Auburn, Ala.—With just a few days left until the 2012 season kicks off for the Auburn Tigers in the Georgia Dome against Clemson, coordinator Brian VanGorder said there's still work to do for his defense in getting ready for a talented and explosive offense on the other side of the field. While he has got some experience at his disposal with players such as Corey Lemonier, Jeffrey Whitaker, Daren Bates and Chris Davis among the starters, VanGorder said the defense is making moves and he's ready to see how far they've come on Saturday night.
"I think they've made progress," VanGorder said. "Still a long road ahead, and I think that my vision for the season is to see them continue to get better and improve, but we have to play Saturday night so it'll be interesting to see exactly where we are. I anticipate a lot of things in respect to some of those players that are working through the process and trying to gain a comfort in playing big-time ball in a big game like this, but we've got room for a lot of improvement right now."
One of the biggest challenges facing the defense will be Clemson's pace of play and the many different movements that Chad Morris will employ with the Tigers. VanGorder said it's something he didn't see a lot of in the NFL other than some wildcat situations, but he knows the key is preparation and being able to see what the offense is trying to do at all times.
"Well, it's a lot of work," VanGorder said. "They do so much offensively with formations, not as much personnel, but enough personnel issues during the game and with the fast-paced offense, the way they can substitute and get on the line of scrimmage on you quickly, it's tough, so we're going to put great concentration and a great week of preparation into a week of getting ready."
While the defensive line will rotate players throughout the game and the linebackers set in place with Jake Holland, Bates and Jonathan Evans getting the start, the secondary is one place with still some questions as Auburn will likely be using five defensive backs much of the game Saturday night. When that happens, Chris Davis will move inside to play the nickel position with either T'Sharvan Bell or Jonathon Mincy moving into the lineup at cornerback.
How well the secondary and back seven communicates with the guys up front could ultimately tell the tale for Auburn's defense. With safeties such as starters Jermaine Whitehead and Ryan Smith as well as reserve Trent Fisher putting a premium on the communication in the secondary, VanGorder said there's little doubt that is something that must show up early and often Saturday night for Auburn to be able to play the way he wants defensively.
"It's going to be very interesting," VanGorder said. "That's been one of the issues with our guys--getting them to communicate in a way that the whole defense can understand and collectively execute. We just haven't been as loud as we need to be. We've got handle signals to one another that are going to be very important in this game. That's one of the tests. That's one of the important things that's going to take place--how well we can communicate. You've got a lot of movement, a lot of formation change, a lot of things going on. It's testy.
"I think that's the value of playing Clemson in the first game," he added. "We'll at least have an idea of where we are against a team of that caliber right now, and we'll be able to compare it against that as we move on, but it's going to be interesting."