August 3, 2009

Leaders emerge at the safety position

Tommy Thigpen was looking for some leaders in Auburn's secondary. It didn't take him long to find one in junior Zac Etheridge.

"I told Zac and challenged him not to be scared to take the team leader," said Thigpen, AU's safeties coach. "He's only going to be a junior but there's nothing wrong being that guy everybody is leaning too. You gain respect from your peers by making plays and knowing your assignments.

"I've challenged him to do that, to know where the defensive end and the linebackers are at so if a play busts, you don't have to wait until you get to the sideline to get it fixed."

Etheridge said he put in extra film study time this summer and was also a team-leader during player-led, voluntary workouts.

"I've been breaking down film and trying to bring my football IQ up to the NFL level, just trying to know what the offense is doing before it happens," Etheridge said.

Etheridge is AU's most experienced defensive back with 24 starts under his belt. He led the team in tackles last season, despite playing with a separated shoulder, and finished second in 2007. Offseason surgery and rehab has Etheridge back to 100 percent heading into the start of fall drills.

"I can just go out and play like I used to and throw my body around and hit a lot of people," Etheridge said.

Etheridge and Thigpen will have their work cut out for them as the leaders of a group that's been plagued by injuries and attrition.

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