War Eagle Extra

Auburn defense hits reset button on successful 2016 campaign

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele watches during the first day of spring football practice, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Auburn Athletics Complex in Auburn, Ala.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele watches during the first day of spring football practice, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 at the Auburn Athletics Complex in Auburn, Ala. AP Photo

Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele isn’t recalibrating his approach in his second year with the Tigers for a more experienced group of players.

Steele is starting from “ground zero” by going back to what worked last year and doing it all over again.

Veteran players might get a little bored as they hear the same lectures on technique from last spring, but Steele is committed to the process with results from last year backing him up.

Auburn had the seventh ranked scoring defense (17.1 points per game allowed) in the country and finished 28th in total defense (361 yards per game allowed), the program’s first top 30 finish since 2008.

“As a defensive staff, Rodney (Garner), Greg (Brown), Travis (Williams), myself, we literally took the template of what we were doing this time last year — what we said in the meetings, how we talked to them, the way we installed it, the simplicity of the installation — and started at ground zero as if we had never coached together, as if we’d never coached these guys,” Steele said. “Simply because we’ve got to build this thing as if it hadn’t existed.”

Steele is eager to get the group in pads — the team is scheduled to practice Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium — to get a more accurate idea of their progress from last season.

“We don’t play football in shorts, but we do occasionally practice in shorts,” Steel said with a laugh. “As a defensive coach you can work on alignment, assignment, communication, body positioning, hand placement, but the physicality of it, which that’s what makes defense, is nonexistent. So we did get those things accomplished in the first two days with a lot of energy and a lot of focus.”

According to Steele, the advantage of returning eight defensive starters is coming into spring with a group of established leaders.

Steele listed a handful of players — Stephen Roberts, Tray Matthews, Dontavius Russell, Tre’ Williams and Darrell Williams — backing up the coaching staff on the field.

Auburn lacked similar vocal leadership on the defensive side of the ball when the team opened spring in 2016.

“There’s a lot of leadership taking place without us having to press that,” Steele said.

Michael Niziolek: 334-332-8572, @wareagleextra

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