Auburn defensive lineman Byron Cowart was one of the notable names taking snaps with the third team Tuesday.
During multiple open viewing sessions this spring, Cowart spent most of his time lining up next to Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams on the first team defense.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele discussed the Tigers’ spring depth chart after practice and explained the meaning behind Cowart’s non-demotion.
“We don't worry about where they are on the depth chart as coaches yet,” Steele said. “We've got a lot of development time left. We've tried to create a group that is selfless, all about the team.”
The coaches have even used the depth chart as a tool to test players’ mental toughness.
“We've actually, by design, moved some guys from first-team to second-team, from second-team to third-team, vice versa, quite frankly just to see how they react,” Steele said. “Are you going to pout and step on your lip or are you going to go play? These guys have bought into that. That don't pay any attention to it and just go play.”
Rotating the vast majority of the group also helps the coaching staff establish more depth across the defense. Auburn needs to identify 11 starters by the time Clemson arrives in town for the season-opener on Sept. 3, but Steele wants close to double that number of guys capable of starting to be successful in the SEC.
“In this league to sustain it through the long haul you're going to have to have 18-plus guys that are really starters,” Steele said. “If you've got less than that it's going to be hard sometimes. We tell them not to worry about that and when your name is called, just go play and they've done a nice job with that.”
During a lengthy opening statement, Steele identified 16 players — seven defensive lineman, four linebackers and five defensive backs — showing progress throughout the Tigers’ 12 spring practices.
The group included mainstays like Carl Lawson (DL), Montravius Adams (DL) and Rudy Ford (S), but also a number of younger faces including early enrollee Marlon Davidson (DL), junior college transfer Paul James III (DL) and redshirt freshman Jamel Dean (DB).
While spring practice is winding down, the team has three practices left, Saturday’s spring game is one of the most important dates on the offseason calendar.
Auburn has scrimmaged twice this spring, but A-Day provides coaches with situations closest to a real game. The film from the practice could help shape the team’s real depth chart in the fall.
“When you’re trying to teach young people the game and it’s 15 days, some of them are non-contact. Some of those days are in shorts. Some days are shorts and shoulder pads. Some days you can’t tackle,” Steele said. “There is very few limited opportunities anymore (because) we don’t have preseason games like the NFL does. There is very few opportunities where you put the ball down and you let the game be played with the situations.”