Inside Auburn football practice: Why Bryan Harsin is getting hands-on with safeties

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AUBURN — With Auburn football's first tackle scrimmage looming, the pieces are starting to assemble in coach Bryan Harsin's 2022 roster. On the sixth day of preseason practice, we spent time watching the safeties.

Workshopping mechanics at crucial safety position

A favorite Harsin attribute among players is his active participation in practice, whether running stadium steps or moving between position groups to lead drills. He decided to hang out with the safeties Thursday for an interception exercise.

Harsin, a former quarterback, lofted throws of varying difficulties to corners of the end zone for the roaming safeties to track down and catch. Defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding was also with the group, helping with the mechanics of turning the body and going up to meet the ball.

The order of reps was not congruent with the two-deep in 11-on-11 drills: Nickel Donovan Kaufman, then Cayden Bridges, Caleb Wooden, Zion Puckett, Marquise Gilbert, John Reese Bellew, Craig McDonald, J.D. Rhym. There was only one drop the entire period.

The attention from Harsin and Schmedding speaks to the emphasis on workshopping Auburn's safety group. It's the roster's youngest and perhaps most uncertain position, not lacking talent but searching for answers to replace Smoke Monday and Bydarrius Knighten.

"Technically I'm an older guy, which is funny, because I felt like I was at the back of the bus last year," Kaufman said. "It's a big jump, but it's nothing I'm not used to. ... I know how it feels to be a young guy coming in, not knowing nothing. Not having anybody to sit down and talk to you."

Fundamental emphasis Thursday included balance and footwork drills. Safeties worked on backpedaling, lateral movement, changes in direction and quick reflex drills with passes flying at them from close range while they were in motion. Puckett visibly has the smoothest movements.

The question is who starts alongside him. The redshirt freshman Bridges is consistently taking first-team reps during 11-on-11s so far, and being the first safety in drills is significant.

Auburn depth chart

It's worth revisiting the two-deep in 11-on-11 pace drills after six practices. As always, a word of caution against conclusions: Harsin is trying to spread the reps evenly at some positions, especially those where a competition is in full swing. Examples: left guard and quarterback.

Still, there are other toss-up positions where starters might be solidifying, such as safety and linebacker.

Auburn first-team offense

QB: Zach Calzada.

RB: Tank Bigsby (Jarquez Hunter rotating in).

WR: Shedrick Jackson, Tar'Varish Dawson, Malcolm Johnson Jr.

TE: John Samuel Shenker.

OL (left to right): Kilian Zierer, Brandon Council, Nick Brahms, Kameron Stutts, Austin Troxell.

Auburn first-team defense

DL: Colby Wooden, Marcus Harris.

EDGE: Derick Hall, Eku Leota.

LB: Owen Pappoe, Cam Riley.

NICKEL: Donovan Kaufman.

CB: Nehemiah Pritchett, Jaylin Simpson.

S: Zion Puckett, Cayden Bridges.

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Second-team offense

QB: T.J. Finley.

RB: Sean Jackson (Damari Alston rotating in).

WR: Koy Moore, Ja'Varrius Johnson, Camden Brown.

TE: Tyler Fromm.

OL (left to right): Brenden Coffey, Jalil Irvin, Tate Johnson, Alec Jackson, Colby Smith.

Second-team defense

DL: Jeffrey M'ba, Jayson Jones.

EDGE: Dylan Brooks, Marcus Bragg.

LB: Wesley Steiner, Jake Levant.

NICKEL: Keionte Scott.

CB: A.D. Diamond, J.D. Rhym.

S: Craig McDonald, Marquise Gilbert.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Inside Auburn football practice: Bryan Harsin gets hands-on with safeties