Wanting to get more playmaking ability out of the unit in Ellis Johnson's defense that is built more on attacking from the front four, Garner said so far things have gone well physically.
Now comes the hard part, making a change deep down inside to learn how to win again.
"It has been good," Garner said. "I think the guys are working hard. I think they are trying. My biggest challenge for them is challenging them to strain themselves every day to find a way to win when the difficult situations come up.
"As I sit back and look at some of the things that transpired last year I felt like they always found a way to lose and didn't find a way to win," the former Auburn player said. "We've got to strain ourselves so that when those situations arise in the future that we find a way to win."
Seniors Dee Ford, Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carner, Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders have all taken on a leadership role for Auburn's defense under the guidance of Garner, something he was looking for when they opened spring practice a few months ago. Continuing that throughout the summer when the coaches weren't around, Garner pointed out that the defensive line came back ready to work this preseason and that's what he wanted to see.
"I definitely think the learning curve for the older guys, you can tell they have a lot of carry-over," Garner said. "We do have a good group of seniors. I'm blessed to have five seniors. I think those are some very prideful young men that really don't like what they went through last year. They're trying to take some ownership in this team and it showed they invested some things in it this summer. We just have to get more guys up to speed because we need more quality depth."
Gabe Wright is one of the veterans Garner is counting on to take a step forward
In addition to the big senior class, Garner also has three talented freshmen to work with this fall in defensive tackle Montravius Adams and ends Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel. All three have shown some signs of life early in the preseason said their coach, but he's taking things slow with them because he has already seen some signs of a struggle because of the amount of learning needing to succeed on this level.
"They are a very talented group, but as it has worn on I think the amount of stuff that we have put in and the volume has started to wear on them both mentally and physically," Garner said. "You expect that with freshmen. They have never had to work with that intensity that they've had to work with at this level.
"Also trying to retain all of the information that is required of them at this level. Most of those guys probably had three or four calls and that was it. It was easy for them to master what they were doing.
"Now they have a plethora of calls and we want them to master what they are doing and do it at a speed that for them is like game day," Garner said. "Their Friday night is the speed of practice. It has been an adjustment, but there is some eagerness in the group and I'm excited about the group, excited about their talent.
"I'll be interested to see, once they really immerse themselves in the playbook and really have a good grasp of what we're doing, when they really turn it loose and we can actually see their ability."
Also a newcomer, but able to go through spring practice, junior college defensive tackle Ben Bradley has done a lot of work since Auburn's A-Day game to make himself into a better player. That started in the weight room and pushing back from the table as Bradley lost over 30 pounds. While he's still working on what it takes to play in the SEC, Garner said Bradley is definitely going to help this fall alongside Whitaker and juniors Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson.
"I have been pleased with Ben," Garner said. "I definitely think he has improved his endurance. That has probably been his Achilles heel, just learning to push himself and strain himself. I definitely think the extra conditioning has helped him. I think Ben can help us, he's got to help us this fall."
With a lot of bodies to work with on the defensive line it's closing in on decision time for Garner as he tries to narrow down his group to allow them more reps heading into the season opener against Washington State. Several players are safe in their roles for the Tigers this fall, but many guys are on the bubble heading into the second scrimmage on Saturday. Trying to decide which players to work with and which to send to the scout team, Garner said a lot will be decided this weekend.
"We're going to have to narrow it down because it's hard to rep that many guys," Garner said. "Saturday is our second scrimmage and like I told them, it's sort of like a preseason game. Even in the NFL after the second preseason game they start making cuts. We've got to start cutting it and trimming it down on who we're going to focus on trying to get ready for that first game."