Following 15 days on the field and having a chance to evaluate their progress, VanGorder said while he's glad they're not playing Clemson this week he did see some good things from his guys.
"We've got a lot of developmental players, and from looking at it from that standpoint those developmental players took a good step forward," VanGorder said.
"Now the challenge is to gain some consistency. Anytime you're dealing with developmental guys in that process and you're putting in an entirely new system with them, I think you're going to have inconsistency.
"I think we've got the groundwork and the basis of our defense in front of them and installed. Now they'll have the opportunity on their own to digest it and to watch film and do things they need to do to help them through that process."
One of the biggest areas of improvement that VanGorder said he saw came from the defensive line. Even without Kenneth Carter, Gabe Wright and Nosa Eguae available this spring, VanGorder said the group took a big step forward in picking up a more aggressive scheme he likes to employ.
"Our system allows them to play and play fast," VanGorder said. "Therefore the idea of disruptions and sacks and those kinds of ideas are philosophical in our makeup. It's exciting for defensive linemen. I didn't maybe anticipate the growth there because I think that's where we did have our best growth this spring as a whole.
"That's a position of a lot of depth for us. I expect that they will take another big step forward during training camp. I feel very optimistic about that group."
Two players in particular stood out when VanGorder was talking about their play this spring. Coming back after a surgery forced him to miss much of the 2011 season, junior defensive end Dee Ford had a huge spring and caught his new coach by surprise with his play.
Dee Ford is shown in a spring practice.
"I saw a couple clips last year, before he was injured, that he had some special traits in those areas, in those physical areas," VanGorder said. "I never anticipated the consistency of it. Every snap. He's a guy who's made it a habit to play fast and play hard. When you get those kinds of guys, it offers you a lot in terms of production. and the rest of the guys seeing that this is what it looks like.
"A lot of people don't realize that when we were at Georgia, David Pollack did that. The other 10 guys were like: wow. Every single play is a full-speed rep. Even beyond the surprise of the consistency from him, I'm really pleased to have that so he can be the guy you're constantly pointing at. This is what it looks like. He had a very good spring."
Another player who did a lot impress VanGorder was junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker. Losing over 20 pounds since the end of last season, Whitaker has repeatedly said this spring how much better he feels on the field. After watching him in action this spring VanGorder said whatever Whitaker has done he needs to keep doing it.
"I never expected for him to perform and do the things he did in spring ball based on watching last year's film," VanGorder said. "He was a pleasant...maybe surprise is the wrong word, but what I had in my mind and what I thought his role would be, he changed my mind in respect to that, which is a credit to him. Was it weight? I don't know. If it was the weight, that's a good thing. He needs to keep that in mind during the offseason."
One area that still remains a concern for VanGorder is at linebacker where he's looking for consistency from his guys. Without much depth to work with he said guys such as Cassanova McKinzy and Javiie Mitchell will have a chance to compete right away in the fall.
Coming out of the spring the Tigers were working with Daren Bates and Jake Holland as the two veteran guys with Kris Frost and Justin Garrett battling for playing time at the other outside position. Looking for an established rotation, VanGorder said he's still trying to find his top five guys and if Garrett proves to be one of the best then he could see him playing alongside Bates even though both are smaller players.
"As we quality control spring ball, it'll just be a matter of who's our top five are," VanGorder said. "Here's our guys who are going to be playing. These are the guys we know will play. If it's six guys, that's great. If it's seven guys, that's better. Right now, that's a young group, a developing group. Justin, if we feel like through the spring evaluation that he's in the top three, then that's exactly what we'll do."
Sitting out last fall because of a shoulder injury, Frost saw extensive action with Jonathan Evans out of the spring with an injury. VanGorder said even with all the work he got on the field that Frost is still a work in progress because of his youth.
"He's a developmental player," VanGorder said. "He's got a lot of work to do to gain a comfort in playing the game. He still has a youngster's body that needs weight-room development. The thing that I'm encouraged about is that it's important to him. He's going to work hard. He's got to try to speed the process up and gain a different comfort on the field when he's playing.
"He still doesn't see things. It's still a fast game to him I guess is the best way to put it. He's got to be able to calm his game down. He will -- it's just a matter of when will that happen. That's the challenge for him. He does have some good, athletic traits that should be advantageous down the road."
With a lack of depth at linebacker and some bodies at defensive end it would seem like LaDarius Owens could be a candidate to make a move back to the position he played early in his Auburn career. After seeing Owens' ability at defensive end however VanGorder said he's sticking with the guys he's got at linebacker.
"No, I don't see that in our roster right now," he said of possible position moves to linebacker. "Don't see that body type and makeup of another player that could do that. We've got to really push the guys that we have. I think they recognize that there's concern there and that they've got to take a big step forward as we go into fall camp."