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A year later, Auburn more comfortable going into season

Aug. 24, 2014

Ben Bradley and Auburn feeling more comfortable in second year of Ellis Johnson's defense

By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala.  Ellis Johnson said he didn't really know about his defense going into last season.

"We had no clue who we were. We just didn't know what to expect."

Now, Auburn's defensive coordinator has a better handle going into his second season at Auburn, and everybody seems to like the direction the defense is going. Johnson does. And the guy who has to line up against every day in practice does, too,

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee says the defense is playing faster, both physically and mentally.

"I think they've been a handful for us in fall camp," Lashlee said.

Auburn came so far, so fast last year in winning the Southeastern Conference championship game and playing in the BCS title game that it's easy to forget Johnson, Lashlee and head coach Gus Malzahn had only a spring practice and four weeks of preseason camp to prepare for their title run.

Now, Auburn will trot out a veteran defense against Arkansas at 3 p.m. Saturday in the season-opener in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn's defensive line will be one of the deepest around. Johnson said his top four linebackers are Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Anthony Swain and true freshman Tre' Williams.

The secondary has experience, too.

"This year, everybody knows what we're doing," Johnson said. "It's been much more comfortable in the system. We know what they can do; what they can't do. We just have a better feel for our football team right now."

Defense knows more. Offense, too.

"I think our guys having a good concept of the offense" and that, Lashlee said, "will allow us to play faster."

"There's less thinking and more reacting going on. At the end of the day, you have to stay on the field and get first downs to get tempo going and play fast. If we are able to do that and keep moving the chains, hopefully we'll go as fast as they let us go."

Tre Mason and his 1,816 rushing yards last season are in the NFL these days. But Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne combined for 1,250 yards last year, and they're likely to get a lot more opportunities, with, perhaps, true freshman Roc Thomas and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber.

"The good thing is with Cameron and Corey you feel like you’ve got two quality senior every-down backs in our league," Lashlee said. "Corey has definitely developed into an every-down kind of back. I definitely feel the same way about Cam.

"I think Cam is faster than he was last year. They are both really good in pass protection. They are seniors and they come to work so you can trust them. After that I have been really pleased over the last two weeks the way Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber have prepared and practiced.

"Really, with freshmen, when their times comes you’ve got to throw them in there and let them figure it out. Having two senior backs that have been there and done that is a big safety net for us."

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