April 2, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- It is time to return to the playbook and Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense -- you know, the one that plays two linebackers instead of three, the one that has five defensive backs instead of four.
The one that is giving Justin Garrett a chance at a new position this spring.
Johnson, Auburn's new defensive coordinator, says his defense really isn't so different than most. But he does employ a hybrid player, a defensive back that also is a bit of a linebacker.
Garrett had been a linebacker his first two years at Auburn. Now, he and JaViere Mitchell are working at the hybrid, or, as it is known, the star position.
Garrett, who has 21 tackles in his 13 Auburn games, welcomes a chance to play the star. He says he played a little safety and linebacker in high school, and can do it again for Johnson.
"Once he got hired I looked at this defense," Garrett said. "Somebody told me about his defense and that it was a 4-2-5 and they play a third safety.
"When I saw that, I knew it was the perfect position for me. My teammates told me it would be the perfect position for me."
Garrett can pick up some pointers from Johnson, his teammates or even his brother, Jamoris Slaughter, who started 19 games at Notre Dame at safety and cornerback and -- this may sound familiar -- occasionally at linebacker in certain formations.
Johnson said he's giving Garrett, and Mitchell, a long look at the new position.
"He was a good inside linebacker but he was one of the faster ones we had," Johnson said. "Same thing with JaViere Mitchell. And we felt like those were the first two we wanted to look at out in space, as we call it.
Garrett, listed as a linebacker on the roster, is 6-foot-1, 214. Mitchell, listed as a defensive back, is 6-2, 211.
"We thought it was best that we moved somebody there in the spring and come out of spring feeling like we didn't have to fix our depth chart in the fall," Johnson said. "The guys that have moved seem to like it."
Junior college transfer Brandon King will join the mix in the fall and incoming freshmen Khari Harding and Mackenro Alexander will also be available.
Garrett says has gotten the feel for his new job through four spring practices.
"I've pretty much got the concept down in what I'm supposed to be doing and what I have on each play," he said.
"I believe this is the perfect position for me. I can play in the box and play in space and roam around. I feel more comfortable than what I was used to doing."
Garrett says the star position gives "the offense a hard time trying to figure out what we're doing in our defensive scheme." But a good primer for the casual fan may be that the star position will play more of a linebacker role against a pro-style team and more of a nickel back, or safety, against a spread offense.
Garrett started one game last year, but he has mostly waited.
"It was tough to be patient the past couple of years, but I know it's for the betterment," he said.
Follow Auburn on Twitter: