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AU Coaches Discuss Freshmen DBs

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Taking stock of Auburn’s 3 freshman defensive backs this summer

Auburn freshman defensive back Zion Puckett during drills in spring practice on March 27 at the Tigers' athletics complex.

Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics

Auburn freshman defensive back Zion Puckett during drills in spring practice on March 27 at the Tigers' athletics complex.

Zion Puckett was hesitant during his initial practices at Auburn this spring.

The four-star freshman defensive back, who enrolled early on the Plains, had to feel his way through things his first few times on the field for spring practices, where he focused on playing nickelback. Coaches noticed his hesitations, too.

“He just needs more time on task,” defensive backs coach Wes McGriff said. “An older coach once told me a long time ago to never, ever get down on a young kid. Develop him. He showed a lot of tools in the toolbox that he has. He's just young.”

 

Despite his hesitations early on, Puckett displayed something else that McGriff and fellow defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson took note of — his coachability. While the 5-foot-11, 208-pounder took some time to get acclimated to his new surroundings, he also showed a promise that gives Auburn’s coaches confidence he could be a contributor during his first season in the SEC.

“You know, he made progress sooner than we all expected,” Woodson said. “You know, he picked up the scheme… and by the time we played the spring game, you know, he was out there playing fast. So, he was able to—to really make strides this spring, and he’s going to lead to being a really good player.”

With Jordyn Peters sitting out this spring while recovering from an undisclosed foot injury, Puckett had ample opportunity for quality reps at nickel, where he worked behind projected starter Christian Tutt. During practice windows that were open to the media, Puckett was typically seen working with the second-team defense in the slot, and by the time A-Day rolled around, the coaching staff saw a noticeable difference in how comfortable and confident Puckett was on the field.

“We've just got to coach him up and keep bringing him along,” McGriff said. “I think one of the best qualities he possesses right now is that he's very coachable. He's got a positive attitude. When they're very coachable and have got a good attitude, you can develop them. We're just looking for his arrow to keep pointing up and him to keep trending.”

By the end of spring, Puckett was the lone newcomer in Auburn’s secondary, as fellow early enrollee Cam’Ron Kelly entered the transfer portal — citing the health of his mother and sister — and eventually transferred to North Carolina in April. As such, the 133rd-rated player in the 2019 class has a leg up on the rest of Auburn’s incoming freshman defensive backs — Jaylin Simpson and Nehemiah Pritchett — each of whom arrived on campus this summer.

So far, Woodson said, the coaches “feel good” about what they’ve seen from Pritchett — a three-star defensive back out of Jackson — and he likened the 6-foot, 200-pounder to sophomore cornerback Roger McCreary.

“He's a kid that gives you good size at corner; he got some length to him, and he can run and he's a fluid athlete,” Woodson said. “Coming from Jackson, you know, he has some rawness to him, but that's what you want early on. You know, he never came off the field at Jackson, and just like Roger, so now we’re just going to allow for him to do is just focus on one position, and that is going to benefit him big time. He's been in and out of the office, wanting to watch film, so it's important to him. You’re seeing intangibly what you want to see out of a freshman.”

Simpson, meanwhile, does not have a set position in the secondary just yet. The former four-star prospect out of St. Simon’s Island, Ga., has the athleticism and versatility to play multiple positions on the back end, whether it’s safety or corner, or even nickel, with Woodson comparing the 6-foot, 175-pounder to redshirt senior cornerback Javaris Davis. Davis, of course, started at nickel last fall but is set to move to the outside opposite Noah Igbinoghene this season.

“The future is bright for him,” Woodson said. “He's one of those kids that we’re still trying to decide where we're going to start him at…. And just like Nehemiah, he's been in and out, asking the right questions about what we're doing to try to prepare himself to compete this fall. But with those three, man, it's been a really good transition so far. Just look forward to Nehemiah and Jaylin, you know, kind of catching up on a physicality like Zion was able to get this spring.”

 

 

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I could talk secondary play for days, I loved it when I played. Zion was one of my favorite recruits, he's super talented.

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38 minutes ago, cole256 said:

I could talk secondary play for days, I loved it when I played. Zion was one of my favorite recruits, he's super talented.

So you got those notes I sent? Glad to hear it. 😁

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On 6/24/2019 at 1:19 AM, cole256 said:

I could talk secondary play for days, I loved it when I played. Zion was one of my favorite recruits, he's super talented.

Cole256,   a quick question for you regarding secondary play, etc.    From what you can tell of the film available do you think Eric Shaw (recruit) could play safety in this defense?   Definitely a good athlete.  Just not sure if it could translate to safety.   Thanks

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So whats the deal with Davis moving to CB and having Tutt be the Nickel? Especially since Tutt would be moving outside next year after Davis has exhausted his eligibility?

Will the playing time he (Tutt) will receive inside ultimately help him with run support once he moves outside be worth more than having a year of experience outside? 

I hope that makes as much sense written down as it did in my head, lol

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4 hours ago, Auburn2Eugene said:

So whats the deal with Davis moving to CB and having Tutt be the Nickel? Especially since Tutt would be moving outside next year after Davis has exhausted his eligibility?

Will the playing time he (Tutt) will receive inside ultimately help him with run support once he moves outside be worth more than having a year of experience outside? 

I hope that makes as much sense written down as it did in my head, lol

@bigbird correct me if I'm wrong but I think Davis is moving outside because the staff feels like he is one of the best 2 cover CBs. When you have a heavy man scheme D like Steele's I think you have to identify your 2 best cover CBs & go from there because they are almost always going against the other teams' 2 best WRs. I don't think it's a given Tutt will move outside when Davis is gone. The staff is trying hard to land a  juco CB or 2. If they miss on that I expect they will look hard for a GT CB after this coming season.

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12 hours ago, TKO55 said:

Cole256,   a quick question for you regarding secondary play, etc.    From what you can tell of the film available do you think Eric Shaw (recruit) could play safety in this defense?   Definitely a good athlete.  Just not sure if it could translate to safety.   Thanks

I think he definitely has the athleticism for it. He's very physical too. I could see him at safety, linebacker, even tight end. I would like to see him at safety or rush linebacker personally. What do you think about him? 

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10 hours ago, Auburn2Eugene said:

So whats the deal with Davis moving to CB and having Tutt be the Nickel? Especially since Tutt would be moving outside next year after Davis has exhausted his eligibility?

Will the playing time he (Tutt) will receive inside ultimately help him with run support once he moves outside be worth more than having a year of experience outside? 

I hope that makes as much sense written down as it did in my head, lol

I imagine they want to get them all on the field at the same time and tutt really was able to shine and show what he had since Peters was out. I imagine Davis knew all the coverages and they probably wanted him to be out there as much as possible instead of only a nickel package.

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5 hours ago, cole256 said:

I think he definitely has the athleticism for it. He's very physical too. I could see him at safety, linebacker, even tight end. I would like to see him at safety or rush linebacker personally. What do you think about him? 

Agree with you that he could play multiple positions.   Most say LB, TE, WR, or maybe grow into a DE.     I knew AU was tight with LB numbers.   Love the kid though and the thought of him being a big safety came to mind since the DB slots are a little more loose right now.  

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6 hours ago, TKO55 said:

since the DB slots are a little more loose right now

And with the talent in this class perceived to be weaker at safety than normal years as well.

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