WSU opener: Getting to know Auburn's defense

THE COUGS' SEASON opening opponent, Auburn, has been under a microscope this offseason for off the field issues. On the gridiron, however, the Tigers recently wrapped up their spring session. What should Cougar fans expect to see Aug. 31 when Auburn is on defense?

It's only May but that hasn't stopped college football betting lines from coming out. WSU is a 12-point underdog to Auburn, according to sportbet.com. And ESPN has become the latest to point the finger at Auburn this offseason for offseason and prior season troubles. But Auburn also recently completed their spring session…

Auburn is implementing a new 4-2-5 base defense in 2013 under new head coach Gus Malzahn and first-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Auburn's 4-2-5, says Ellis, is designed to stop the spread offense by eliminating full-formation adjustments, limiting substitutions and employing speed to decrease an offense's ability to gain the edge.

The scheme employs three safeties, with both linebackers inside/MIK types. The "Star" safety position, which can either attack the line of scrimmage or play in coverage, has been ably filled with former linebacker Justin Garrett, according to the Auburn coaches.

Auburn's 4-2-5 base scheme requires the cornerbacks to play mostly 3-deep zone – where the corners are responsible for the outside third of the field deep, along with man coverage.

And the surprise, say the Auburn coaches, was the play of the cornerbacks -- with Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy rising to the top but others like Jonathan Jones and Ryan White also providing solid depth.

The secondary is being tabbed the strength of the defense post-spring, although they did surrender some long passes in Auburn's spring game.

Defensive end Dee Ford had the best spring of any Auburn d-lineman and has won a starter's job. After that, there are questions on the edge.

Indeed, Ford is being called the only true pass rush threat coming out of the spring and incoming true freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel will have a chance to earn immediate playing time.

At defensive tackle, Auburn wants to first and foremost gain penetration and disrupt the backfield. Gabe Wright and Jeffrey Whitaker are the leading starting candidates but the Auburn coaches indicated they want to see more consistent play inside.

The two linebacker spots also remain somewhat open, with Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy doing enough to be listed atop the depth chart, but with the coaches saying work remains.

Most early projections call for Auburn to notch a 6-6 record in 2013. The Tigers are coming off a 3-9 season where the cornerbacks combined for zero interceptions in 2012.

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