Caldwell's Monday Morning Quarterback Column

Auburn's defense stepped up, the running back depth was on display and Shon Coleman's first playing time highlighted the Tigers' second victory of the 2013 football season.

It was fitting that on the night that Auburn honored the 1988 SEC Championship team this version of the Tigers finally showed its teeth on defense.

While things are still a long way from where defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson wants them to be in order to compete for championships, there is no doubt that the new coaching staff has brought new energy to the 2013 Auburn Tigers.

That starts up front where Rodney Garner has already changed the demeanor and expectations of the front four. Saturday night the group was very active and spent a lot of time in the Arkansas State backfield. The Tigers pressured ASU's quarterback from start to finish.

While still needing to be more consistent after losing containment on the quarterback several times, there is no question the defensive line has taken some serious strides forward forward in just two games.

In the secondary the starters have picked up their performance level with senior Chris Davis quickly becoming the shutdown corner that Auburn has been needing. Perhaps the biggest difference though has been the play of guys that the previous staff gave up on, Ryan Smith and Ryan White.

You can put together a nice list of guys who have seen a resurrection of their careers with the new staff, but no two have been more important to the Tigers than the two Ryans. With a lack of depth in the secondary because of an injury to Jonathan Jones and the dismissal of Demetruce McNeal, Auburn needed somebody to step up their game this season in order for the defense to reach its potential. While that's still a long way from becoming a reality, you have to feel good for two guys who have worked hard and stayed the course in the hopes that one day they would get another shot.

Running Back Depth Showing Up

While the 2010 season featured one of the top running attacks in school history, the primary ball carrier that season was quarterback Cam Newton. You have to go back to the days of Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs to find a backfield with three potential game-breaker running backs like Auburn has this season in Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant.

With Gus Malzahn's offense designed to get the ball to its playmakers in different ways, having three running backs capable of getting the job done is a huge plus. Through two games all three are ranked in the Top 10 among SEC rushers, something that should help keep defenses off balance this season and allow quarterback Nick Marshall to continue to settle into his role as the starter.

Shon's Big Night

In terms of accomplishment there is none bigger than Shon Coleman seeing his first playing time for the Tigers on Saturday night after his long battle with cancer. Working his way back into playing shape the last two years, Coleman has seen his strength steadily return at offensive tackle.

Pushing Patrick Miller for the starting job on the right side, Coleman had already earned the respect of his teammates for persevering through the most difficult of situations. Now that he's put that behind him, Coleman is determined to see things through and earn a starting role. Knowing him and what he's been through, I wouldn't bet against the big man.

Coleman played left tackle for the Tigers late in Saturday night's 38-9 win over Arkansas State and was in the game for the final touchdown drive.

Tested Tigers

Seeing the 1988 team honored on Saturday night and watching the guys interact with each other was one of the highlights of my weekend. Being on the field each week gives me the opportunity to talk with former players and coaches and get their perspectives on a particular game or any topic of interest.

Watching guys like Craig Ogletree and Ron Stallworth get back on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium with their families and being able to experience that feeling once again was priceless.


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