April 12, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- Auburn's Ellis Johnson is tinkering with his defense heading into Saturday's scrimmage, but the defensive coordinator already has some ideas of who's doing well in spring practice.
He said defensive end Dee Ford is doing best among the linemen, he said Jeff Whitaker has been the most consistent tackle, he said safety Justin Garrett continues to impress, he said the cornerbacks have been, as a group, the best of all.
Those players, and everybody else, will have an opportunity to make a statement in Saturday's scrimmage in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
First off, though, Johnson tinkered with his defense in Friday's practice, introducing a three-man front where a defensive end drops back to, essentially, play linebacker. The offense countered by running the Wildcat offense for the first time.
Your move, Ellis Johnson, with that three-man front.
"In the past what we've done is always try to get that package with the people on the field so that we can stem into it and out of it and won't have to substitute," Johnson said. "What we'll do as we go through it in the spring we'll get enough reps of it to try to evaluate the guys and see if they are capable of doing it the way we want it done and then if we can't we may have to substitute."
The athletic Dee Ford could drop back from defensive end on occasion.
Ken Carter, who has played defensive tackle, has joined Ford at as the other No. 1 defensive end this spring.
"He's done pretty well," Johnson said. "I don't' know that he's a natural end, but he's played extremely well for his first time moving out there."
That's the ends. Johnson said "we haven't had a whole lot of real big shifting on the depth chart" with the tackles.
"Jeff Whitaker has been the most consistent tackle so he's kind of moved up to No. 1, but it's a three-way rotation with (Angelo) Blackson, Whitaker and Gabe Wright," Johnson said. "A lot of those guys are still in the picture. I don't want to talk depth chart too much because I don't want to send any message to our players that things are starting to be put in ink, they're a long way from that. I think Dee Ford has shown that he's going to play up to a level of being a starter, but we're not going to say anybody's got a starting job at."
That's why the scrimmage is important.
"The biggest thing that Saturday scrimmages give us that these practices don't is that you sort of remove the coaches from the field," Johnson said. "It's a little bit more of a game-type situation. Sometimes you do find out ... if a player doesn't have a coach in his face every other play or can't shout out a reminder to him every other play, you find out about those guys who can really handle it on Saturday, the big picture. You kind of find those guys who can handle the game situation as opposed to being a great drill player."
Johnson said the linebackers are "still a little bit of a work in progress."
"Same thing really in all our positions," he said. "I think our corners have really probably been our most pleasing position on a day-to-day basis. Justin Garrett, probably the best football player we've had from Day One until now at his position. There have been some things where I think we're starting to see daylight, but I would not want to put a depth chart on paper right now."
Garrett has easily been the most talked about player this spring in the new hybrid, or "star," safety position. But that hasn't stopped Johnson from looking at cornerback Robenson Therezie at the star position, too.
"He seems more comfortable up near the line of scrimmage. I don't know what it is," Johnson said.
That's part of the art of finding the right guys for the right spot.
"We're trying to evaluate guys physically," Johnson said. "Evaluating a guy mentally is important, too, because if he can't handle that stuff you're not going to play him. It is a part of player evaluation, but we don't need to put in 100 defenses to find out if a player can play. We need to put in some things, maybe see a blitz, maybe see him play man, maybe see if he can play against the tight end if he's a defensive end. A lot of things you do need to find out about them and that odd package could be a little bit of that."
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