By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- Kevin Steele's defensive depth chart is built on flexibility this spring, where a guy may be a first team one day, second team the next.
It's all part of team building for Auburn's defensive coordinator.
"We don't worry about where they are on the depth chart as coaches yet," Steele said. "We've got a lot of development time left. We've tried to create a group that is selfless, all about the team. We've actually, by design, moved some guys from first-team to second-team, from second-team to third-team, vice versa, quite frankly, just to see how they react. Are you going to pout and step on your lip or are you going to go play? These guys have bought into that. That don't pay any attention to it and just go play."
Auburn wrapped up its 12th practice of the spring Tuesday heading to Saturday's 3 p.m. A-Day Game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Steele said he's been pleased with the progress in his first Auburn spring.
The play of freshman defensive end Marlon Davidson is a good example of Steele's effort to move forward, even with rookies.
"I don't have brakes," Steele said. "We'll go as full speed and as fast as we can. He is a guy that's very physically, mentally and emotionally mature for a guy that should be going to his senior prom in the next week or so.
"If you'd watched it and didn't know, you'd think he'd been around for a couple of years and that's the biggest thing. Now, does he have a lot to learn? Absolutely. But he is physically, mentally and emotionally very mature and that helps him."
That fits into Steele's plan.
"We're going to play with extreme effort. We’re not going to tolerate anything less than the best effort you have. They are starting to buy into that. It has been a process, but we’re starting to see the results of that."
Another newcomer, at least in a full-time positon, is linebacker Travis Williams, who thanked Steele last week for giving him the flexibility to coach his players the way he liked.
"He's a good football coach. He's very, very intelligent," Steele said. "The good thing about it is Travis has been in very similar systems as a player — both here and in the NFL.
"When you've played it as well as been in it in the NFL level, that makes it a little bit easier. He's a very, very bright guy… he's a very, very good teacher. He's a very smart guy and we were on the same page when we started. That made it easy."
Steele talked up his defense in general terms as well:
• On linebacker development:
"I know there was not a lot of game experience there, but they're instinctive, they're playing physical, they're quarterbacking the defense. They're doing the things asked of them."
Steele said Rodney Garner's coaching of the deep defensive line has made it easier on everyone.
"We've got a chance up front, with as many guys as we've got, playing linebacker behind Group A and Group B at different places can be difficult. That's a pretty good group that they're playing behind and Rodney's really got them playing better each day.
"That affects the linebacker play and I think the guys feel comfortable in, 'Hey, trust the defense. Just do your job.' They're doing that so they've progressed pretty nicely."
• At linebacker:
Steele said he is "pleasantly surprised in terms of the progress. Travis has done a great job with the guys. DeShaun Davis and the Williamses, Tre and Darrell, and (Montavious) Atkinson, have really worked hard.
"Are they there yet? No, but we don’t play until the start of September so we’ve got plenty of practices left to keep building."
• Steele has moved players around in the secondary -- and prevented big plays last time out.
"We’re keeping things underneath us," Steele said. "Probably the biggest thing I have noticed, if you had seen the scrimmage Saturday, was the ability to control snap after snap after snap the explosive plays. We just didn't let things get out deep on us or long on us. If you do that in this league you’ve got a chance."
Steele said he's kept the plan "pretty vanilla because we wanted to find out who would play with toughness, who would play with great effort and if you’re thinking and worried about making mistakes and busting, then that’s pretty hard to do."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine