Auburn, Ala.--With two spring practices in the book Auburn's defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, said on Thursday night that it is back to basics even though he is working with a large group of experienced players.
“We have got a lot of guys back that were part of the 2016 team that accomplished some improvement in major areas,” Steele said.
“We got instilled in a group of guys on that ’16 team relentless effort of pursuit to the ball, being good tacklers and playing with physicality. They played very good as a unit.”
However, despite many returnees with starting experience and significant playing time as reserves, Auburn’s second-year coordinator said he and the rest of the defensive coaches are going back to basics for the early spring sessions.
“People say that every team is different and that is not something that somebody just throws out there lightly,”?he noted. “It truly is different.
“Yes, you do have components of last year that are back that gives them experience, and lot of that experience last year was good experience, but at the end of the day we have started all over,” Steele pointed out.
“In fact, as a defensive staff Rodney (Garner), Greg (Brown), Travis (Williams) and myself, we literally took the template of what we were doing this time last year--what we said in the meetings, how we talked to them, how we installed it, the simplicity of the installation and started at ground zero as if we had never coached together and we had never coached these guys simply because we have to build this thing as if it hadn’t existed.”
A player Gus Malzahn and Steele identified as one of the team leaders for 2017, senior safety Tray Matthews, said that changing to a new position coach, Greg Brown, has not been an issue.
“It has been a great transition working with Coach Brown,” Matthews said. “It has been smooth. He is a real smart coach who has been in this business for a long time now. It will be amazing for me as well as the other players in the room.”
Brown is coaching the defensive backs, taking over for Wesley McGriff, who left in January to become defensive coordinator at Ole Miss. Brown made the move to Auburn from the University of Missouri.
“He is very detailed, pretty much like the other coaches we have had,” said Matthews, a returning starter at safety, who led the 2016 Tigers in total tackles with 76 and in solo stops with 43.
Matthews noted that he gets along well with Brown like he did with McGriff. “I am blessed and fortunate to have two really cool coaches who know the game very well,” the senior said.
Tray Matthews is shown at practice.
Matthews said it will be a plus for the defense to have Steele back for a second season as defensive coordinator. “We all know the plays and the playbook so it is great for me.”
Even though Matthews won praise from Steele, commenting on what the senior needs to do better, the coach said, “Everything. Everything, and that’s what we’ve told every one of them. We have not arrived. None of us.
"He does some things well, and other things he does really well, but we got to take everything to another level technique-wise: Eyes, tackling, ball skills, those kind of things because No. 1, it helps us, and No. 2 it helps those guys who have aspirations of advancing their careers so I’m not trying to be funny by saying that.
"I sat down with every defensive player, every single one of them, and we went over the things that they did well--very quickly because everyone tells them what they do good, and they know what they do good--and then we went over the laundry list of the things that we’ve got to improve with every single player. Then went to work on it.”
Matthews and the rest of the Tigers will be back on the field on Saturday for their third practice of the week when they put on the full pads for the first time this spring.