"This spring, right now, we are just making a lot of plays we didn't make last spring," he said. "Familiarity within the system, making quicker and better adjustments on formations, playing better within the system with each other, we are just a lot better. We are a lot further along than we were last year.
"If the injury bug doesn't jump up and grab us I think depth is going to be developed," Johnson said. "We are feeling a lot better about our safeties now and the depth there.
"We have got some incoming help in the front with Elijah (Elijah Daniel) and L.O. (LaDarius Owens) not practicing this spring it looked extremely thin out there, but they will be back and we have two junior college players coming in so I think we will be fine--maybe not as deep as last year, but I think the quality of depth will be better."
LaDarius is a returning starter at defensive end.
The Tigers worked out in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads on Tuesday to open the final week of spring drills. The session was 13th of 15 practice dates that will conclude with Saturday's A-Day Game, which will kick off at 2 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn will practice one more time before A-Day with a session scheduled for Thursday.
Johnson said he has been told that advance ticket sales for the A-Day Game are going well. While not expecting as large a crowd as the record 80,000-plus total last year, the coach said that Auburn is expecting a large turnout. He pointed out that last year's NCAA high sprig game crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium "meant a lot" to the players.
"Someone told me as of right now (advance ticket sales) is away ahead of where it was the spring (2011) after the national championship game, which is great," Johnson noted. "It is maybe not as big as last year because I do think the events and ceremonies at Toomer's Corner had a big effect on that."
Last year's crowd was so large that in the first quarter of the game thousands of people were still trying to get into the stadium, prompting AU officials to open the gates and let everyone in the lines in to see the game whether they had purchased a ticket or not.
Looking at this spring from a defensive standpoint, Johnson said, "There have been some really positive things. We are so much further ahead of last year as we should be on scheme and other things like that.
"The frustrating thing is we have had a lot more nagging injuries this year than we did last year and we have had some guys we felt we really needed to be cautious with in certain drills," he said. "With the combination of the two I don't think we have had nearly as physical and full a spring as we would have liked to.
"Some of that is a good thing though when you have got players you trust and you believe they know what they are doing. You don't have to rep them in certain situations because you want to be smart. That is a good thing, but we probably had about a dozen guys that missed all of spring practice or a great portion of spring practice and they were guys who had a legitimate shot to break into the two-deep battle. That is frustrating when you don't get to work with those guys. I know it is frustrating for them, too. That would be the only negative, I would say, about our spring."
Commenting on what he is looking for on Saturday, the defensive coordinator said, "We want it to be a good scrimmage, but we are going to be prudent about certain players playing too many snaps.
"Last year we were so deep we were able to have a pretty good scrimmage out there even with a few guys missing," noted Johnson. "I still think it is going to be a good day. I think we will have enough guys out there we will be able to do some good, full speed work."
Johnson said he isn't certain if some players will be available on Saturday like defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who hurt his knee in the previous scrimmage a week ago from last Saturday.
With returning starting defensive end Owens missing all of the spring practice while he recovers from a broken bone in his foot the Tigers have had to work around a depth shortage at that position, particularly with Daniel missing significant practice time with a groin pull although he is back on the field right now. "Spring practice could have been so beneficial for him," Johnson said.
A positive at defensive end has been the play of Carl Lawson, who Johnson said has had "a great spring." The defensive coordinator also noted that tackles Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright have helped the Tigers by playing two positions.
"Montravius has done a heck of a job outside at defensive end and so did Gabe," Johnson said. "It has given us an idea looking ahead toward next fall. We will have a defensive package where we can play four big linemen in certain situations. They got a lot of work and I think that will be something we utilize."
Montravius Adams has been busy this spring working out at defensive end and tackle.
Another defensive lineman who has been sidelined is Tyler Nero, who is being treated after having concussion-like symptoms. Nero is not expected to play in the A-Day game and Johnson said he isn't certain what the lineman's status is.
Auburn's leading receiver from last season, Sammie Coates, said that fans should expect to see an improved wide receiver group in the A-Day game. "Everybody is going to turn your heads," he said. "All of the young guys are playing real good. They know all of the plays and are locked in. They're making big plays. It's going to be eye opening to see how good they do."
The junior said that his position coach, Dameyune Craig, is pushing his guys to keep on improving. At Tuesday's practice Craig worked with the receivers on details of how to run precise routes, beat coverage and get to the right spot at the right time for the quarterback to make a play.
"Our wide receiver room is stepping up a whole lot," said Coates, who noted that the group's goal is to become the best bunch of wide receivers in college football. "We've still got little things to work on like running our routes right, but we're out there getting physical and making plays. We've got to keep getting better as the spring goes on."
In other news and notes:
*The A-Day Game will be televised live on ESPN.
Patrick Miller has been working at both left tackle and right tackle this spring.
*Cornerback T.J. Davis, who has missed practice time with a hamstring problem, was able to practice Tuesday and Johnson said he hopes to have the sophomore available for the A-Day game.
*Johnson said that when Josh Holsey is cleared to have full contact the defense will have a "wildcard" because the junior will have the potential to be a starter at either safety or cornerback. Holsey has been able to do some drills in practice this spring as he makes what looks to be a strong recovery from knee surgery he had last fall.
*Jonathan Jones and returning stater Jonathon Mincy are working with the first team at cornerback heading into the spring game with juco transfer Derrick Moncrief and returning starter Jermaine Whitehead with the ones at the safety spots.
*Johnson said that Jonathan Ford has made good progress at safety and the same is the case with Trovon Reed at cornerback. Both of those guys played on offense last year with Ford also getting work at cornerback. Another cornerback, Kamryn Melton, made progress this spring, Johnson said.
Commenting on Reed, Johnson said, "We feel like he is going to be a huge contributor to us." The coach noted that the former wide receiver is a good tackler and has been aggressive as a defender. "He plays press-man technique pretty well," Johnson said. "Sometimes you move a guy over and he won't tackle. He will run into somebody, but he really doesn't want to. He has been very aggressive as a tackler with his coverage technique. It is just a matter of getting polish."