"You coach to coach the games," says Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. "It's like practicing to take a test and never taking the test. This is why you coach, this is why you play, this is why you coach at a place like Auburn to go in front of 90,000 people and do your job. That's why you're in this profession."
Even after winter workouts, spring training, summer workouts and preseason camp, the Auburn defense won't know what it's made of until it can see the end result on the football field. In Muschamp's second season as Auburn's defensive coordinator, he says he likes the prospects.
"First all, we have some depth in the front seven and some guys that have played in the front seven," he explains. "Last year we had two guys that had played a lot of football in the front seven. You had Karibi Dede and Marquies Gunn that had played extensive football going into our first game last year. That's the number one thing is that you have some experience and you've got some guys that have played and have been there. That's what makes it far ahead of anything--the experience you have closer to the ball and that's where the ball game is going to be made right there."
Freshman Craig Stevens is one of several young faces on the Auburn defense.
Defensive end Quentin Groves and defensive tackle Josh Thompson have seen the field throughout their careers and gained valuable experience last year as juniors. The other two line starters, Pat Sims and Sen'Derrick Marks, got their first extensive action in 2006. Lining up behind them at linebacker, none of the three starters have been regulars in the line-up for more than a season.
"Any new year you're always eager to see how the new faces will blend in and how some of the changes you made within your scheme and what you're trying to do, how they're going to look--you feel good about it going in," Muschamp says. "You're always going to feel good about it. You don't ever know how some of these kids will react when the get in front of 90,000 people on national TV. There is no coaching book on that.
"You hope they react well and you hope you'll put them in situations where they feel comfortable and can make plays and just play instead of think," he adds. "That's what we're trying to do right now is make sure our guys are ready to go at positions we feel like we need to cover up."
The Tigers are off Monday and have three practices remaining Tuesday through Thursday. Kickoff versus the Wildcats is 6:45 p.m. on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.