February 23, 2008

Rhoads begins with thin secondary

A little more than five weeks since he was hired, Paul Rhoads will be on the practice fields for the first time Sunday afternoon as Auburn's new defensive coordinator.

Rhoads, who will also coach AU's secondary, has already begun the evaluation process by watching last year's game films and working with them during early morning winter workouts.

"I think what I've observed so far is, they're a hard-working group, as is the whole football team," said Rhoads. "I've been pleased with that. If you've got that to start with, then we'll be able to teach them and get them to execute what we want.

"My first observation is, they're big. It's a big secondary. I like the size of our safeties, and our corners aren't a small group either. We've got excellent speed. They have the basic fundamentals it takes to play defensive back. They all pedal well. They leave their hips open well. They obviously have been well coached."

While Rhoads is pleased with the physical ability of his defensive backs, he's also aware that it's a group short on depth that includes four scholarship cornerbacks and three scholarship safeties.

"It's probably our thinnest group overall on the defense as far as scholarship players," said Rhoads.

But it is an experienced group that returns three starters in cornerback Jerraud Powers, safety Zac Etheridge and safety-turned-cornerback Aairon Savage.

A junior, Savage has started 15 games at safety the last two seasons.

"I think most defensive coaches will tell you having a great defense starts with your defensive line, being able to dominate there as much as possible," said Rhoads. "Secondly, you'd better have corners. You'd better have guys that can get on wide receivers, and not necessarily shut them down or take them out of the game, but be able to be there when they need to be there.

"We want to get Aairon over there to give us four corners for the first day of spring practice and see where we are over there."

Rhoads already likes what he sees from Powers at the opposite cornerback position.

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