Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn wasted no time in putting together one of the most important pieces of his new coaching staff. Late Wednesday evening, former Southern Mississippi head coach and former South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson accepted a position as Auburn's defensive coordinator in 2013. Auburn made it official on Thursday afternoon.
Johnson will be the third Auburn defensive coordinator in three years. He replaces Brian VanGorder, whose defense struggled mightily for the majority of the 2012 season. Auburn ended 2012 ranked 80th in total defense.
Johnson will inherit much of that same defense. Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans are the only starters from the Iron Bowl who will not be back. T'Sharvan Bell also played a significant amount throughout his career and will not return.
Johnson is a familiar face in the SEC. Along with being defensive coordinator at South Carolina, he has held the same position at Mississippi State and Alabama. He is an established defensive coach and is well-respected throughout the country as a defensive coordinator.
More importantly, Johnson fits perfectly in Malzahn's defensive philosophy.
In his introductory press conference, Malzahn said that he is looking for a defense that is attacking and multiple. "I think as a head coach you have to have a philosophy, and your offense, your defense and your special teams all have to fit into that philosophy. Like I said, we will be a fast-paced, attacking style offense and defense." (via Auburntigers.com)
If history is any indication, that is exactly the type of defense that Auburn fans will see in 2013.
With the struggles that Auburn has had defensively since 2009, Johnson's experience is a welcome sight.
A common complaint of the type of offense that Malzahn brings to the Plains is that it has a significant negative bearing on the defense. Johnson has worked with high-octane offenses before under Steve Spurrier. In his three years in Columbia, South Carolina, Johnson's defenses ranked 15th, 52nd and fourth in total defense.
A unique identifier of Johnson's defense is its base defensive formation. Johnson's base defense runs out of a 4-2-5 set instead of a 4-3 or a 3-4. While this would usually be considered a nickel package for the secondary, it is a little different. Instead of a fifth defensive back, there is a hybrid position of an LB and safety. In South Carolina, Johnson called this hybrid position the "spur."
Can we nominate this position to be called the "talon" at Auburn?
This defense fits the multiple aspect that Malzahn was looking for in a defense. It can be flexible against both run-first and pass-first offenses.
At South Carolina, Johnson's defenses were very aggressive. In 2010, the South Carolina defense ranked 10th in the country in sacks.
It's only early December, but I'm sure Auburn fans will not mind going ahead and forgetting about 2012 and looking ahead to 2013. Let's take a stab at who may crack the opening defensive lineup against Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars on August 31, 2013.
(Hint: It's almost the exact same lineup as 2012.)