The Auburn football team has been woeful defensively under Gene Chizik, but there are changes brewing on the Plains that should breed different results starting in 2012.
Chizik hired Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder this past winter.
With VanGorder will come major changes on the defense, with five already noticeable before the start of fall camp.
The Tigers will be much more aggressive than they have been in year’s past and will field the most experienced defense since Gene Chizik arrived.
VanGorder is walking into a very good situation personnel wise, but major changes in the style of play will be apparent.
Auburn is set to begin fall camp August 1 which should deliver an idea of how the complete VanGorder defensive package will look this fall.
Before that happens, here are five major changes to the defense that will be apparent on the field this fall.
The Auburn Tigers played a very complex scheme when the defense was being guided by Ted Roof the past three seasons.
One of the biggest pieces of the Roof defense upfront was line shifts.
The Tigers had pass-rush specialists and run-stopping specialists under Roof, keeping certain players pigeon-holed into specific styles of play.
The purpose was to develop key skills in specific players, but it caused the Tigers to appear unprepared when they weren’t able to stop plays that appeared elementary.
The defensive line was very young last season which made the mistakes glaringly obvious.
This year the defensive line is loaded with experience and should be able to play freer than in year’s past with fewer decisions needing to be made on an every play basis.
The Auburn defensive ends will be cut loose, and the interior line will be asked to play smothering football, containing as many offensive linemen as possible.
Auburn will also look for penetration from the defensive tackle position, but it won’t be as big as a focus as containing the middle and holding up offensive linemen from the second level.
According to Angelo Blackson—a rising sophomore on the defensive line—the Tigers were gap oriented last season, relying on reads upfront. “This season it's not so much gaps, we're attacking, we're coming off the ball low and playing in the backfield.” Blackson told reporters this spring.
The Roof-led defense had one season with good defensive line play, with the 2009 and 2011 year’s showing a lack execution not talent.
Some of that was on the players—most of it was the trouble they had with the scheme.
Brian VanGorder will give this year’s defensive line a lot to look forward to. After all, they just need to go out and play.
When Ted Roof landed at Auburn, the fanbase was energized thinking that the multiple looks he ran at Minnesota in the year prior to his arrival on the Plains would become a part of the Tigers defensive looks.
Roof was known for his innovation as a coach. He always found ways to bring aggressive blitzes that were effective at reaching quarterbacks and causing timing issues for opposing offenses.
None of that was ever witnessed in Roof’s three years at Auburn.
Whether it was a lack of personnel or an order to stay in base defense, Roof’s defenses never passed muster when it came time to pressure the quarterback and create disruption in the backfield consistently.
This season the Tigers will bring blitzes from the secondary and the linebacker position on a consistent basis.
Brian VanGorder is an aggressive play caller who wants his defense to create havoc in the backfield.
VanGorder told reporters after A-Day this spring, “Our system allows them to play and play fast. Therefore the idea of disruptions and sacks and those kinds of ideas are philosophical in our makeup.”
Auburn will bring more heat than ever before defensively this fall. It should bring some of the best results since Chizik’s arrival on the Plains.
When Brian VanGorder was announced as the new defensive coordinator this winter, there was speculation that he would bring a coach with him to the Plains.
Shortly after the arrival of VanGorder, Willie Martinez was added to the coaching staff and was tabbed to take over the secondary.
Martinez served under VanGorder at Georgia and eventually replaced VanGorder as the defensive coordinator for the Bulldogs.
Martinez has guided numerous defenses to success in the secondary and has coached 15 NFL draft selections in the past 11 years.
That success will need to be built upon in his first season in Auburn, as Martinez is looking to change the culture of a secondary virtually overnight.
The Auburn secondary has a wealth of talent, but the confidence level after three years of confusion and missteps is something that needs to be rebuilt.
Confidence will matter come September 1, as the Tigers will play man-to-man defense more often in the first game than they did in the past three seasons.
The Tigers will look to the secondary to bring additional pressure at times, placing the starting corners on islands against some of the best receivers in college football this season.
Auburn cornerbacks have played at least five yards or more off of receivers in every game for the past three seasons.
That will change this fall out of necessity and defensive design.
The Auburn defense has been the most inconsistent tackling team in what seems like all of college football over the past few seasons.
Auburn would consistently have players that were in position to make a play, but finishing the play never seemed to happen easily for the Tigers.
Another issue was the supporting cast of defenders appeared to run to the football and stop dead in their tracks if a fellow teammate was engaged with the ball-carrier.
Look for the new Auburn defense to bring the heat to every ball-carrier that crosses the line of scrimmage. Auburn will engage with a ball-carrier no matter who is holding onto his jersey.
Crowd tackles are something that will make a return, ensuring that Auburn can stop opposing offenses from gaining extra yards after initial contact.
There will be times that the Tigers will miss tackles on the individual level, but the overall effectiveness of their techniques and follow through at the point of attack will serve Auburn well in the coming season.
The Auburn defense will be a base 4-3, but don’t be surprised if the Tigers bounce to a 3-4 look with some of their more athletic defensive ends playing from the two-point stance on occasion this fall.
Multiple looks was a trait that Ted Roof was expected to bring—and it was attempted from time to time—but the Auburn defense never fell into a groove under his leadership.
The lack of consistency ended most experiments with scheme as soon as they got started.
Because VanGorder has a more digestible scheme, the Tigers could shake up the formation looks more easily than in years prior.
VanGorder also has a lot of experience at the NFL level finding the best way to get the talent on hand to perform at a high level.
Sometimes that means finding ways to get the best 11 players on the field, even if there is a need to change the base formation.
The Auburn defense appears more comfortable in the VanGorder defense after just six months than they did under Roof in three years.
That familiarity will breed positive results and allow for VanGorder to open up the playbook a bit in his first year on the Plains.