That is one approach linebackers coach Joe Whitt has used in the past three practices to teach Auburn's defense how to combat the option attack it will see Saturday night against Syracuse in The Carrier Dome.
"It's something you have to get a lot of reps on," Whitt tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "It's something you don't see and there are certain reads you have got to have. We've been working on those particular reads and alignments and things of that nature."
Coach Joe Whitt discusses linebacker play with "DT" Thomas.
The Tigers' defensive unit was able to get two extra days of practice on the option due to the postponement of last Saturday's game at LSU. Most major sporting events were called off due to the tragic events in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania last Tuesday.
If you play linebacker in the Southeastern Conference, one thing you are likely to see little of is the option. However, jack linebacker Dontarrious Thomas says he is experienced at playing vs. the option, but the Syracuse attack will be different from the one his opponents ran against him during his high school days in Perry, Ga. "We know that they have the option in their game," Thomas says. "We are trying to get focused on that."
To help emulate the various schemes and formations the Tigers will see Saturday, true freshman wide receiver Larry Summers is seeing time at scout team quarterback during preparation work for Syracuse. Summers' job is to play the role of Troy Nunes, who will likely split time for the Orangemen at the quarterback spot with R.J. Anderson.
Thomas says Summers' move to scout team quarterback is helping the defense. "It gives us more of a look," Thomas says. "He has great speed and we can see where we fit. It's going to be kind of awkward for us, but hopefully we can go in there and make the right fits and make the right keys."
Based on the statistics, whichever Syracuse quarterback is in the game will not be the primary ball carrier on Saturday night. Nunes has just 10 net yards on 25 carries and Anderson has just four net yards on 11 carries. It is senior running back James Mungro who has done most of the damage on the ground for the Orangemen. The five-foot-nine, 215-pound tailback totalled 247 yards on 57 attempts in three games and has scored two touchdowns.
Dontarrious Thomas works in spring drills next to CB Roderick Hood.
One area of concern for any defense which goes up against the option is getting each player's assignments right. And that is something Thomas says will be key to the Tigers' success Saturday. "We have been focused on when they shift, who to pick up, what defense to call and what checks to make," notes Thomas, who leads the Tigers with 20 tackles. "Not too many teams run the option in the SEC. We are expecting the option and hopefully we can get into our fits. You have to fit right into the option and if we can do that we will have a great game."
The Tigers have already put together two solid games defensively against the run, allowing just 60 yards to Ball State and 50 to Ole Miss. The Orangemen come into the contest averaging 113 yards on the ground. "We've been practing against the option and against different formations and things they can do," defensive end Javor Mills says. "So far we've been doing pretty good, but we have a lot of work to do."
Javor Mills (96) and Dante Booker (97) drill on Sunday preparing for Syracuse.
The Auburn-Syracuse game will be televised nationally on ESPN with kickoff set for 6:50 p.m. CDT.
Tiger Ticket Extra: Former Auburn defensive back Rob Pate was a visitor at practice with his wife Dana and their baby. Pate was recently cut by the San Diego Chargers. Another former Tiger, defensive tackle Jimmy Brumbaugh, stopped by to check on his former teammates. Brumbaugh is finishing up work on his AU degree...Although the Tigers have yet to show it, AU has a limited option package available for Jason Campbell to run.
Rob Pate, wife Dana and daughter stop by Sunday's practice.