When first-year Auburn defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder said last spring that every position was open, he meant it. And five days before the season-opener against Clemson, it showed in the newly released depth chart.
No fewer than four returning starters won't be starters when the Tigers take the field Saturday night. Safety Demetruce McNeal, end Nosa Eguae, tackle Ken Carter and cornerback T'Sharvan Bell will be backups.
VanGorder also said it would be difficult for those who missed the spring with injuries to win starting jobs in the fall. Only senior linebacker Jonathan Evans beat the odds. Eguae and Bell did not.
As recently as a month ago, few would have expected junior cornerback Ryan White, junior safety Ryan Smith or sophomore tackle Angelo Blackson to be starters. But they saw it differently and got it done.
What does it mean?
It means VanGorder was as good as his word. It means Auburn has more depth on defense than it has had in some time. It means some were able to absorb the complexities of VanGorder's scheme faster than others.
Some other thoughts on Auburn's depth chart:
* It wasn't surprising that Eguae, who has started 23 consecutive games, wasn't the starter. It's been clear since spring that it would be difficult for him to get around Dee Ford. What was shocking was that he was listed third-team.
* It would be interesting to see where sophomore cornerback Robenson Therezie and sophomore safety Erique Florence would have ended up at that not missed substantial time with injuries in preseason camp. Therezie was running with the first team when he was injured. Florence was widely expected to be a starter. Instead, neither even made the depth chart.
* Running back Corey Grant's situation is also a bit puzzling. He was not on the depth chart because, we believe, he is injured. He was one of the stars of spring practice but does not appear destined to get many carries even when he is healthy.
* Though redshirt freshman Melvin Ray, out of football for four years while pursuing a professional baseball career, certainly looks the part, he did not appear on the depth chart. That doesn't mean he won't play, but it means he's unlikely to play a significant role.
* Based on the depth chart and on what we're hearing, it appears redshirt freshman running back Mike Blakely has made major progress on the field and in the hearts of Auburn coaches. If he gets his act together, he has the talent to play for a long time.
* Reality struck again for senior defensive tackle Jamar Travis. He has drawn rave reviews from his coaches the past two springs, only to fall down the depth chart when it mattered. He is not listed on the depth chart for Clemson, though he will certainly play on special teams as he has for most of his career.
* Sophomore defensive end LaDarius Owens had a big camp and it showed. He was listed on the second team, higher than Eguae though on the opposite side.
* Senior Ashton Richardson, a former walk-on, looks like he's going to get some time at middle linebacker in relief of starter Jake Holland. He doesn't have the ideal physical tools, but his coaches and teammates say he makes up for it with intelligence and work ethic.
* Middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and cornerbacks Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones got lots of praise during camp, but the only true freshman on the defensive depth chart was tackle Tyler Nero. He was listed at No. 3 behind Jeff Whitaker and Gabe Wright.
And that's it from a long, long day of Auburn football.
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