Johnson Far From Satisfied With AU Defense

Auburn's defense has improved by leaps and bounds, but coordinator Ellis Johnson says there is a long way to go for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--When Gus Malzahn was hired and brought on an impressive staff on both sides of the ball it was a good sign for the future of the program, but few imagined the Auburn Tigers would be standing at No. 8 in the AP poll eight games into the 2013 season.

Using a strong running game and an opportunistic defense, Auburn has gotten better each week and that has been shown on the field. With wins over Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Tigers have climbed up the rankings and find themselves 11th in the BCS standings.

A big reason for Auburn's improvement has been the play of the defense under the guidance of Ellis Johnson. While he said it's great to be recognized and rewarded for what this team has accomplished on the field, he added that there is still plenty of things to work and and correct heading down the stretch with Arkansas the next hurdle this weekend.

"I didn't feel particularly great about our preparation last week," Johnson said. "I thought the on-the-field reps were really good, but ...guys who aren't involved in the action have to be getting visual reps. They've got to be on top of things and I didn't see that.

"That's a sign of immaturity so I was really concerned about it," the coach added. "As far as their attitude and their approach to the game, they were all tuned in Friday, really on target Saturday morning in meetings. You could tell they really wanted to play well.

"We'll have to continue to have better preparation during the week because the competition is going to get better. There's a fine line between having them prepared and having them worn out. One thing our players have got to do, they've got to step up and practice without being the guy out there in the shoes and get better that way."

LaDarius Owens has been solid at defensive end for the Tigers

Allowing 20.5 points per game, the Tigers have been especially strong against the run this season. Giving up just 138.5 yards on the ground and 4.0 yards per carry, Johnson said the defense will get a stern test this weekend against a physical running team like Arkansas with a pair of quality backs, including outstanding freshman Alex Collins.

"We've just got to get adjusted to the formations," Johnson said of the differences in facing a straightforward offense like Arkansas. "You've got to be really gap sound because they do a great job. They use their tight ends so well to create different formations and try to get your edge. When you're overplaying that, sometimes they can get a crease up inside.

"It's going to be some subtle adjustments," the defensive coordinator said. "A lot of things you see against the spread is all DBs running all over the place. Against a team like this, linebacker playing the gaps and some of those other safeties dropping down is really going to have to be perfectly fit, because their running backs, once they find a crease, they can really run."

Fitting in on the defense is something that a pair of young cornerbacks are trying to do for the Tigers with a lack of depth one of the sore spots for Johnson's group heading into the final four games. The two backups at the cornerback position, Jonathan Jones and Johnathan Ford got valuable playing time on Saturday. While it wasn't a new thing for Jones, it was the first extensive time at corner for Ford, signed as a running back by the Tigers.

Johnson said both did some good things, but they're going to need to keep coming on this season.

"We're very thin back there," the coach said. "Getting him (Jones) back was very important. We had to move Ryan White instead with the loss of Holsey. We lost our leading returning tackler at the beginning of the season, never played a down. We keep moving guys inside, it's very important that Rudy (Ford) and Jonathon come along and give us some quality depth at corner."

News and Notes

Justin Garrett continues to be sidelined after injuring his foot in practice, an injury that required him to wear a protective boot for the last month. Johnson said that the talented junior is just now beginning to get back on his feet and doing some things. As for what the rest of the year holds it still appears Garrett may be headed for a medical hardship redshirt, but Johnson said that may be his call.

"I don't know if he has any issues with the rehab once the boot comes off," Johnson said. "That may be a decision that's made for us. If he all the sudden feels great, he could play two or three games and a bowl game, maybe that would be worth it. He'll get some say on it. I think we ought to respect the way he feels about it. I certainly don't think he should throw a year away to play a game or two."

The same is true of Keymiya Harrell. Missing the first seven games following knee surgery, Harrell dressed against Florida Atlantic, but Johnson said he's still a little tentative. Because of that he said it's likely the defensive end will sit this year out and try to get an extra year.

It was another good night to play some of the younger players on both sides of the ball and two of those guys impressed Johnson. Playing with a combined second and third team unit, linebackers Kenny Flowers and Javiie Mitchell both did some good things said the veteran coach. Very athletic, Mitchell is not afraid of contact and has become a very good special teams player. That's a good sign moving forward for a player that is just now getting his feet settled at linebacker.

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