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A look at Auburn's defensive backfield before spring practice

This will be an interesting position battle this spring.

In 2021, what was once thought to be a strength going into the season ended up being a liability at times for Auburn. Roger McCreary played lights out at corner last season but as a unit, Auburn gave up a lot of yards through the air.

With some attrition at the defensive back position via the transfer portal and the NFL draft, Auburn has some holes to fill in the secondary this spring. Let's look at the key returning starters and newcomers to Auburn’s secondary.

Austin Ausberry

Year: Freshman

The 4-star Louisiana native joins Auburn from University Lab High school in Baton Rouge.

Why he could start: Ausberry was a highly coveted prospect coming out of high school and joins a secondary losing a lot of experience. Auburn’s secondary gave up a lot of yards in 2021 so with a good showing this offseason Auberry could vie for time simply due to attrition. A rivals top 100 player nationally will certainly have a chance to compete for a spot in year one.

Why he won't start: The SEC can be tough on freshmen no matter the position. Ausberry will have to compete with guys who’ve been in the system and understand the expectations better than he will. Closing that gap will be tough to overcome.

JaDarian Rhym

Year: Freshman 

Ryhm was one of the biggest flips for Auburn in this last recruiting cycle.

Why he could start: Ryhm is fast. Really fast. Speed kills and Ryhm has enough to cover any receiver in the SEC. A shutdown corner with the flexibility to play some safety will definitely have a chance to play early.

Why he won’t start: Aside from just lacking experience it’s hard to see a scenario where Ryhm won't play this season or even start at some point. He will be his own worst enemy if he doesn’t start.

Caleb Wooden

Year: Freshman 

The brother of Colby Wooden, Caleb hails from Lawrenceville, GA.

Why he could start: He probably won’t. Caleb has a chance to be solid contributor but of all the new signees is a little behind some of his fellow defensive backs.

Keionte Scott

Year: Junior 

Scott is an athletic playmaker and the #1 JUCO cornerback in the ’22 class. A track and field athlete as well, Keionte has all the physical tools to be a shutdown corner.

Why he could start: Simply put, experience. Scott brings in a level of experience earned at a level about high school and is more mentally and physically matured than those he’ll be battling for the top corner spot. Expect him to fill the void left by Roger McCreary.

Why he won't start: The only reason to believe he won’t start is if he underperforms in this offseason or simply doesn’t understand his assignments.

Nehemiah Pritchett

Year: Senior

Pritchett is going into his senior season at Auburn.

Why he could start: Experience. Pritchett has been there before in a starting role and that on-field experience is invaluable in the SEC.

Why he won’t start: Nehemiah got beat at times in big games against premier talent. Those inconsistencies could come back to haunt him in a crowded secondary.

Jaylin Simpson

Year: Junior

Simpson returns as one of the best open-field tacklers Auburn had in the secondary.

Why he could start: Simpson played in sports and was a dependable tackler in the open field. When Pritchett came out Simpson was the next in line to step in and take over his duties.

Why he won't start: Simpson was part of a group that experienced lapses in coverage that gave up big plays. An area Auburn will look to improve upon in 2022

Donovan Kaufman

Year: Redshirt Sophomore

The Vanderbilt transfer played slot corner some but earned more playing time as the season progressed.

Why he could start: When Knighten was benched for poor play Kaufman was next in line to step in. Kaufman showed an ability to run down ball carriers and force fumbles in key situations down the stretch.

Why he won't start: Kaufman took bad angles on ball carriers at times that allowed the opposing offense additional yards.

Ro Torrence

Year: Junior

A junior college transfer, Ro Torrence played well at times when called upon.

Why he could start: Torrence showed playmaking ability at times. In the Birmingham Bowl, he had a forced fumble and 3 tackles to cap off his season. He was very close to multiple interceptions and found himself in the position to make game-changing plays when called upon. The ability to force turnovers will give him a chance to play more this season.

Why he won't start: Tackling. Ro took bad angles at times and occasionally missed tackles. A weakness he’ll need to work on this spring if he hopes to crack the starting lineup permanently.

DJ James

Year: Senior

A portal signee in this year's offseason cycle, DJ James brings power 5 experience to the Auburn secondary 

Why he could start: James had 46 tackles and two interceptions for Oregon last year. The ability to create turnovers combined with his on-field experiences bodes well for the junior corner lobbying for starting spot. 

Why he won't start: It's crowded! James is the new guy in a room with what appears to be a lot of talent on paper. He'll need to stand out this spring if he hopes to crack the starting lineup. 

Jordan Davis, A.D. Diamond, also return, but will have a long road to playing time.

Marquis Gilbert

Year: Junior 

The number one junior college safety in the country decided on Auburn over a plethora of choices.

Why he could start: A starter at Hutchinson C.C. he earned All-KJCCC honorable mention honors after totaling 12 tackles, five pass break ups and two interceptions in seven games for the Blue Dragons. Gilbert is decent combination of size and speed that could earn him a starting role.

Why he won't start: The competition at safety will be fierce. Gilbert will have ground to make up on guys that have been in the system. The number one thing that keeps kids like Marquis off the field is not knowing the assignments. He'll have to pick things up quickly if he hopes to start.