June 22, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN — It's a mix of safety and linebacker, it's called the Star, and may be aptly named.
Auburn new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has brought the hybrid position to the Tigers, and the people who play it are being selected carefully.
Justin Garrett emerged as the most talked-about defensive player in spring practice by embracing the position. Robenson Therezie was moved there because of his athletic ability.
"Between Garrett and Therezie, you're talking about two of our best athletes," Johnson says. "That is a big issue for this defensive system because you have to have a great player there. A playmaker, too."
Johnson gives up something for the hybrid position — namely one of his three linebackers. He may not stop there. On obvious passing situations, he may have Garrett and Therezie on the field at the same time with only one linebacker.
"When we really want to get matched up on third downs, those are the guys we'll use. It's perfect for that," Johnson said.
The play of Garrett was one of the highlights of spring practice, but Johnson says there is much work to do overall. Specifically, he's looking for more pass rushers to help defensive end Dee Ford.
"If you only have one, they can pick on him," Johnson said. "We certainly need one to develop on the opposite side, and we need our tackles to become pass rushers, too. You can't create problems off the edge unless you get a push inside. We've got to develop someone on the other side, and we've got to develop some depth. It's a work in progress."
Auburn had trouble last year rushing the passer in a different defensive scheme. Johnson says the opportunity is there for improvement after a spring of learning.
"Some of their problems are they're inexperienced, and some of the problems were moving them to different positions," Johnson said. "We're going to have some guys who will become that type of pass rusher, but in the spring, we didn’t see enough of it to say 'Yes we're there.'"
Two of Auburn's high-profile defensive end signees — Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel — could help.
"Elijah and Carl will have a chance to come in and compete to be those types of guys," Johnson said. "One thing that concerns you is a lot of teams do not let you substitute for situations as easy as some other teams do, so our initial approach will be to have the young guys be situational role players for us and then eventually they'll turn into every-down players. Is that going to happen? We'll just have to see."
Charles Goldberg writes for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Goldberg on Twitter at Follow @AUGoldMine