Aug. 12, 2013
Rodney Garner offers advice at practice (Todd Van Emst photo)
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football players are dealing with their third defensive coordinator in three years, but that's OK with>Rodney Garner because he says the man in charge now offers a "player-friendly system" that the Tigers should embrace.
Ellis Johnson is changing things up with his 4-2-5 defense.
"I think these kids will benefit from Coach Johnson's system," said Garner, the defensive line coach. "It does have enough variations to give offenses a lot of fronts, but the way it's taught, I think it's easy to learn."
It's a change on paper and on the field. Johnson is employing is 4-2-5 defense that relies heavily on defensive backs. Assistants Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison will coach those guys.
Garner is in charge of the defensive line, a veteran group that he says needs to improve.
"Guys have had flashes, but flashes aren't good enough. We've got to be more consistent," Garner said.
It's the first year at Auburn for Johnson, Smith and Harbison; and the first for Garner, at least in the last 17 years. He was a coach and player at Auburn long ago.
Garner concedes the defense is "learning a new system; they're learning a new terminology; they learn different personalities and how to deal with all of that."
And the defensive linemen are learning the Garner way.
"Training the big guys is different from training little guys, especially the guys who are in the trenches," Garner said. "They're going to battle every time the ball is snapped. Their making contact against 300 pounders most every time, so it's a very demanding, very physical position. I think to play D-line in this league, you've got to have an edge. You've got bring a certain mental and physical toughness to work every day."
The defensive line is mostly familiar names. There are Dee Ford, Ken Carter, Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders at defensive end. There are Gabe Wright, Jeff Whitaker, Angelo Blackson and Ben Bradley at defensive tackle. And there are 5-star newcomers in Carl Lawson, Elijah Daniel and Montravius Adams.
"I think the freshmen are very talented. They do bring a really good skill set to my room," Garner said. "I'm excited about them, but, same thing, they've got to learn there's a difference between recruiting, and talking about playing, and getting yourself in a position to play. It's a process."
It's a process for young and old alike.
"For some of the young guys, I think it's been very challenging. And I think for some of the highly-recruited guys that have a very high opinion of themselves, as opposed to what they actually put on tape, it's difficult. When you point it out on tape 'this won't win in the league,' guys have a hard time wanting to accept reality or accept constructive criticism."
Stiil, Garner sees progress across the defensive line.
"I've been very pleased with these kids. They don't bring a 3-9 mentality to my room," he said. "These are kids are hungry, who want to be coached, want to get better. I think they're going to do what it takes."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twttier: