In the first spring, Freshman Caleb Wooden adds value and 'juice' to Auburn's safety position

In the first spring, Freshman Caleb Wooden adds value and 'juice' to Auburn's safety position ...

Bryan Harsin is big on first impressions; after all, you only get one. Caleb Wooden left a lasting impression on his new head coach this spring.

On March 14, the freshman safety received two turnovers in the first practice of the spring, intercepting a pass and returning a fumble recovery for a touchdown. This was just on Day 1, and it was the start of a recurring theme for Wooden during his first spring on campus.

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Harsin said that when he gets a chance to get his hands on it, he's come down with it quite a bit.... He's got some confidence when the ball is in the air that he can come down with it and play. And he's been able to do this in a few ways.

The former three-star prospect was one of the top-three quarterbacks of the spring for Auburn, immediately intervening in and impacting on the defense's back end during 15 practices. The Tigers spent the spring mostly without their top-three safetyties from last yearSmoke Monday and Bydarrius Knighten were all limited due to injuryleaving a need to address in the secondary, as well as an opportunity for some newcomers and unproven returning players to step up.

Wooden did not hesitate to kidnap him.

This spring, he developed himself as a difference-maker, not only because of Puckett's insecurity, but also because of the effort Wooden did to earn his keep during his first semester.

"He wants to be really, really good," defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding said. "Just like any young player, he doesn't know what he doesn't know. He is also working to learn everything he may possibly can. He gives him all he wants to do.

While Wooden demonstrates a knack for producing turnovers throughout the spring, including one that Harsin contests were legitimate, but Wooden has still been rewarded for it. Defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge said that he has never seen a freshman devote much of his time to approaching his office to discuss the defensive plan and certain aspects of the position.

Etheridge said, He does that much every day. And thats what you want to see from a guy.

Wooden sat at home in Etheridge's office this spring, picking the former freshman All-American and four-year starter's brain at every opportunity. He'll pick up several plays on his iPad and ask Etheridge for specific coaching questions, like where the keys are and where his eyes should be focused.

Etheridge's success has been evident. When a young player manifests desire to put in the work to be fantastic, it makes it even more enjoyable for him to assist him.

There is still a way away, though. Wooden is just a freshman, as long as he'll make mistakes and learn from them. Although he made his share of impact plays this spring, Wooden is still assessing playing safety in the SEC.

Etheridge has focused on developing his approach to detail, his understanding of assignments within the program, and understanding where to keep his eyes open, breaking the habit that many young defensive backs have of dealing with the quarterback when it comes to man coverage. However, he believes that hell get there with time.

He brings value to playing the free safety position, Etheridge said. Him just being able to pick up and come in and get those reps and all of our packages and doing things, because were going to need him... He deserves those reps and hes constantly showing up to continue to exert pressure on the guys who are in front of him.

On A-Day, Wooden ended his spring by splitting time between the first and second teams though he finished the scrimmage with just one tackle and was in attendance when T.J. Finley connected with Malcolm Johnson Jr. for a jump-ball touchdown though Wooden might have been credited with a pass breakup, as he had escaped the end zone.

Donovan Kaufman said that by him having his brother there to teach him, he knows what it takes. I really believe he will have a great career here.

Wooden is still looking at the field as a freshman, though he only helped his cause this spring while earning the trust of his coaches and impressing his new teammatesincluding his big brother.

Colby Wooden said he's a lot to do on the field, but I always tell him that. "It's really cool to see him out there.' He's on the field making plays. It was just fantastic. This fall we'll have two Woodens on the field at the same time."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter

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