Second of WBE’s five questions for spring, cliched as the concept might be. Previously: Is Nick Fairley ready?
4. ARE MIKE MCNEIL AND AAIRON SAVAGE AND TRULY 100 PERCENT AND READY TO KICK ASS?
Because if they are, look out. If they’re not, though, uh … redirect to Auburn fans: look out.
Because the two injury returnees will very likely make the difference between the secondary being a deep, veteran unit with loads of big-game experience well-suited for the Malzahnian grind and the same short-staffed, erratic bunch we saw alternate huge plays with mind-numbing errors borne mostly of inexperience.
Unfortunately, most of those huge plays came courtesy of Walt McFadden, who’s on his way to the NFL as we speak. So without a healthy McNeil and Savage, the pickings looked pretty slim even before Daren Bates underwent a shoulder surgery/position switch double-whammy. Neiko Thorpe was a lock at one corner; Demond Washington was a lock at either corner or safety; and T’Sharvan Bell was a lock to at least be in the rotation somewhere. Past that–and you’ll notice that “past that” are still no less than five spots on the two-deep–it’s nothing but question marks.
Which is why even if McNeil and Savage are all the way back, it would be awfully helpful if Zac Etheridge managed the trick, too. (Though since we have to wait until the fall for him, he doesn’t fit into this particular discussion.) Even if Etheridge isn’t ready for 2010, though, if McNeil and Savage are Auburn should be OK … or better than OK barring any further injuries. The pair of them could start at safety to give Auburn arguably the most experienced safety tandem in the SEC, leaving Washington to hold down the corner position opposite Thorpe, Bell to give Auburn a solid nickel corner, and Bates to step in as need be if another safety’s needed. Or if Bell’s ready to build on his strong finish to ’09 with a starting safety assignment, Savage moves to corner and either he or Washington totally rocks the nickel assignment while providing cover at safety.
The point: if Auburn’s lucky enough to have both Mike McNeil holding down one safety spot and Aairon Savage ready for duty at either safety or corner, Auburn’s going to have options. Lots of them. And eventually, Chizik and Co. are going to find a set of options that work. Starting this week, we find out if they’re goign to have those options are not. Things are looking good, I’d say, with both in white (i.e. contact) jerseys and a Freshman All-SEC safety already ticketed for linebacking. But if Auburn’s going to really improve on last year’s secondary, McNeil and Savage will have to prove that the reports of their recovery have not, in fact, been exaggerated.