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Saturday, Mar. 03, 2012

Auburn football: Tigers' new defensive backs coach Willie Martinez promises changes to scheme but no details yet

- jerickson@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. -- Before Willie Martinez can begin the business of putting together Auburn’s secondary, he has to get a feel for the Tigers’ personnel in the defensive backfield.

Martinez took over as Auburn’s new secondary coach two weeks ago. Unlike the past three seasons, when Tommy Thigpen and Phillip Lolley split secondary duties, Martinez will oversee the entire defensive backfield.

So far, he has been able to watch film, talk to the players and oversee offseason workouts, but Martinez believes he can’t start making definite decisions until he has Auburn’s defensive backs on the field in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme.

“I want to go through spring ball; I want to go through the offseason stuff,” Martinez said.

“A lot of times, just watching film doesn’t really tell the whole story, really, not knowing what the game plans were all about.”

What Auburn plans to do in the secondary depends on those evaluations. Martinez tries to fit his game plans to the skills of his defensive backs, and watching film is the first step in making those plans.

“You try and figure out strengths and weaknesses,” Martinez said. “If someone does something really well but struggles in other areas, let’s figure out what he does best and put him in that position.”

Until Martinez has a feel for what the Tigers can do, he isn’t going to pin down any roles for current players.

For example, Martinez has used a system with a boundary corner -- a physical, man-to-man player who lines up on the short side of the field -- and a field corner -- usually a quicker type who lines up on the wide side and plays more zone -- but he said he won’t make that decision at Auburn until he knows his players’ capabilities.

The same goes for players changing positions. Until Martinez gets a feel for the strengths of his players in spring practice, he is not going to make major judgments.

“Everybody wants to put a player into the right spot,” Martinez said. “Schematically, we’ll do some different things than what they’ve done in the past, and maybe that means a kid moves from nickel to corner or vice versa.”

Martinez already has worked with VanGorder at four other stops, including Georgia, where Martinez served as secondary coach for four years before succeeding VanGorder as defensive coordinator.

He also worked with VanGorder at Central Michigan, Central Florida and a Florida high school early in his career.

But Martinez still faces a steep learning curve after spending the past two seasons at Oklahoma in former defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ system.

“The terminology, the verbiage, is all different, and just trying to be on the same page, that’s what’s got to happen right now,” Martinez said.

“We’re all kind of learning that.”

Martinez’s advantage in learning VanGorder’s defense is simple:

He knows the man better than anybody else on the staff.

“From the beginning, he was a very detailed, excellent teacher,” Martinez said. “Very consistent. There’s no gray area.”

Even though Martinez did not offer many specifics about what Auburn’s secondary will look like in 2012, he did say that he had a primary focus for the defensive backs -- a focus that hits right in the center of most of Auburn’s problems in the secondary during the past three seasons.

“The No. 1 job in the secondary -- and this is not an earth-shattering answer -- is not to give up the explosive plays,” Martinez said. “With that, you have to be very consistent in how you prepare every day.”

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