"We were doing a lot better job as far as getting lined up and communication increasing, but the physicality—we've got to get more physical on D," said Thigpen. "You practice it. Whatever you preach is what you get from your players. And our whole spring that's all we keep stressing upon—you got to be more physical on defense."
Regardless of how physical the defense gets, Thigpen said he will never be satisfied because there's always room to be more physical.
"The great defenses, they harp on that," he said. "You stress it over and over and over again, and you never say, ‘I'm satisfied with it.' You can always hit a little bit harder."
With the Tigers installing a new defense, playing fast and physical can be difficult while learning assignments. Thigpen said getting to that point involves knowing where the ball is located and where to fit on a particular play.
"If you don't fit it right, then it's not going to be a pretty picture," he said. "So you want to beat guys to the point of attack knowing where the ball is designed to go to and beating the one-one-one blocks.
"Getting yourselves lined up in the correct positions—that helps us get there where you don't fit outside of a play when you're supposed to fit inside of a play," he added. Failure to line up properly can be the difference between making a tackle and giving up a big gainer, he noted.
Jake Holland is practicing at first-team middle linebacker.
A key cog in coordinator Brian VanGorder's defensive machine is the middle linebacker, the leader of the defense who is responsible for knowing where all defenders are supposed to be on the field on a every play. Thigpen is looking for Jake Holland to embrace the role of defensive general and take command of the defense as a junior
"The guys are looking into your eyes so you got to have that wolf mentality or that gladiator mentality," said Thigpen. "You can't have your eyes down; you can't slump your shoulders down when things go bad so we need that leadership from him."
"Your players respect when your linebacker knows where everybody's supposed to be at, and then if a play busts, he can go into the hole and get it fixed then without having to come to the sideline," added Thigpen. "That's the expectation level that we have for the ‘mike' linebacker. I'm hoping Jake can meet that challenge."
Although he was making some mental mistakes, sophomore Jawara White was doing well behind Holland as the second-team middle linebacker, Thigpen said. White was held out of practice Wednesday and his status for the rest of spring practice is uncertain after suffering a head injury. Previously he had been sidelined with neck and spine problems.
"To me, Justin, he's pushing Daren a lot," said Thigpen. "They're the same type of player. Daren has got two or three years on him as far as playing experience, but they're the same kind of guy. They're both real fast, they got unlimited range."
If Garrett pushes Bates but doesn't win the starting job, it's possible Garrett could be shuffled to the other outside linebacker position, although that call would be one for coach Gene Chizik or VanGorder, said Thigpen.
Kris Frost has been working with the first team at outside linebacker this spring.
With Jonathan Evans out for the spring, Kris Frost, who redshirted last season as a freshman after suffering an injury in fall camp, is playing opposite Bates on the first team at outside linebacker. Getting first-team reps alongside Holland and Bates has made learning the new defense easier for the redshirt freshman.
"They just bring me along," said Frost. "They're really good guys. They're really helpful when it comes to calls and everything and talking to me off the field and in meetings."
Frost said he's able to play faster now that he understands more of what VanGorder is trying to do on defense. Part of that understanding comes with learning every player's assignment as well as communication.
"If we don't talk, we don't get our point across with the safeties and the corners," said Frost. "If you know what everybody's supposed to do, then it makes the game a whole lot easier."
The Tigers will return to the field on Friday for the ninth of 15 spring practices.