AUBURN, Ala. — Kevin Steele isn’t psychic, but the longtime coach already has an idea of what he’s going to see during the Auburn football A-Day game Saturday.
Each spring there’s discussion of how to separate teams for the scrimmage. This year, head coach Gus Malzahn said Auburn’s starters will go up against the second-team players.
That means, depending on the matchup, players with significant experience could be facing a backup who’s played considerably less. And while the Tigers have practiced in Jordan-Hare a few times over the last month, they’ll have a larger audience when they run out of the tunnel this weekend.
“Then what happens is people will become result-oriented,” Steele said. “So they go out there and the 1s are going against the 2s, the right corner on the 2s twists his ankle, you put the third corner in, they got the No. 1 wide receiver in there so all of a sudden they don’t run any zones, they don’t run any counters, all they do is throw 9 routes on a No. 3 corner with the No. 1 receiver and everybody says ‘Wow, y’all must be awful on defense.’”
Steele smirks at the notion that Auburn’s defensive unit is terrible.
Through 14 practices Steele’s seen what he was looking for this spring: Auburn’s veterans have improved as newcomers have taken necessary steps to prepare for fall camp. The Tigers have come closer to finding the 18-22 starters Steele wants to determine.
In the Auburn football team’s last scrimmage in the stadium, senior linebacker Tre’ Williams nabbed an interception and returned it for a touchdown — and that’s one of a few the unit has come up with this spring.
Still, since Auburn’s initial practice on Feb. 28, Steele has focused on the process instead of results.
“We’ve really emphasized takeaways and had big days in practice where we’ve had strips and caused some things to happen,” Steele said. “So we’ve scored on defense and we’ve done that a couple of times in practice, but we’ve still got a long way to go. There’s a little ebb and flow of things, it’s not constant yet. We’ve got to stay on that, keep improving that.”
With that in mind, Steele isn’t looking for a particular number of turnovers or tackles on A-Day. But there are three specific things Steele expects from his unit.
“Effort, physicality and good tackling,” he said.
Steele understands the final score may not reflect the talent or progress of his group, but when it comes to those three, he’s not willing to negotiate.
“It is what it is,” Steele said. “The biggest thing is whoever is out there, whatever we’re playing, how limited we are in the calls, is that we play with great effort, we’re physical and we tackle.”