Entering the fourth day of Auburn’s preseason camp today, the senior safety has missed nine straight practices. He missed the final five practices of the spring because of an undisclosed personal issue, and did not participate in the first three days of preseason camp, battling what defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said is an infection that required minor surgery.
“I don’t want to say anything more than that because I don’t know,” he said.
“We’ve been told we won’t have him for several days.”
Johnson said McNeal is day-to-day.
McNeal’s absence has been noticeable. He is the most experienced member of the Tigers’ secondary, after all, starting 20 games over the past two seasons.
But while he’s been out, it’s provided an opportunity for other players to get a look at safety.
And in the case of Josh Holsey, it just means more snaps at the boundary safety position. He entered the fall at the top of the depth chart along with McNeal, even though the sophomore started six games at corner last season. He could move back there, or he could stick at safety.
He doesn’t care, as long as he’s on the field.
“I know corner like the back of my hand, so I know if I have to go back, I know I can do it,” he said. “If they need me to play safety, that’s what I’d do. That’s what I’ve been studying every day now. Safety is getting just as easy as corner was.”
Holsey said he has practiced exclusively at safety thus far, but believes he’ll probably start going back and forth between safety and corner when McNeal returns.
He is doing his best to bring some of the newcomers at the position up to speed, too. Among that group are a pair of freshmen in Kamryn Melton and Khari Harding, as well as Brandon King, who transferred from Highland Community College.
“They’re learning. They don’t really know as much right now but I’m teaching them,” Holsey said. “I know I’m learning as well, but I know a little more than what they do. They’re asking me questions and I’m telling them whenever they need help to come ask me.”
Junior cornerback Jonathon Mincy has seen the same things as Holsey, impressed how quickly the young players are catching on.
“That’s something that is going to be key to this defense,” he said. “Just having everybody able to bring something to the table and having a lot of hands on deck.”
Holsey has taken a specific interest mentoring King. He sits beside the junior college transfer each day in the safeties’ meeting room, pointing out the pre-snap checks they’re making as well as answering any other questions on King’s mind.
Mincy couldn’t say enough about Holsey’s leadership shining through and setting an example for the rest of the players in the secondary.
“He’s communicating out there and that’s a guy I know that is going to bring it all on the line when it comes game time,” Mincy said. “(He’s) just somebody who always has outstanding work ethic.”
Holsey isn’t one who likes to talk about himself. Heck, he sheepishly admitted coming up with an interception during Saturday’s practice, a sore topic among members of the secondary after it tallied only one pickoff last year. But Mincy couldn’t even recall which quarterback he pilfered.
“It came off a tipped ball, so I was fortunate to get a good one,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll probably get some more to try and catch them slipping.”
Whenever McNeal returns, he’ll join a secondary out to prove last season’s showing was a fluke. Mincy doesn’t even care if the Tigers’ interception numbers don’t increase dramatically.
He just doesn’t want to see the ball landing in a receiver’s hands.
“As long as nobody is catching the ball on us, that’s something we can make an adjustment on and that’s something we can take in positive,” he said. “And (hopefully) keep it going the rest of camp.”