AUBURN, Ala. — The message is relayed to Auburn players at the start of fall camp and echoed throughout the beginning of the season — if you aren’t physical, you probably won’t be on the football field.
This is especially true for Kevin Steele’s defense, which is tasked with stopping opposing offenses by means of thunderous hits and jaw-rattling tackles every game. A big collision often indicates a job well done.
An essential part of the veteran defensive coordinator’s job, however, is to make sure his players and their rivals compete safely.
“The biggest thing you have to understand is we have a responsibility that is very, very serious in this game,” Steele said. “Because it’s our game and we have to take care of it. We really emphasize safe, safe, safe tackling. And it’s not for us to decide when it’s a bang-bang moment. That’s for somebody else to decide, but once they decide it you know the SEC rules.”
Violent crashes are inevitable in the SEC. The rivalries also are deeper. Over the years, the annual game between Auburn and LSU has become notorious for brutal blows. That trend continued Saturday.
During the second quarter, Auburn linebacker Tre’ Williams laid a hard hit on Danny Etling as the LSU quarterback attempted to slide. Etling needed assistance after the play, which caused his helmet to come off and left him with a bloody nose.
There was no flag on the play, but after an official review, Williams was ejected for targeting and missed the rest of the game.
In the week leading up to the LSU game, Williams raved about linebacker’s coach Travis Williams, a fiery former Auburn linebacker himself.
While Steele wasn’t upset with the junior for the foul, he ensured his staff would show Williams the film, and identify ways to correct the contact.
The corrections are a critical part of the process for the defense. Their goal is to practice being physical so much it becomes instinctive.
“It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate sometimes, because that’s really just football,” sophomore linebacker Darrell Williams said. “If you think about the way you’re trying to hit somebody, then it kind of hinders how you play and the physicality, so we don’t really think about it.”
Steele manages to incorporate the importance of proper technique into his coaching style, too. In early September, he said he refused to call games “scared.”
“He’s not afraid, and for us that gives us confidence, too,” junior defensive back Nick Ruffin said. “As a defense, you feel kind of more concerned when you have a coach that’s very, very conservative and you kind of feel like they don’t really have confidence in you, but as a secondary, more specifically, when your coach is dialing up full blitzes and leaving you man to man, he’s saying, ‘I have full confidence that you can cover any receiver in the country.’ ”
Safely, of course.