March 25, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- Ellis Johnson is known as the man who plays five defensive backs almost all the time. But when Auburn's new defensive coordinator talks about how he plans to increase the Tigers' interception total from last year, he starts by looking at the players up front.
"I don't start that conversation with defensive backs, I start it with pressure on the quarterback," he says.
Johnson won't have to ask the Tigers to do much to increase their interception total from last year. Auburn had only two. One by a linebacker in the opening game. One by a safety late.
Johnson said low interception total are usually the result of not "putting pressure on the quarterbacks, it's not being ahead in ballgames; it's the other team taking the air out of the ball when they start running it."
Johnson's new plan will begin taking shape when Auburn begins spring practice Wednesday.
Johnson is Auburn's third defensive coordinator in the last three years. His defense is a little different. He likes four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs. It'll be adjustment time for the returning players.
"But one thing that will help is the previous schemes have been a four-man front, three linebackers and four defensive backs. We're not that far away from that," Johnson said.
Here's a subtle change: Johnson said the defensive linemen won't be "flip-flopping" positions before the snap as they did last season.
"We're going more to left and right and simplify in order to play against the fast-tempo offenses," he said. "Linebackers won't see much of a change at all, just verbiage."
Johnson says some teams basically run the same defense with a linebacker playing a similar role as his extra safety.
"Everybody thinks it's a unique thing, but a lot of people play this defense," he said. "There are not a lot of unique ideas in football."
Besides, he said, "the players are more important than the schemes. The thing I've learned in 32 years of coaching is it's not what you call, it's when you call it."
He's also arrived with a playbook he says can work.
"I'm not putting in stuff just to do it," he said.
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