Playing behind Johnson this spring has turned into a good learning experience for the athletic Grubbs. After playing defensive end for most of last season as a redshirt in practice and fighting injuries, he made the switch inside late last fall and he has been busy learning from guys like Johnson since that time. Grubbs says the experience has been invaluable to him as he makes a move for playing time this spring.
Grubbs battles offensive lineman Rhett Autry during Saturday's scrimmage.
"It's very important," Grubbs notes. "I've been watching Spencer since my freshman year in high school because my coach came from the same school. It has been big for me because he's helped me out a lot by just watching him. He's real good and I just watch him. I get motivated from his vibe. He tells me, ‘Come on Ben, you have to pick it up.' He keeps me up on my feet."
At just over 280 pounds, Grubbs has the size and ability to give Johnson a break when he needs one next fall. That could be important for the Tigers so that Johnson won't have to play a great number of plays in games and can remain healthy for the stretch run late in the season. It was no coincidence that a healthy Johnson and Demarco McNeil signaled the defensive surge late in the season in wins over Alabama and Penn State. Grubbs notes that he hopes to be ready for prime time when the Tigers kick it off this season vs. Southern Cal.
"I'm progressing slowly," Grubbs says. "I'm trying to get the feel for it. Making the transition during the Alabama game, that whole week of practice is when I made the transition. I'm slowly getting better. I'm trying to work on one thing at a time. For example, I'm trying to work on getting off the ball. When I get that accomplished I'll try to fit my hands. I'm just trying to take it one thing at a time."
Grubbs gave a hint of things to come next fall and in the years to come in Saturday's 200-play scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Working with the second-team defense against offensive linemen Thomas Anderson and Nate French, Grubbs had three sacks and added six tackles to be one of the top performers on the defensive side of the ball. The emerging talent says the scrimmage was a very important one for him as Auburn gets closer to wrapping up spring practice.
"It was a big day because this scrimmage will determine a lot of things," Grubbs says. "At (Friday's) practice, I worked hard as far as pass rush, and I got better. I carried it over to the scrimmage and I think I did pretty good at staying low and working my moves. I ended up with a couple of sacks."
Allowing moer than 500 yards rushing in Saturday's scrimmage, from the outside it may look like the defense had a bad day, but Grubbs says that's not exactly the case. With almost 175 offensive plays to defense with three defensive units getting the work against backs Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Brandon Jacobs. Seeing top-notch offensive players play deep into the scrimmage only served to make the young defenders better and Grubbs says they are following the lead of the older guys this spring and into two-a-days in August.
"The defense did pretty good," Grubbs says. "They swarmed to the ball and you can't get any better than that. They are leading the way and I'm just following them."
Grubbs and the Tigers are scheduled to practice on Wednesday and Thursday this week before taking a break for the university's spring holidays. Practice will wrap up on April 5th with the annual A-Day game at 1 p.m. in Jordan-Hare Stadium.