Auburn football: Ellis Johnson makes place for 'big package' with Adams and Wright at defensive end

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comApril 16, 2014 

Columbus native Gabe Wright was named to both the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award preseason watch lists on Thursday.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI — rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.com Buy Photo

AUBURN, Ala. — When defensive tackles Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright started taking reps at end this spring, it was merely a way to boost depth at an injury-ravaged position.

Originally, that’s all it was, with Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson deeming it “more as a necessity than as an evaluation.” That’s no longer the case. After seeing how well both have played at end in practice, Johnson has decided to include a super-sized package with the four linemen in his 4-2-5 scheme.

He expects it to come into play against teams such as Alabama, LSU and Georgia, which still favor a more run-heavy, traditional offensive philosophy.

“It's given us an idea in looking toward next fall (that) we'll have a big package that we can play four bigger linemen in certain situations,” he said. “They've gotten a lot of work at that, and I think that will be something we will utilize.”

Aside from defensive end Carl Lawson, Johnson said Adams has been the Tigers’ top pass-rusher since spring practice began.

“Montravius really looked good out there as a pass rusher at times,” he said. “I don’t know if that’ll be a permanent consideration, but he’s certainly athletic enough to play out there (but we) may not have the luxury of moving him out there.”

Wright is looking forward to finally seeing the package — which he dubbed the defense’s “rhino” look — in a real game.

“We talked about this in my early years, when I was on the bench and they had the ‘cheetahs’ out there: Nosa (Eguae), Corey Lemonier and all those little guys,” he said. “Now it's time to get the 'Rhino' package. I believe in that.”

Whether he’s playing at tackle or end, the Carver alum said the standard never changes.

“I hold myself to a high accountability,” he said. “I hold myself to being a great player.”

The same goes for defensive line coach Rodney Garner. Wright says the fiery coach evaluates every lineman on the same things: fundamental aspects of playing the position, such as steps and hand placement. But there are subtle differences between end and tackle, Wright said.

Playing outside is far more challenging mentally.

“I've got to watch (quarterback Nick (Marshall). I've got to watch the wings sometimes. I've got to watch the guards pulling,” he said. “ But I think that really helps me show my versatility (as I look toward) the next level or down the line this season playing those teams that use two- or three-tight end sets.”

Wright acknowledged he doesn’t expect he’ll be “starting at end” when the season opener against Arkansas arrives in four months. Even so, he likes that Garner has been open to experimentation.

“I just think it's fun for him to have five seniors and then to have a lot of depth coming in, it's really all a blessing, honestly,” Wright said. “That's really all I can say. If I was a coach, I know I would be fond of it and want to work guys at different positions also.”

Johnson himself has finally warmed up to that same idea.

“When you've got a 295-pound end and maybe a 300-pound end, and both of them run under a five-flat — one of 'em runs about a 4.7 — I think we can really help ourselves in some of those power football teams we play, and still stay with some of our base systems,” he said. “They did a good job. Unselfishly, they've been double-training all season.”

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