A lot has been written this summer about the Auburn offense – particularly the Auburn quarterback race. Most fans are awaiting the announcement of which one of the four applicants will get the nod. There’s no question that picking the right guy to run the offense is huge. However, just as huge will be what type of defensive unit the Tigers will field in 2013.
Historically known as a tough defensive team, the Tigers fell to the bottom of the SEC in almost every statistical category in 2012 finishing 79th nationally in total defense.
Every August, teams across America start the year off with dreams of having a good season culminating with a post season berth.
But for Malzahn’s first Auburn team to come close to reaching those heights, it will take more than a good quarterback directing a smooth running Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Offense. For that to happen, the Tiger Defense is going to have to see more than substantial improvement over 2012.
The big question is: Can a defense that gave up 420 yards a game last year see a significant turn around in one season? Auburn’s Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson thinks so.
Despite last year’s dismal stats, The Auburn DC says it can be done. And he has the resume to prove it. As a DC he’s been credited with turning around several major programs including Clemson, Alabama, Mississippi State, and most recently South Carolina.
In Johnson’s four years at South Carolina, the Gamecocks finished three times in the Top 15 nationally in total defense. His first team in Columbia improved from 56th nationally to 13th in total defense. His last season there saw the Cocks finish No. 4 overall, ranking No. 13 in scoring defense, second in pass defense, and third nationally in rushing defense (allowing only 268 yards per game).
In addition, Johnson has coached in four SEC Championship games, has been part of one national title and has placed 30 players in the NFL.
The veteran coach feels like he’s got more talent to work with at Auburn than he did at any of his previous first year stops. Speaking to reporters after the A-day game, he said, “There are more really good, solid SEC players on this defensive unit than were at either one of those places.”
Some of those “good, solid” players include …
Defensive linemen: Jeff Whitaker and Gabe Wright who will probably be backed up by Angelo Blackson and Juco transfer Ben Bradley.
The one sure starter on the line is Dee Ford with veterans Ken Carter, Craig Sanders and Nosa Eguae in the mix at defensive end. It’s looking increasingly like Kris Frost may get the start at middle line backer with last year’s starter, Jake Holland backing him up and Kenny Flowers earning playing time.
Players have been raving about Cassanova McKinzy at the Weak side and of course there’s also JaViere Mitchell and LaDarius Owens.
At Cornerback expect to see Chris Davis, Jonathan Mincy and Ryan White.
The two guys getting the most praise from Coach Johnson since the spring are the two star safeties: Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie.
The other safeties will be either Josh Holsey, Jermaine Whitehead or Ryan Smith.
Also many believe that Carl Lawson, and Elijah Daniel may be in the rotation early in the season. And when Demetrius McNeal recovers from a staff infection he should see a lot of playing time at D-Back.
So there’s a lot of talent to work with as well as a seasoned DC and staff to develop the talent. Moreover, Coach Malzahn believes Ellis Johnson will get the job done with this bunch.
Gus said the other day that (Johnson’s) standards are very high and as a DC, “He’s as good as it gets. He’ll have the defense ready.”
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