Wade Rackley/Auburn Athletics
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's unit now has a reward system for forcing turnovers in practice.

Auburn football wants to force more turnovers, so it created a daily award for them

AUBURN, Ala. — Everybody on Auburn football’s defense is gunning for one special chair.

Every defender wants to sit in a recliner in the back of the defensive meeting room. However, the special chair is nowhere near first-come, first-serve. Instead, the Auburn coaching staff lets one player sit in it each day and writes the winner’s name on the board.

That special seat goes to the player who created the “turnover of the day” in the last practice.

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“We created an award for turnover of the day and so they’re pretty fired up about that,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said Tuesday after the Tigers’ second practice of fall camp. “It’s legal. I said an award, not a reward.

“And so they like that, we’re making a big deal out of that and they like it. So they’re fighting for that. We didn’t have that last year. And in practice, if we do have conditioning after practice, you can get some conditioning points if you get so many turnovers. So we’re working it.”

The Tigers just started the award this week, with the first one going to defensive back Jeremiah Dinson for an interception. Steele said the system was a combination of ideas from what certain assistants had done in the past and some “that we stole from other people.”

Stephen Roberts-Auburn football
Auburn safety Stephen Roberts will return for his third year as a starter in 2017.
(Kenny Moss/Special to SEC Country)

No matter who came up with it, the award is already sticking out in the minds of Auburn’s players.

“A lot of people are going to try to get that award,” senior safety Stephen Roberts said Tuesday after Auburn’s second practice of fall camp. “That shows the competitiveness in everybody. That’s pretty good.”

The award is central to a major emphasis for Auburn this preseason. The Tigers had a top-30 defense in almost every single statistical category last season.

But turnovers were a sore subject.

“It’s very big in this league and in college football — getting turnovers on defense and getting the ball back to the offense,” sophomore cornerback Javaris Davis said. “We know that’s very important. That’s what we’re trying to do this year. We’ve got to create more turnovers.”

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Last season, Auburn tied for 88th in FBS in forced turnovers — 58th in interceptions and a lowly 95th in fumbles.

“We established some criteria, and we got close to a lot of them and met a lot of them last year,” Steele said. “But the one that is glaring, the one that is way off base is takeaways. We’ve got to generate more takeaways. … It’s in their face all the time about takeaways.”

Steele said Auburn’s defense had some “good takeaways in the interception category” in the first two days of fall camp. Roberts said the turnover “board” the Tigers’ coaching staff use in practices lists interceptions at the top.

But getting those crucial interceptions isn’t just an effort from the secondary. Steele wants the whole defense involved in them, including the reloading pass rush.

“In terms of interceptions, a lot of those are with you have to affect the quarterback,” Steele said. “Because if he’s affected and he can set his feet and with the receivers in this league, they’re going to put the ball where they need to put it. Even if they are not caught, they’re not interceptable.”

Between the recliner and the conditioning rewards, Davis said the turnover bug is quickly becoming a mindset in practices.

“We’ve got to just do it every repetition,” Davis said. “Every ball that we see, we have to find a way to get it out. That repetition is going to take over in the game. By doing that, that’s just going to make us get more turnovers.”