Newly arrived from the University of Central Florida, Chizik was teaching a different system to the Tigers in the spring of 2002 and trying to get a feel for what each individual member of the Auburn defense could do.
A year later, with his second spring training in the books and with eight returning starters participating in the workouts, Chizik has reasons to be more optimistic about his defenders.
"I feel good about what we did," he says. "We played so much base defense this spring and that was our objective to play great base defense. We didn't play great all the time, but we learned a lot. We built some continuity in there with the guys without having to blitz and do those kind of things. I am happy with where we started and where we ended."
Safety Karibi Dede (21) pressures tailback Ronnie Brown (23) in the final practice prior to A-Day. Fullback Brandon Johnson (45) tries to clear a path for Brown while linebacker Karlos Dansby (11) watches in the background.
Chizik and the rest of the coaching staff can feel good about the overall performance of the defense in a serious best against the best scrimmage three days before A-Day. It was the top result of the spring for the defenders on a day when the Tigers mixed a few tricks into the alignments along with the standard fare they gave the offense on A-Day and on other occasions in the spring. The first team defense was particularly that day.
The fact that the defense held its own in the A-Day spring game with star players like Dontarrious Thomas, Karlos Dansby, Spencer Johnson, Demarco McNeil, Reggie Torbor and Junior Rosegreen watching on the sidelines shows that Chizik is building some quality depth in year two with the Tigers.
Chizik, who also coaches the safeties, says that he is pleased with the progress he saw from a pair of freshmen who made interceptions in the spring game--Karibi Dede and Will Herring. The Auburn coach says both players will likely push first stringer Donnay Young for the starting free safety spot this fall. Walk-on Andrew Letts also earned praise from the coach. "He played well this spring," he says. "I was happy that we got a lot of the younger guys an opportunity to play in game-type situations."
Tiger Ticket Extra: Chizik says he likes the way his young safeties and the other defensive backs didn't back down from the physical challenge of trying to tackle junior college transfer tailback Brandon Jacobs this spring. "He is a hard guy to tackle," Chizik says. "You have got to remember when a safety is trying to make a tackle on a 265-pounder there is usually a lot of ground in between him and them. He has got a lot of steam going for him and you have to hit him the right way." Chizik adds that all of the Tiger tailbacks are difficult to stop. "When you play our four tailbacks everybody is different in their own right and everybody is really good. It is a great learning experience for the linebackers and the secondary tackling in the open field vs. those guys."