Getting a chance to know them individually and through workouts since take a job with Auburn on Christmas Day, Smith will have perhaps the deepest and most experienced position group to work with among all the coaches with seniors Chris Davis and Ryan White returning along with juniors Jonathon Mincy and Robenson Therezie, sophomores Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones, as well as redshirt freshman T.J. Davis.
Chris Davis is Auburn's most experienced cornerback
With 40 career starts among the returning players, Smith has veteran guys to work with, but they will be learning a new defense under a new coach so that takes time. One of the things that Smith is adamant about is that he will give every player a clean slate when he takes the field for the first time this spring because he believes that is how it should be.
"I think the worst thing you can do is watch guys that somebody else coached and grade them," Smith says. "I don't see how that benefits you. First of all you don't know what that kid was taught. You don't know how much confidence that kid has in what he' has being taught. I think you can form bad habits doing that.
"I think the only person you can really trust is your assessment and the people you are around and their assessment when you start working with them. It's not fair for me to come in here because if I want to judge them I need to look at last year, and the year before that and the year before that. I'm not going to do that. I don't have time to look back."
A coach who preaches takeaways, Smith will have the opportunity to make his cornerbacks more productive this fall. Amazingly, despite the depth and experience, the group doesn't have an interception among the bunch. That is something that must change quickly if the Auburn defense wants to make a turnaround in 2013.
Davis has 16 career starts under his belt and has made 125 career tackles while playing in 34 games with the Tigers. Still looking for his first career interception, the senior is a physical player who is comfortable close to the line of scrimmage. The same is true of Mincy.
Mincy had a solid sophomore season for the Tigers.
With 15 career starts Mincy returns for his junior season after a productive 2012 campaign that saw him make 57 tackles with four passes broken up. As a redshirt freshman he finished with 29 stops. Known mostly for his holding on field goals and extra-points, White returns with 34 career tackles in his first three seasons
One of the few bright spots for Auburn's defense last season was the play of true freshman Holsey and Jones. Starting six games at cornerback, Holsey made 30 tackles and broke up six passes while showing a knack for finding the football in the secondary. Making one start at Ole Miss and finishing with seven tackles against the Rebels, Jones finished the year with 13 stops. Both should be players who take major steps forward in year two on the Plains.
A redshirt last season, Davis is exactly the type of cornerback that Smith describes as his prototype. Rangy with long arms, Davis played both corner and safety in high school, but is expected to get a look outside this spring for the Tigers.
The wildcard of the group is Therezie. Capable of playing corner, he is also physical enough to get a look at one of the three safety positions this spring in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense. Showing glimpses of what he can do the past two seasons, Therezie could take a much larger role in the defense this spring once he finds a home.
As for Smith he says his biggest job is to build a relationship with the players this spring and find a comfort zone heading into their first season together. Noting that he and the rest of the staff have a lot of work in front of them, he notes that the first order of business is to teach.
"I don't think I can develop that relationship overnight," Smith says. "I don't think I can develop that relationship by chewing them out when they did it right or praising them when they did it wrong. I have to teach them what I want and grade them on what I taught them.
"I'm not going to grade them on what somebody else taught them. I'm going to grade them on what I teach them. Right now with my players I really don't know them yet and they don't know me. I'm working on building a relationship with them so that they know I'm not badgering them. I feel like my players need me."