Auburn, Ala.--There is no question the return of Carl Lawson has made a big impact on Auburn's defense, but defensive coordinator Will Muschamp's willingness to move guys around to find the best possible playing rotations has meant a different look for the Tigers with more success.
One of the first moves Muschamp made was inserting true freshman Carlton Davis into the starting lineup. That coincided with Cassanova McKinzy’s move inside linebacker to the buck position for the Tigers. Getting his pass rush and big-play ability off the edge along with Davis developing into a guy who can hold down his side of the field has meant more versatility and options for Muschamp, something he’s taken full advantage of.
“I think Carlton Davis’ emergence at corner for us the last five or six games has been huge,” Muschamp said. “I think the ability of Carlton to play corner and moving Blake Countess to safety...until Blake was playing safety we had not gotten the production we need at the safety position. Blake has been a very productive player for us.”
With Countess moving to the back line of the defense it meant a move from safety to the nickel position for junior Rudy Ford. Auburn’s leading tackler a year ago and the top tackler for the Tigers this season, Ford’s move starting with the Ole Miss game has worked out well for the defense, Muschamp said.
“He is closer to the line of scrimmage and he is a good blitzer and good in the run game,” Muschamp said. “He is a very physical player. Obviously, his speed shows up in some underneath routes yesterday and in coverage."
Muschamp said the Tigers have played nickel coverage 70-80 percent of the time and the percentage has been closer to
90 in recent weeks. 'He’s just been very productive for us,” the coach said about Ford.
With Countess settling in at safety the Tigers were forced to make another move when they traveled to Texas A&M with Tray Matthews out because of a foot injury. Starting Nick Ruffin with Stephen Roberts also getting some action, Muschamp may have found a key to this Auburn turnaround on defense in Roberts.
Stephen Roberts has been very physical since being inserted into the lineup at safety
A true sophomore out of Opelika, Roberts has developed into a hard worker off the field with extra film study helping him take his game to another level. Always talented enough to get the job done, Roberts has shown Muschamp and Travaris Robinson he’s a guy they can count on in Auburn’s secondary.
“He did some nice things for us,” Muschamp said of Roberts’ play against Idaho. “He made a nice play on the hot in the boundary there on the corner pressure so I think he continues to show up in the right spots.
“His preparation off the field has helped his play on the field," he coach added. "I've been very pleased with where he's continuing to progress and needs to have another good week.”
Needing another big week from his defense as the Tigers get ready to face a bruising and talented Alabama offense in the Iron Bowl, Muschamp said Auburn’s defense at every level has to be ready to play just as physical as the guys across from them if they hope to slow running back Derrick Henry and get a win.
“We have got to be able to gang tackle him," Muschamp said. " He's an elite player, he's an elite talent, and we've certainly got our work cut out for us.”