By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Auburn's first-team defense stood out in Monday's 100-play scrimmage, coach Gus Malzahn said.
"Our No. 1 defense had a very good day today, stopping the run and doing a good job with their run fits," said Malzahn, who said Auburn's first preseason scrimmage featured an equal number of running and passing plays at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"The defense, they really came today," offensive lineman Braden Smith said. "They were really getting after it, flying to the ball, which is good to see out of them. We're mixing and matching right now, so we're still trying to get that figured. Once that comes, the gelling comes and we'll really be able to excel."
Auburn's defense benefits from a second season under coordinator Kevin Steele, Malzahn said.
"As a big picture, they know Coach Steele's expectations," he said. "They know their assignments better at this time than they did last year. Until you actually play another opponent, it's hard to tell too much, but they know their assignment and they are confident. We'll see how that translates compared to last year because I thought last year's defense was outstanding."
Auburn's defense accepted Steele's pre-scrimmage challenge, linebacker Darrell Williams said.
"We wanted to first and foremost stop the run," said Williams. "I feel like everybody played with relentless effort."
"At times, they both made plays," said Malzahn, who later elaborated on Auburn's evaluation process at that key position. "A lot of it has to do with Sean White. He wasn't able to go through spring and you've got a new offensive coordinator, so it's probably more the other way than it is about having enough information about Jarrett. This scrimmage was big. Next Saturday's scrimmage will be big, and we'll see where we are."
"We really wanted to see young guys with the ones and the twos, and see who that No. 3 guy is," said Malzahn, with Kam Martin, Malik Miller and C.J. Tolbert getting most of those reps while Devan Barrett and JaTarvious Whitlow also received carries.
"It was really good to see what they could do and who could step up," Malzahn said. "It's been a really close race."
The SEC's least penalized team in 2016, Auburn drew too many flags on Monday for Malzahn's liking.
"Any time you rotate three groups, you're going to have some," he said. "I challenged our guys on both sides of the football, we've got to be better the next time we scrimmage.'
Auburn will return to the stadium for its second scrimmage on Saturday, three weeks before the season opener against Georgia Southern.
"It was hot, it was humid," Mazlahn said. "It gave us really a good opportunity to see where we are from a mental toughness standpoint. Having to push through.
"It was a really good day to gather information. Like I told our players, from a coaches standpoint, we probably learned as much or more today than we did all the practices before."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer