Robenson Therezie finding his niche in new defense

AUBURN, Ala. — Robenson Therezie barely cracked Auburn’s cornerback rotation as a freshman.

Known mostly for the big hits he laid on special teams, Therezie played in the secondary, but by the end of the season he was buried on the depth chart behind Chris Davis, T’Sharvan Bell, Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathon Mincy.

But a change at defensive coordinator can make a world of difference.

With Bell, Auburn’s only senior cornerback, sidelined during the spring due to injury and Whitehead moving to safety, Therezie moved into the starting lineup opposite Davis.

He doesn’t plan on giving up the spot.

“It’s one of the biggest opportunities for a young player like myself to go with the first team,” Therezie said. “I’ve been taking pride in that. I’ve been working hard to stay on it.”

Under former defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Auburn’s cornerbacks played off the ball in zone coverage, a scheme that made an aggressive defender like Therezie a square peg in a trapezoidal hole.

New coordinator Brian VanGorder and defensive backs coach Willie Martinez have a different philosophy.

Auburn’s cornerbacks will likely be expected to be more of the aggressor in the Tigers’ new scheme.

“They’re starting to feel more comfortable in the system,” Martinez said. “Before, it was all new, they were playing more like robots. But now, as a group, they feel more comfortable, and they’re letting loose.”

Therezie grabbed the opportunity in the spring.

One of Auburn’s most physical corners — Therezie was a big-hitting safety at Jackson High School in Miami, Fla. — he spent the spring working on his coverage ability.

Therezie faces one big disadvantage in coverage. At 5-9, he’s on the short side, even for a corner, in an SEC full of receivers who are 6-2 and taller.

His athleticism may be able to make up for it, if the reports out of Auburn’s spring scrimmages are any indication.

In both of Auburn’s Saturday scrimmages during spring ball, Therezie picked off passes, including a leaping, one-handed grab in the end zone that left offensive players in awe of the 203-pounder’s athleticism.

Therezie spent the summer trying to get even more polished in the coverage game.

“Most people know me as a nice, hitting corner,” Therezie said Friday. “All this summer, I’ve been working on my covering and my backpedals. It showed out there in one-on-ones today.”

Therezie’s biggest challenge for the job will likely come from Bell, Auburn’s most experienced cornerback and a two-year starter who came back quickly from a torn ACL and MCL suffered against Georgia.

Bell, the Tigers’ unquestioned leader in the secondary, does not plan to take on a reduced role without putting up a fight.

“I’m out there competing every day,” Bell said. “Coach tells me you get what you earn, so I’m taking it one day at a time. The cream will rise to the top.”

Therezie already has his heart set on the starting spot.

At a position where confidence is key, Therezie already has the mentality down. Few players on Auburn’s roster are more confident about their individual abilities in interviews.

“I feel like Coach VanGorder can trust me in big-time games and big situations,” Therezie said. “I feel like I’m good on an island by myself at corner.”

Therezie has put his freshman season behind him.

He doesn’t plan to be an afterthought in Auburn’s secondary anymore.

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