumstances.
Manziel kept a calm head, for the most part, against Sam Houston State, and Sumlin spoke highly of his quarterback’s calm demeanor after the week 2 victory.
“I think he saw some times today that he saw some questionable things happening after the play that he walked away from,” Sumlin said. “That’s going to happen. We had that conversation last week about things happening on the field and people saying things to him and taking shots. That’s the way it is.
“Is that fair? Probably not, but that’s where we are.”
— Marq Burnett