Auburn, Ala.--For new Auburn Tigers secondary Coach Wesley (Crimedog) McGriff versatility is one of the most important things a player can have in today’s game because of the way offenses want to attack.
Using formations and motion to gain an advantage in both the run and pass game, the offense is hoping to take advantage of weaknesses on defense to make big plays.
That is especially the case in the passing game where teams will try to match certain receivers with specific players in order to gain an advantage. The way for a defense to combat that is to have players capable of playing multiple positions and doing different things well, something McGriff believes he has with his first Auburn secondary.
For the Tigers the list starts with senior Johnathan Ford. Starting his defensive career as a cornerback before moving to safety, Ford’s play took off last season when he moved to the nickel position in Auburn’s defense. With the ability to play in the box and also cover, Ford is someone McGriff said is a huge boost for the defense.
“It’s very important,” McGriff said of being able to do multiple things. “You look at a guy like Rudy Ford. That size and speed and very explosive, Rudy can go out and play various positions. You can take Nick Ruffin and play him at different positions. I think now with the evolution on offense and the spread, I don’t think you can take guys an pigeonhole them anymore.
“Offense now has the ability to formation you and create mismatches if you don’t have the skill set to match up all across the field. When you line up left to right with guys like Carlton Davis, Rudy Ford, Tim Irvin, like Markell Boston, Nick Ruffin, on the other side Jamel Dean, those guys can match up anywhere on the field. They give us a skill-set on the field collectively to allow us to adjust to most any offense that we’ll see.”
Tim Irvin has been working with the first team at the nickel this spring
Even Auburn’s starting safeties both have the ability to do other things. Both Stephen Roberts and Ruffin have played corner and nickel in the past with Roberts working some back at cornerback this spring. McGriff said he likes what he’s seen from both of them so far and several other players at safety.
“Stephen Roberts has a handsome skill set,” McGriff said. “That young man has a skill set that he could play any position on the back end. He’ll be able to give us a lot of flexibility on the back end. Nick Ruffin is smart, physical and has some leadership qualities. We’re excited about some of the things he’s done there.
“Markell Boston has come on,” he added. “He’s developing nicely, embracing the scheme, and he’s buying in. We like his progression. T.J. Davis, what a tough guy. He may have some nagging injuries, but he pushes through it and doesn’t have any excuses. You can see every day those group of safeties are getting better. They’re going to make mistakes and that’s why they have coaches.”
When you add in players such as senior Josh Holsey, who is coming back from knee surgery, the Tigers have some bodies on defense that should allow them to match up with the many different types of offense they’ll see in the 2016 season.
In other news and notes:
*The Tigers practiced for two hours in full pads on Thursday as they tuned up for the second major scrimmage of the spring, which is scheduled for Saturday. The Auburn staff is also entertaining high school coaches for their annual coaching clinic that starts with a fish fry on Thursday evening at Auburn Arena.
*The clinic, which runs through Saturday, began with a talk by new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele followed by individual group sessions conducted by all of the offensive and defensive assistants coaches. Offensive coordinator and special teams coordinator Scott Fountain are scheduled to conduct seminars on Friday along with high school coaches Ben Blackmon of Spanish Fort, Steve Mask for St. Paul's in Mobile, Joey King of Cartersville, Ga., High, Rush Propst from Colquitt County, Ga., High and Keith Etheredge of Pell City High. On Saturday strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell is conducting seminars for the high school coaches.