Defense Looking For Redemption

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik talked about the defense and the Florida Gators following Tuesday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--While the entire team is searching for answers following Saturday's loss to Arkansas, without a doubt the defensive unit is the most puzzled.

Thought to be a team strength heading into the 2002 season, it gave up 426 yards rushing to the Hogs in a 38-17 loss. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said following Tuesday's practice that his group came back and had a good day of work in full pads. Despite a steady rain, the Tigers worked outside for nearly two hours and the first-year coach said that was good for the team.

"Today was a fairly crisp practice," Chizik said. "I thought the concentration was good. We certainly went out there today with the attitude that we really have to redeem ourselves and get this thing back on track. That's what we talked about Sunday and today and I thought they tried to do that."

Fixing the mistakes from the previous game is the normal routine for Sunday's practice and the Tigers normally spend part of Tuesday doing that as well. For Chizik and the defense this week that meant working on tackling and being more physical at the point of attack. With Florida's huge offensive line up next, this will be a big test for the Auburn defense.

"One thing we talked about today is that we can't talk about being physical any more," Chizik noted. "We have to produce. We have to do that. We'll see what happens.

"We'll try to give them a few different looks, not try to do the same things necessarily that we've been doing. We'll just try to mix it up on them. We certainly don't want to get out of the scheme we're doing because we are doing some good things. We just have to execute them better."

Head coach Tommy Tuberville works with cornerback Horace Willis during a special teams session Tuesday. The Tigers spent a great deal of time on punt protection and returns in the practice.

That execution is something that he said was sorely lacking in Saturday's performance. After watching the video from the game Chizik said the effort was there, but the Tigers just got it handed to them up front by a more physical team.

"It was a combination of missed tackles and some guys getting out of their gaps," he noted. "But really it was just we got knocked off the football and we didn't tackle well. We have to get better at those things and we tried to fix those today."

A potential problem for the Tigers on the defensive side of the ball is the uncertainty of both defensive tackle Spencer Johnson and linebacker Dontarrious Thomas. Both missed Tuesday's practice, Johnson with a high ankle sprain and Thomas with a knee problem. Both are questionable for Saturday's game. "It's just a touch and go situation with them right now," Chizik said. "We'll know more about them closer to game time, but today they didn't go." If they're unable play, Chizik said that Dante Booker, Tommy Jackson and Dexter Murphy would have to pick up the slack for Johnson while both Derrick Graves and Antarrious Williams would fall into line behind Thomas.

With the uncertainty of Florida quarterback Rex Grossman because of a knee injury, the Tigers are unsure about what to expect from the Gators. Because of last week's struggles against Arkansas, they expect to see more running than normal in The Swamp, but in the end it will be up to the defense to get pressure on the passer for the Tigers to be successful. That could mean some players getting playing time on the defensive front that fans might not be quite as familiar with.

"I think with a guy like Kyle (Derozan), he's really a situational guy," Chizik said about one of the players they are counting on this Saturday. "You hope that you can get them in situations where you feel like they have to throw the ball and he can contribute for you. (Dante) Booker is the same way. On the inside right now we need depth period whether it be--run or pass. Whatever the situation we just have to have some depth. With the possibility of Spencer not playing we have to find some depth in there and Booker is who we're counting on to give us that."

Something the coaching staff is doing is moving nose tackles Demarco McNeil, Wayne Dickens and Jackson to the tackle spot some during practice this week to get them familiar with the position. Because of his experience McNeil is the most likely candidate to get some time at tackle Saturday and that could be important because the Gators could come out doing something that is not typical of recent Florida teams. They may run the ball repeatedly at the Tigers to see how they respond after last week's performance.

"They'll come out and try to run the ball," Chizik predicted. "I would. I think that's the first thing they're going to do. They are going to make sure that they try to run it and see what they can get then they'll pass it when they have to. They've got a great back in Earnest Graham and they'll definitely try to use him."

The Tigers will practice Wednesday and Thursday before departing for Gainesville Friday afternoon. Kickoff for the game is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. Central time and can be seen on ESPN. Auburn last defeated the Gators in The Swamp in 1994 when Patrick Nix hit Frank Sanders for a late touchdown to down the top-ranked Florida squad.

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