AUBURN, Ala. — Every night, Robenson Therezie wakes up thinking about the same thing.
Since Auburn’s loss to Florida State in the BCS championship game on Jan. 6, Therezie couldn’t stop imagining having a ring on his finger. What it would look and feel like. And the Tigers came agonizingly close to achieving that dream, as the Seminoles took their final lead with just 13 seconds remaining in a 34-31 decision.
Getting to the precipice of victory in college football’s biggest game, Therezie tried to find a positive in defeat.
“We know what we can do,” said Therezie, a rising senior and returning starter at the Star position. “We need to get our guys at the same level we were last year.”
Obvious as it may seem, Therezie said the defense has benefited from squaring off against the offense every practice. With up-tempo offenses becoming more and more popular, defending against Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle scheme has done wonders for the defense’s stamina.
“It gets us in shape and (helps us) recognize what the next play is going to be,” Therezie said. “Some teams aren't fast-paced. But some teams are fast-paced, and I'm glad we go over that every day in practice so we can be in condition.”
From an individual standpoint, Therezie knew what areas opponents exploited last season. As good as he was — recording 57 tackles and a team-high four interceptions — Therezie felt there was room for improvement, namely when he blitzed.
But no aspect of his game saw more work this spring than one-on-one matchups with receivers.
“Last season I didn't feel like I was too clean with man coverage,” he said. “This season I'm coming in with more technique when it comes to man.”
The nature of Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme is that every defensive back learns all the positions in the secondary. Depending on how things go next fall, Therezie said the possibility exists that he could return to the same spot he manned during his first two seasons as a Tiger: cornerback.
“Maybe I can do a little bit of corner when we get more into the season,” he said, “but right now we're trying to fill in some roles so we have a solid person at every position.”
For all his talent, Johnson said Therezie’s difficulties at cornerback — at a time when he struggled to crack Auburn’s two-deep — surprised him.
“He's got the coverage skills. You know, (Gene Chizik’s staff) had him at corner before,” Johnson said. “As fast as he is, he wasn't as natural at corner as you might think. He's more of a contact player. He can play deep zones as well as anybody we've got out there.”
When Johnson came on board with Malzahn last spring, Therezie was moved to Star, the defense’s hybrid linebacker/safety spot. Entering last fall, Therezie was Justin Garrett’s backup. Just before the season began, however, Garrett suffered a foot injury that moved Therezie into the starting lineup.
He made a fantastic first impression, snagging a pair of interceptions in the season-opening win against Washington State. Even after Garrett returned to health, Therezie didn’t relinquish the starting job; it was at that point that the coaching staff decided to move Garrett to weakside linebacker.
Without Johnson, Therezie wasn’t sure where he’d be. Thanks to the veteran coach, Therezie resurrected his career at Auburn.
“He brightened it up,” Therezie said. “I was kind of lost the first two years, but I found a home at the Star position. It played out very well.”
Duplicating the success he had last season is his primary individual goal. If he does that — or even better, adds to his numbers — Therezie knows he can “improve my stock” in the eyes of those who determine his future: NFL talent evaluators.
Still, he admitted the objectives he lays out for himself pale in comparison to the Tigers’ ambitions in 2014.
“I know everybody thinks it was a great season for the first time, but (there were) a lot of missed opportunities out there,” he said. “Adjusting to the small things we can improve on will make this season much better.”