Young Defenders Get Trial By Fire In A-Day Game

Several young Tigers talk about the experience of playing in the A-Day game and what they'll take from it.

Auburn, Ala.--Spring football practice is supposed to be the time when a defense feeds its ego by shutting down the offense and controlling play. That was the case early for the Auburn Tigers, but two of the last three scrimmages have been offensive shootouts as the defense struggles to find a way to slow the new system being installed offensive coordinator Al Borges.

Much of the reason for that has been a designed approach by defensive coordinator Gene Chizik to play base defenses as much as possible. That allows the players to have to make plays based on talent instead of scheme, with the defensive coaches hoping to see players step up and take over the game. Noseguard Tommy Jackson says that Saturday's A-Day performance was one that will be studied by the defense to learn where improvements need to be made.

"We just need to see how good we are without blitzing," Jackson says. "You have to win the ball game up front and we have to be able to play without blitzing linebackers. It's important for us to be able to stop the run and get a good pass rush without sending linebackers and safeties. It's good that he let us do that. Now we know what we have to come back and work on. We're going to use this and get better."

Much of the rush Saturday came from the ends as sophomores Stanley McClover and Marquies Gunn had good days bringing pressure from the corners. For McClover it was a big day because it was hit first time to play in front of fans in an Auburn uniform. That made for some butterflies, which McClover quickly overcame to win defensive MVP honors.

Stanley McClover chases running back Tre Smith during Saturday's A-Day Game.

"I feel like I performed pretty good," McClover says. "I came out and got a couple of sacks like I felt like I was going to do. I made a couple of big plays and it felt good to be out there with a real uniform on in front of a big crowd. It felt good.

"That was a pretty hard test because it becomes straight-up football," McClover adds. "Everybody is then basically just playing on raw talent. You can't cheat and have blitzes. It was a good experience to see what kind of players you are for real. It was nice."

McClover wasn't the only player to get his first experience in front of a crowd on Saturday as defensive teammates Montavian Collier and Tez Doolittle also got their first taste of football in Jordan-Hare Stadium

Another player who was getting a baptism of sorts was cornerback Courtney Denson. After playing quarterback for much of last year, he has been a full-time defensive back since late last fall and says the A-Day game was big for him in his progression at the position.

"This helps me a lot," Denson says. "This was a game experience. We had the fans there and a fast tempo. It was like a game experience for me. I feel like I really know how it feels. Last year I was clueless. I didn't know any coverage but man. I was lost. I know a little something now so I don't look as bad as last year.

"I feel like I'm improved 100 percent from where I was before," Denson adds. "Before I was just clueless, now I'm starting to understand it a little bit more. The more comfortable I get the better I start to play at defensive back."

Saturday was an important learning experience for a defense trying to replace five of the front seven starters from last season. One of the toughest to replace is the one currently held down by Kevin Sears, who must take over the vacated spot at strongside linebacker in place of Karlos Dansby. The sophomore says that the defense learned a lot about itself on Saturday and knows there is a long way to go for this unit if the Tigers hope to equal last year's performance.

"It helps you a lot because it will help us in the long run," Sears says. "We play some of the best teams in the country like LSU. Our offense looked good and playing our base defense like that shows me that we have to do a lot of different things to make things work around here."

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