Auburn fans will probably see the defense fast forward on Saturday.
The future of the team’s defensive backfield is already here and ready to step into the spotlight — and in a tune-up game against Samford, Auburn supporters could have their chance to see the next generation take plenty of snaps at corner and safety.
Senior safeties Jeremiah Dinson and Daniel Thomas have been stalwarts in the back end of the defense, and they’ll leave big shoes to fill at the end of this season, but the next men up are already in place in sophomore safeties Smoke Monday and Jermaine Sherwood, who’ve been prepped to take over those starting spots next fall.
They already rotate on the field at times in the course of play, but they’ll likely see the field even more Saturday as the score rolls up on Auburn’s opponents from the FCS. Auburn plays Samford at 11 a.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium on SEC Network. If senior corner Javaris Davis and junior corner Noah Igbinoghene take any breaks, too, the youngsters behind them at corner could make their way out onto the edge as well.
Igbinoghene is the bridge between that veteran group and that crop of youngsters — and the way he sees it, he doesn’t expect there to be a drop-off next year if Auburn’s plan for the future plays out as expected.
“I feel like there’s going to be no drop-off,” Igbinoghene said this week. “I feel like we’re going to get better, honestly.”
That’s no disrespect from Igbinoghene to Dinson, Thomas or Davis — who’ve been steady forces on a stellar Auburn defense all year.
But Igbinoghene thought back to the beginning, and how his current group came together. He wasn’t afraid to talk star-gazing when a reporter asked him about.
In the recruiting rankings from Rivals.com, Dinson was rated as a three-star prospect coming to Auburn, and Thomas was an overlooked two-star player out of Lee-Montgomery.
Monday and Sherwood were both highly touted recruits rated as four-star pickups by Rivals.
Igbinoghene was recruited as a receiver. On the outset, Auburn’s current lock-down defensive backfield is being led by a three-star prospect, a two-star prospect and a wide receiver prospect, with the outlier being Davis who did earn four-star recognition from Rivals.
“I mean, that just shows our work ethic,” Igbinoghene said. “Just over the summer, we all worked together, and so it wasn’t — There’s no separation, there’s no pointing fingers, there’s no jealousy or envy in the room. It’s just straight work. That’s all we do.
“I was a receiver, everyone else was a three-star. There’s really not, like, a five-star who came into it. It just shows our hard work and resiliency.”
Now, Monday, Sherwood and the young corners like Christian Tutt, who has already flashed his talent on special teams, have the chance to carry that mentality into 2020.
If they can do that, while growing into some of that potential that evaluators saw in their high school days, Igbinoghene’s prediction for 2020 could come true.