Rhoads: "Playing Hard Isn't Good Enough"

First-year defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads spoke with Inside the Auburn Tigers after his first spring at Auburn.

Auburn, Ala.—In the final practice of the spring, a scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Wednesday night, the Auburn defense got burned by several big plays. Both the first and second team units got beat for huge chunks of yards in just about every variety.

Rod Smith took a quick hitch from Chris Todd, broke a tackle and made a move for 63 yards on the first team defense. Kodi Burns had a handful of keepers against the first unit for more than 10 yards. Tristan Davis took a handoff up the gut and bounced it outside for 69 yards and a TD against the second teamers. Chris Slaughter, Terrell Zachery and Quindarius Carr also got open deep in the secondary for big gainers.

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said after the scrimmage that the effort was there, just not the results.

"We played much harder in my estimation than we have in the last couple of scrimmages," Rhoads explained. "I think they were so conscientious of playing hard though at times, we did some things that weren't intelligent as a football team and we didn't tackle as well as we had the last couple of scrimmages. A lesson to the team after we got done is that playing hard isn't good enough. You've still got to do things right. You've just got to do things right all the time."

With the scrimmage being the 15th and final session of the spring, Rhoads still came away with something positive to finish the spring. "I was very concerned about getting a lot of things on film in this scrimmage," he noted.

The big plays given up will certainly be looked at during the offseason, but there were many positive plays on the defensive side of the ball. Players like Sen'Derrick Marks and Michael Goggans were in the backfield numerous times. Several linebackers like Chris Evans, Courtney Harden, Tray Blackmon and Josh Bynes made solid open-field tackles throughout the scrimmage.

Going against the spread every day in practice, an area in which Rhoads has voiced a concern is how his players would respond against two-back sets and goal-line packages. Marks shot through the offensive line more than once when the offense lined up in a jumbo set with double tight ends, Mike Berry and John Douglas serving as split fullbacks and a deep tailback in the game.

"I think we got North," Rhoads said, "which is a phrase we use to just describe getting off on the football and working to control the line of scrimmage. We're going to have to play close attention to that and make sure we get enough reps at it in fall practice against the exact and specific looks that we're going to see (each week)."

Coming into the spring the Tigers' defense had to fill vacancies left by three contributing linemen and three contributing defensive backs. Up front several young players, who were limited in playing time last season like Michael Goggans, Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton and Antoine Carter, had solid springs. Walter McFadden and Mike McNeil also proved ready for larger roles in the secondary in 2008.

Asked if the defense was able to accomplish its overall goals for the spring, Rhoads responded, "I don't know if I could say that immediately at the conclusion of it. Certainly we installed everything we laid out and thought we needed to install. Whether we're at a level of executing that installation remains to be seen.

"We're far from satisfied with our progress," he added, "but one of the advantages of finishing spring ball early is that the kids can go out now and play football on their own. They can go out and do seven-on-seven on their own and continue to execute the things that we've installed, which will do nothing but help them get better."

For the redshirt juniors and fourth-year seniors, Rhoads is the third defensive coordinator they've been under since arriving at Auburn in 2005. For the fifth-year seniors, Rhoads is their fourth different coordinator (Gene Chizik in 2004, David Gibbs in 2005, Will Muschamp from 2006-2007).

"Being in a new place, being around kids quite honestly that are used to change–that doesn't make it easy, it doesn't make it right or wrong, they're just used to it and they can handle it," Rhoads said of his first spring and the reaction from the players. "So the nuances that were tweaked and adjusted I think they responded to well. We've got a ways to go, but they responded to it well.

"I think they welcomed me," he continued, "and I do believe by now they understand me–how I teach, how I coach, my methodology–and I think that's awfully important if we're going to be effective."

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