April 5, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says he has a good role model in his quest to make the Tigers better tacklers.
His Exhibit A? Justin Garrett.
Garrett, who is moving from linebacker to the new hybrid "star" safety position, has impressed Johnson this spring practice with his ability to play the new position. And when it comes to tackling?
"He is, without a doubt, the best we’ve got," Johnson said. "He hasn’t played much ball, not in games around here. It’s not always game experience when it comes to something as simple as physically tackling."
Johnson says he'll have a better grasp on tackling by the end of spring practice.
"I'll know whether if it’s want-to or know-how-to," he said.
Johnson says tackling is a priority this spring. Saturday's scrimmage in Jordan-Hare Stadium will be a good test for that, Johnson said.
He's already formed some opinions.
"The most pleasing thing overall is attitude. The most disappointing thing right now, and this is just two practices with live tackling is just our tackling," he said. "Tomorrow will be a huge thing. It’s not going to be as much about Xs-and-Os. We want to give them enough Xs and Os to strain them a little bit and see who can learn and function under pressure, but it’s really more about fundamentals and seeing if we’re going to improve in tackling."
Which brings Johnson back to Garrett.
"He's got great closing speed. That’s huge when you make open-field in space tackles," Johnson said. "He's got good contact speed – in other words, when he’s about to make contact, he has that explosiveness where he runs through it and doesn’t gather, and settle, he runs through things.
"He's one of the ones who’s been a bright spot. We’ve used him as an example to point out to other players. Hopefully, it’ll be infectious and other guys will start picking up on it. He’s got an attitude, great athleticism, that closing speed with good angles, and he’s going to make contact and he likes contact."
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