By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Struggling during the warmup periods before Auburn's first spring scrimmage last Saturday, the Tigers' defensive linemen encountered the alter ego of associate head coach Rodney Garner, aka "Coach G."
"They probably saw a Coach G that they hadn't seen a whole lot," Garner said. "That guy needed to come back."
Garner's stern message produced the desired result during the scrimmage, especially from Auburn's more experienced linemen.
"I thought they elevated their play," Garner said.
"Somebody has to step up and say, `I'm going to be that guy,'" Garner said. "As coaches, that's what your goal is. To get the guys to elevate their game and level of performance. That's what we're working toward every day."
To affect SEC quarterbacks in the era of no huddle offenses requires depth. Exhibit A: Lawson's sack of LSU's Danny Etling in the final minute of Auburn's 18-13 win.
Garner and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele rotate second and even third-teamers throughout games so the front four will still have something in the tank in a game's decisive final minutes.
"My goal always - if we can get 10 guys who can play at a championship level, that's our target number," Garner said. "We've got to get a few more guys to elevate their status."
Garner may be getting close to reaching his goal. Meeting with reporters Tuesday, he mentioned six players with significant experience: Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell, Jeff Holland, Paul James and Andrew Williams. "A talented group," he said.
Garner then mentioned four more players he called "up and coming": Byron Cowart, Nick Coe, Antwuan Jackson Jr. and Tre' Threat.
It takes a combination of talent and tenacity, Garner says, to excel on the D-line.
"If you don't have the skill set, you can have all of the attitude in the world," Garner said. "That's not going to get it done, not at a high level. You may be a solid player, a good role player, but you're just going to be a solid guy.
"You can have all of the ability in the world, and you don't really have that mentality, that tenacity that you want to stick your face in the fireplace every single snap. That you're going to strain and fight, especially if you're an inside guy, where you've got to take on two 300-pounders every single snap, you've got to fight your guts out to hold the point, not get displaced. It's a combination of both."
Auburn will hold its second scrimmage Saturday morning at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Which D-line coach -Rodney Garner, or "Coach G" -- shows up will depend on effort and execution.
"You really can't afford to waste any time," Garner said. "There's a very small window. We have 15 opportunities to go out there and get better. For us to be what we aspire to be, we can't afford to waste a day. We've got to embrace every day."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer