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Restoring the Auburn Defense

Will Ellis Johnson Have the Auburn Defense Ready for SEC Play?

Will Ellis Johnson Have the Auburn Defense Ready for SEC Play?

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.”

15 Comments

  1. GreenvilleAUfan GreenvilleAUfan says:

    I have no doubt Johnson will have them ready. Auburn has some good players and I believe this coaching staff will develop them. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what some of the newcomers like Carl Lawson and Kenny Flowers will do. Also reading the stuff here is getting me fired up for the season to start.
    Thanks to the whole TET staff.

  2. Col.Angus Col.Angus says:

    This is where we will win games….or lose them.

    What has dismayed me the most about the last few years is how soft we looked on defense. From giving receivers 10 yard cushions to offering no resistance up front against the run, the trademark of Auburn football, tough defense, was turned into a punchline. The biggest problem that I saw was that few of the players seemed to care that they were getting embarrassed. A lot of those players are still on this team, so they have A LOT TO PROVE.

    I truly believe we have good competitive talent on this team, so I am expecting a big turnaround. Attitude and setting the tone on defense means everything, especially in the SEC.

    I am not a big fan of the HUNH, mainly because of its adverse effects on your defense. The defense tends to spend the majority of the game on the field because of the pace of the offense and as a result you have a tired defense come crunch time in the 4th Qtr. For us to be successful this year, strength and conditioning will be just as important as X’s and O’s, because to win we will have to finish strong.

    Another thing I hope we do, is to play as aggressively on defense as we do on offense. To be successful with the HUNH, I truly believe it is just as important for the defense to accept that up tempo philosophy and to try and force even the most methodical ball control offenses out of their comfort zone and into the air by blitzing and putting a lot of guys in the box.

    I’m hoping that the D Line finally becomes the strength it was supposed to be the last couple of years and we will get a constant push up the middle because it will be of paramount importance to keep our LB’s and DB’s from having to cover the field for more than 4-6 seconds each play. That’s pretty true on most every defense but will be especially critical to our success this year.

    Hopefully Ellis, still has some tricks up his sleeve and he can compliment Gus’ offense with some schemes that keep opposing OC’s up late at night just as much as his offensive counterpart..

    • Todd92 Todd92 says:

      Can’t add much to this… Well said. I’m not so much against the HUNH but I do want to see the defense make teams bleed for a first down again.

    • War_Eagle_2010 War_Eagle_2010 says:

      I agree with you point about the D needing to be more agressive. Since the HUNH does force the D to spend more time on the field you might as well go with the “go big or go home” philosophy and attack other teams QB’s and get turnovers, it’s pointless to let teams slowly bleed you dry on D with the HUNH. I like our chances this year, I really believe this team will surprise us all.

  3. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    I can’t wait to see how the defense performs this season. Malzahn has assembled an exceptional staff.

  4. mikeautiger says:

    One of the over looked things I see is that Gus has a history of having well rounded teams where ever he has been. I was I’m pressed by the series of articles written on him recently that showed his teams played defense too. We know defense wins championships and his defenses won several championships by making big stands in big games. He is much more than an offensive guru I think and – I think the Gus effect will have the whole team playing much better in all aspects of the game. He is a well rounded leader that will inspire the team to new levels of play.

  5. restless6 says:

    I concur. Great things are on the horizon!

  6. AuburnMisfit AuburnMisfit says:

    What was the number of 5* and 4* recruits Johnson started with his first year at South Carolina? How does that compare to this year at Auburn? Did Johnson show a steady increase in 5* and 4* recruits during his years at SC (or anywhere else for that matter)?

    • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

      According to Rivals this is how recruiting went while Johnson was at South Carolina:

      2008 – Five 4 star recruits. No 5 stars.
      2009 – Six 4 star recruits. No 5 stars.
      2010 – Three 4 star recruits. No 5 stars.
      2011 – Five 4 star recruits. One 5 star (Clowney).

      AU since 2008:

      2008 – Three 4 stars. No 5 stars.
      2009 – Two 4 stars. No 5 stars.
      2010 – Six 4 stars. No 5 stars.
      2011 – Five 4 stars. One 5 star (Frost).
      2012 – Four 4 stars. No 5 stars.
      2013 – Two 4 stars. Two 5 stars (Adams, Lawson).

      • Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

        The totals above are for defensive recruiting only.

      • Todd92 Todd92 says:

        I think 5 stars should be considered as such regardless of which major recruiting service has them rated as such…. For instance this year Elijah Daniel would certainly be a 5 star recruit. I don’t think there is any question that AU has recruited better according to the recruiting services than South Carolina.

  7. BITFU-Blog says:

    This was pretty good from Athlon Sports. SEC coaches talk anonymously.

    http://athlonsports.com/college-football/sec-coaches-talk-anonymously-about-conference-foes-2013

  8. AUJTJarhead AUJTJarhead says:

    strength and size up front on both sides of the ball determine the outcome. I had a line in high school that made me a better running back than I actually was. Auburn has got to put it’s best recruiting toward the big uglies. Cam was uber great, but film showed his line always plowing the hole initially. He could then run over anyone else. It all starts up front!

  9. wde1988 wde1988 says:

    Everyone – including Ellis is talking about defending against a speedy offense (no huddle). It’s been the rage in the SEC media days. Saban and Miles are both saying that it’s not fair. That’s rich.

    Elllis in a recent interview says that his defense is getting great experience going up against Malzahn’s offense. Even richer.

    Here is a news flash: A defense needs to whip the offense at the line of scrimmage.

    While I am all about a no huddle if its to our advantage – has everyone forgotten last season?

    AUBURN will have to man up and play hard nose football to win. It has to dominate every play. That means every play, getting to the line of scrimage and dominating the guy on the other side of the ball. Can we do that? With these same players we haven’t for two years… I haven’t seen this desire yet. I haven’t heard a coach say that it’s his goal to win every play…

    But there is one team in this conference that trains that way… And it’s not Auburn. Not yet anyway. Still some time to see improvement. But time is evaporating quickly…

    If I don’t see the desire… see improvement on AU’s defensive line…. and overall defensive squad…. we will be lucky to win 7 games. Our offense… will be the only thing that keeps in a position to win. Until we run up against a dominant defense… and folks there are many in this conference.

    It’s time to make a statement. What’s AU’s going to be this season?? Early embarrassment against Washington State? Home loss to MSU? or will AU start out on solid ground??

    May the eagle fly true…. and may AU win, and win early and often.

    WDE