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Newcomers and backups impressing on Auburn's defense
Aug. 7, 2014

Jonathan Jones makes the stop in the SEC Championship Game

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala.  Auburn's elusive depth chart may begin to take shape Friday when coaches discuss who should go where. 

Just remember this:

"The head coach has got 51 percent of the vote," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on Thursday after the seventh practice day of preseason work. 

The assistants may have a say, but the big picture goes to Gus Malzahn, said Johnson, who discussed his defense after the Thursday practice, reaching the conclusion his young players are making waves. 

Auburn will take its first off day of preseason work Friday, giving coaches a chance to access what they've seen, some three weeks before the opener against Arkansas. 

 "We’re not up against the wall. We’ve got at least another three or four days of physical work to evaluate them," Johnson said. 

More evaluation could come as early as Saturday, during the second day of two-a-days, and in a Sunday scrimmage before the annual Fan Day in Auburn Arena. Fan Day is from 3:30-5:30 p.m. 

Johnson could pencil in a variety of veterans on that depth chart. He says he feels good about his young players and other newcomers, too. Here's a look at some of them:

• Defensive lineman and junior college transfer Devaroe Lawrence and DeVonte Lambert may find themselves in a rotation with each other, and certainly in the expansive rotating defensive line. 

"Obviously, when you bring a junior college player into your program," Johnson said, so "Lambert has had a much better camp so far, just because he's been able to practice every practice. 

"Both of them, physically, during the summer, looked as good as our older kids, just moving around, doing drills in t-shirts and agility drills, pass rush drills of that nature, they've got great skill, they've got great talent for their position." 

• Johnson said freshman linebacker Tre' Williams "had a really good day" Thursday. 

"He made some typical freshman mistakes," Johnson said. "I was overall pleased with all of them." 

And that opened the door for a review of the midweek scrimmage. 

"I was pleased with them being in the right place, doing the right things, the right run fits, drops in coverage were pretty doggone good, man coverage pickups, etc. They didn’t bust a lot of pressures, we didn’t run many but in the blitz drill we did a good job. That was the thing for the most part." 

• He said defensive back and junior college transfer Derrick Moncrief "has been good." Moncrief was slowed by an illness, but "he's making great progress," Johnson said.

• Ellis said backup linebackers JaViere Mitchell, Khari Harding and Anthony Swain are improving. 

"Overall, it’s hard to separate them, they’re all still in the hunt." 

• Ellis also said the cornerbacks have done well, including freshmen safeties Stephen Roberts and Markell Boston. 

"They've had a really good six days," Johnson said. "They’re not ready to play on Saturday yet, but we got three more weeks and I'll tell you those guys keep showing up and making a lot of plays and look like they can fit in the mix out there physically." 

• Defensive back Jonathan Jones was limited last year because of a preseason injury. Now, "We look at J.J. as a starter," Ellis said. 

"He has excellent cover skills, great third-down player; we’ll be very comfortable if he starts. We’ve got to develop some depth at corner. The only thing we’ve been a little bit hampered with injuries." 

• Freshman Nick Ruffin is lining up at the Star position with Robenson Therezie and Justin Garrett. 

"He has not gotten any work yet at corner or at deep safety. I think he’s starting to feel comfortable there and we just don’t want to move him too quick. We’re really pleased with where Nick is right now."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:
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