Third Downs Plague Defense In First Scrimmage

Coach Gene Chizik talks about the defensive performance in the first preseason scrimmage of 2004.

Auburn, Ala.–-Coming into preseason practice, Coach Gene Chizik had concerns on how his defense would respond to losing a wealth of talent up front off last year's team.

Saturday's 100-plus play scrimmage was the perfect setting for Chizik to assess his unit's progress after a little more than a week on the practice field. Chizik said the scrimmage was important because it gave him a chance to see how the defense stacks up and how it will react when put under pressure.

"We're about where I thought we were," Chizik said. "We have a lot, a lot of things to work on. The bright spots were that we played a little better goal line defense for the first time than I thought we would. We came up with a couple of turnovers in there, and we're trying to emphasize those."

Much like last season, a problem area for the defense was third downs. Several times in Saturday's scrimmage the offense was able to pick up third and long situations either by a play or by way of penalty. That's something Chizik was disappointed in following the long workout under a sunny blue sky.

"I thought on third downs we were really poor," Chizik said. "I didn't think we were very good on third downs. We have a long way to go, but we're trying to improve. I think our first and 10 and our second downs, we were adequate. I thought we were too soft, too forgiving today on third downs."

Someone that is far from being labeled as "soft" is junior safety Andrew Letts. A former wide receiver, Letts has been playing defensive back for the better part of two seasons and Chizik said he helped himself with his performance on Saturday that included two big hits, one on freshman Brad Lester.

"I like Andrew Letts," Chizik said. "He's an old blue collar guy. He works hard and is very reliable. He's just in there working. Eric Brock did some good things today. There's another young guy that is coming on. Donnay (Young) and Will (Herring) played the whole day. Junior (Rosegreen) didn't play at all. They did about what I thought they would do. There were some good licks thrown today, which was encouraging, but they should never break the line of scrimmage for us to have an opportunity to do that."

A young player who stood out up front was redshirt freshman Quentin Groves. Playing a good bit of the time with senior Bret Eddins held out because of a slight ankle sprain. Chizik said that there's no question that Groves has a chance to be a good player if he can learn to be more consistent.

"Sometimes I looked out there today and he was playing really hard and doing some good things," Chizik said. "Sometimes I looked out and he wasn't doing some doing some good things. We have a bunch of young defensive ends that really have some talent. I think they have a chance to be good down the road."

Travis Williams (51) is the lone returning starter at linebacker this season.

How good the defense is may depend on the development of junior Travis Williams at middle linebacker. Moving from the outside, where he was a starter alongside Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas, Williams said the transition is going smoothly, but is tough.

"It's a lot different, but the thing that helps me out is that my vision is real good," he said. "I'm so fast that I have to remember that fast isn't always good. I see a puller (guard) and I'll beat him to the punch and be out of position. I have to learn how to break down. I'm really liking mike. Really liking it."

The Tigers will go back to work on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. with one practice before returning for the final day of two-a-days on Monday. Chizik said that getting as much video time as possible for the young guys will help them down the road and help the coaches get a better feel for an early playing rotation this season.

"We're going to spend a lot of time with those guys," Chizik said. "We're going to try to coach them up and see happens."

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