AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Robenson Therezie has gone from a forgotten man in Auburn's defense to one of the Tigers' biggest playmakers.
Therezie has thrived at the Star position he took over with a preseason injury to Justin Garrett. He enters Saturday's Western Carolina game leading Auburn in tackles and interceptions to help fuel a defensive resurgence.
He was an in-between player who didn't quite fit in at cornerback and at 5-foot-9, 204 pounds was undersized for a safety. Therezie has thrived in the hybrid linebacker/safety position in new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's system.
"I don't know I would have thought that he was going to lead the team in tackles, but I thought he could be a really good player at that position," Johnson said. "We watched him at corner, he struggled at some of the things.
"But he had some explosiveness and some speed and some physical strength, and I just thought he was a natural when we moved him. Justin was playing so well at that time, you wondered how are we going to get both of them enough work?"
That problem was resolved when Garrett, who had drawn heavy praise from coaches during the spring, went down in the preseason with a foot injury. Garrett hasn't played yet this season and is "week to week," coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday.
Therezie has filled in so well that Garrett is now practicing at linebacker.
Therezie has 28 tackles and is in a six-way tie for the Southeastern Conference lead with three interceptions, returning one 78 yards for a touchdown against Mississippi.
It's a marked turnaround for a guy who made three tackles in 10 games last season under the former coaching staff and was briefly moved to tailback.
The Tigers' defense has jumped from 66th nationally last season to 38th in points allowed.
Therezie said he's matured and found new purpose with the birth of his daughter.
"I played the game for the love of the game and I still do, but now that I have a daughter, I play for her most," he said.
On the field, he feels the move to Star is a big reason he's finally flourished.
"I feel like it's the most perfect position for a guy like me, an undersized safety/corner," he said. "I'm a guy that can fit in the box and fit the run and still cover. I feel like it's the perfect position for a player like me."
He was named SEC defensive player of the week after making his first two career interceptions in the opener against Washington State, the second in the end zone with less than five minutes remaining to help preserve a 31-24 victory.
Therezie has gone from being a special teams ace as a freshman to an afterthought to one of the Tigers' top defenders.
His most significant action in the secondary last season came against LSU. Therezie said he "didn't really know" why he didn't play more.
"We had more experienced guys in front of me," he said. "As I was working toward trying to play they had a package for me the LSU game, which was the third game last season. Pretty much that was the game I got more snaps than any other game last season. I don't know if I really fit the type of defense we ran last season."
He's fitting in quite well now.