Eli Stove (above) returns a punt in Tuesday's pratice.
Auburn, Ala.-- Auburn coordinator Kevin Steele said the focus on defense as the Tigers finish spring football drills is the “process” more than the “results” with a theme of making sure players understand their alignments and assignments in any situation they might face.
Steele, who is in his second season with the Tigers, made the comments on Tuesday night after the team practices for two hours in full pads.
"We get out there in spring practice sometimes and you win a play because somebody doesn’t execute on offense or the quarterback doesn’t throw the ball the right place or maybe somebody slips a block and makes a play, but you’ve got mistakes across the board and everyone says well we got a play made for minus three yards," Steele pointed out. "Well, to be honest with you yeah we did, but we’ve got seven guys not doing the right things so we’ve really tried to be process oriented not results oriented, which we’ve done. We’ve really emphasized takeaways and had big days in practice where we’ve had strips and caused some things to happen."
One of the players that Steele is counting on to have a strong 2017 season is defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who will try to fill the shoes of multi-year starter Montravius Adams and two of his backups, Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain. The Tigers are also replacing their top pass rusher, end Carl Lawson.
Asked if he has noticed progress this spring from the defensive line as a unit, Brown said, “Yes, definitely. We knew that with Montravius and Carl leaving we had to step our game up because we want to be an even better defense.
“Coach G (Rodney Garner) is holding us to a higher standard being younger and also some of us played last year,” said Brown, who saw extensive action in 2016 as a true freshman.”
Brown, who is 6-5, 317 pounds, played at 330 last year, but has changed his body under the direction of strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.
Derrick Brown (5) is shown in action as a freshman.
“I have been in the weight room every single day,” he said. “I have being doing cardio in the offseason and I feel like that will pay off on the field.
“When you lose weight and put it back on in a better way it is easier to get your job done and not be tired as much,” Brown added.
Auburn’s defensive staff is working to boost the depth this spring on the front four after losing four players who contributed. Garner said that he would like to have 10 players ready to contribute at the end and tackle spots.
Asked if the Tigers are there yet, Steele said, “That’s a hard question because we have had some with some injuries and all that. I think we’re getting close to the seven, eight mark, nd we’ve got freshmen coming in.
“Obviously we had two freshmen that factored into that last year in Derrick and Marlon (Davidson) so we could get to that. And obviously, they will be at different levels. They’re not going to be Marlon, they’re not going to be Dontavious, but they can do what they can do well and we’ll call it that way, and get some reps, meaningful reps.”
Steele said that he believes that depth on the front four and across the defense is a big deal, wanting to have 20 to 22 guys ready to play at a starter’s level. “We’re one of those teams,” he said. “Some people don’t. Some people play the whole season with about 12 to 13 guys if they don’t have injuries. We play a lot of people and I think that comes from the fact that we have to in practice because we go against a no-huddle offense all the time in practice. You just get conditioned to be able to rotate guys.”
Junior defensive tackle Byron Cowart is shown at Tuesday's practice.
The more experience player on the defensive front is two-year starter Dontavious Russell. Steele said he expects that Russell will be improved as a junior.
“Obviously, he was a very productive player for us last fall. You can tell he’s a year older than he was this time last year, obviously, nd when I say that, I don’t mean in terms of age. I mean in terms of football-playing experience. You can tell he’s very comfortable in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
“He’s a very good technician,” Steele added. “He’s making more extra-effort plays. The things that we preach so hard are effort, physicality and tackling, first and foremost. He’s played himself into that.”
In other news and notes:
*Steele said he likes what he is seeing from junior Byron Cowart, who moved from end to tackle this spring. The coach said that Cowart looks more comfortable and natural inside at tackle and has the potential to be a pass rushing threat at the position.
The Tigers will practice again on Thursday.
*Kickoff for Saturday’s A-Day Game is 1 p.m. and it will be televised on the SEC Network. Steele said that he will be looking for effort and good technique from his guys on Saturday.
*Other things the defensive coordinator would like to see are forced turnovers. Linebackers Montavious Atkinson (fumble recovery) and Tre Williams (interception return for a TD) came up with turnovers in scrimmage two.
“We have really emphasized takeaways and had big days in practice where we’ve had strips and caused some things to happen,” said Steele, who added. We have scored on defense and we have done that a couple of times in practice, but we’ve still got a long way to go. There’s a little ebb and flow of things, it’s not constant yet. We’ve got to stay on that, keep improving that.”