Auburn, Ala.--One of the concerns on defense the last two years under Will Muschamp has been the lack of turnovers caused by the Tigers. That is something that is a focus for every coordinator and Auburn's Paul Rhoads is no different.
That is a point of emphasis this spring in his first as Auburn's defensive coordinator and Thursday morning he got his wish in that department. In the first full pad practice of the spring, Auburn picked off several passes, something Rhoads said he was happy to see.
"I was pleased and maybe somewhat surprised with the number of interceptions we gained," Rhoads said. "The truth be told we probably left another three out here on the field. That was a lack of awareness at where the football is. The first day out in pads and getting that many turnovers was pleasing to see."
One of the players that made the most noise on Thursday was sophomore cornerback Ryan Williams. Playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2007, Williams said that the first day in pads is always a fun day and coming up with several big plays made it even better.
"It was real intense," Williams said. "There was a lot of pad popping out there. I liked it. Things never slowed down even though we were getting fatigued. We're working on our mental toughness and just flying to the ball."
While Auburn's overall style of defense hasn't changed much, the way the secondary plays could be drastically different at times. While Muschamp was more of a man-to-man guy that left his corners on an island for much of the game, Rhoads is going to mix his coverages much more while using different zone techniques. Williams said as far he's concerned it's a good fit for him and the defense.
"It's different because we were used to playing man with Muschamp," Williams says. "He's setting us up to make all the plays. He's teaching us how to disguise and break on the ball. It's real exciting. I like the defense. I got two picks today. We probably left about four more picks out there. The defense is working. It's setting us up and we're trying to make plays."
While the forced turnovers were a bright spot, Rhoads said that other than that he wasn't too pleased with how the defense performed from start to finish. With the first scrimmage of the spring coming up on Saturday he said he's hoping for more stamina and energy out of his defense beginning with Friday afternoon's practice.
"Not even close," Rhoads answered when asked if the practice was what he was looking for out of the defense. "It was not near physical enough. I made sure to tell them that before they left the field. Hopefully we'll see a little more contact tomorrow afternoon.
"I think they were adjusting back to playing the game," he added. "When you start camp in August you've got through a whole summer conditioning program, you're in pretty darn good shape. When you start spring ball we had six very strenuous off season workouts, but that doesn't come close to getting you into football shape. So we're not in football shape and when you get tired it's hard to be physical."
Facing an offensive attack that is relentless with play after play coming at them, Rhoads said he's looking for his defense to be physical as well as smart in this Saturday's scrimmage. Going as many as possibly 170 plays, Rhoads said they'll also need to be tough to give the effort required from start to finish.
"I want to find out who can tackle," Rhoads said. "I want to find out right now who is smart. When I say that, who is doing what they're supposed to be doing. We weren't very smart today. We gave up contain. We didn't take care of the up field shoulder. I want to see Saturday who's going to play smart in game like situations and who is physically tough in the form of conditioning."