Roof Likes Direction Defense Is Taking

Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof talks about some of the questions on that side of the ball.

Auburn, Ala.--For much of the preseason Auburn's defense has been up and down as young guys at every position try to not only learn the intricacies of Ted Roof's system, but also what it takes to feel out an opposing offense on this level. All that thrown at players just out of high school has made for some head spinning moments the first month of practice.

This week however things have started to take shape defensively as with the emergence of scout teams comes game plans. That means a much sharper focus on both defense and offense, something that Roof said has paid off as the Tigers work towards the season opener in just over a week.

"It really helps," Roof said. "What we've done this entire week is go back to things we've already done like we were starting over and re-installing it from day one. You go back to the details with it and they may have caught some of it or may not have caught most of it the first time you installed it. Now it's starting to click and as a result we're seeing some increased execution from our younger players."

With a huge need at the linebacker position many young players are pushing for playing time trying to earn a spot in the rotation. One of those spots is at middle linebacker. While Josh Bynes is secure in his starting spot, last season he couldn't come off the field because there wasn't anyone capable of picking up the slack.

Now healthy and on the field, redshirt freshman Harris Gaston is finally showing some of the promise he had early last fall before being shut down for the year. Roof said that it's just like starting over for the Birmingham native and he's happy with what he's seen.

"He had a good scrimmage Saturday and for the first time I felt like he really cut it loose," Roof said. "As a result of that he had increased contact speed. He basically missed last season when he was hurt and redshirted. He didn't have spring practice because he was still injured. It's kind of like starting back over with Harris. He's done some good things but he's got to continue to keep coming on."

Gaston has come on strong but he's far from guaranteed the number two spot because of incoming freshman Jake Holland from Pelham. Physically gifted and picking up more of the nuances of defense every day, Roof said Holland is coming on strong as well.

"I've seen him get better," Roof said. "Especially since we've gone back and restarted. When you're preparing for a season and the schedule and you're also going against what you do offensively, which is different than what you see, that's a vast, vast painted picture of offense. Coupled with installing it fast and what we were repping it against, it was a very broad picture. As we've narrowed our focus we've seen his level of execution increase."

Outside several young guys have made a run at getting into the rotation including freshman Jessel Curry and sophomore Jonathan Evans. Possibly the favorite on the strong side is sophomore Daren Bates after his move from safety but Roof said don't count out Eltoro Freeman just yet. Back practicing after being bothered by turf toe, Roof said the junior is coming around.

"He's done a good job," Roof said. "He's approaching the game in a much more detailed and focused manner. As a result of that he's playing better and being much more accountable. He's still got a ways to go but I've been pleased with how far he's come."

In the secondary one of the biggest questions has been at cornerback behind starters Demond Washington and Neiko Thorpe. It appears that has been answered with sophomore T'Sharvan Bell solidifying things with his play in preseason camp. Playing both sides, he could be the top backup on both sides with true freshmen Jonathan Mincy and Chris Davis working for the fourth spot.

"He's done a great job so far," Roof said of Bell. "He's improved a lot. He has become more physical. He's had a good camp. I have been real pleased with him. He understands the game and therefore gives us some flexibility and versatility in where we can put him."

With so many players fighting for playing time Roof said the coaches have made it a point to keep the competitions open as much as possible. He said because of the availability of playing time it has made everyone work harder to get ready for the new season.

"It has kind of been the theme throughout the camp, creating an environment of competition," Roof said. "That makes everybody better. We need to continue to do that, reward the daily performance and give guys additional reps that perform well with the reps they are given."

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories