March 23, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- New Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson likes physical practices, and he's says he'll lean on Gus Malzahn's offense to give him just that in spring practice 2013.
Auburn opens spring workouts Wednesday, and Johnson will be looking to Auburn's promised power running game to toughen up his players.
"If you're not physical on the practice field, you're not going to be physical on Saturday," Johnson said. "As offenses have gotten more spread out, there's not as much physical contact during the course of a practice. But if you don't put that in practice, and really emphasize it, you're not going to be tough if you don't coach tough.
"The one thing I really like about Gus' approach is it's running the football and running the counter power. That's tough running plays. He's got double-teams, he's got kick-outs, big fullbacks coming out of the backfield, big tight ends leading the way. I think that's going to help us be tough."
Johnson, like offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee before him, dismissed the notion that Malzahn's offense is so spread out that it can't run with power. Just the opposite, said Johnson.
The stat book and even casual observers agree. Malzahn has had nine 1,000-yard rushers in his seven years in college ball. How has he done it?
"There's a power element in that running game. Most spread teams don't have a hard-nosed running game. Gus does," Johnson said. "If you only run the zone run and zone read every day in spring, every day in preseason, your defensive front is going to be soft. That's what happens to the defenses of some of the so-called spread teams. That's why his offense is different with the power running game. It's not what I think of when I hear spread. It's got the tempo and the formation movement, and the ball is out on the flanks extremely quick with the throwing game and sweeps, and it attacks you in so many different ways. But when you get right down to it, it's a power running game, and that helps your defense."
Johnson said he and his coaches have prepared for Wednesday by reviewing the off-season program.
"That's allowed us to evaluate the players in many different ways -- work habits, attitudes, mental toughness, a little bit of football sense," he said. "It's been a good three or four weeks, and you could see a tremendous change from Day One to Day Eight in the intangibles, the attitude, the enthusiasm and those type things. "We've been doing our Football 101 by meeting, watching film, and I think we've got enough to go on the field."
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