AUBURN |Ellis Johnson was in the midst of installing his 4-2-5 system this time last spring, which forced him to accentuate his teaching skills.
He's more of a personnel director this time around.
Auburn's defensive coordinator on Thursday said that his primary focus right is making sure he's maximizing all available resources. He's experimenting far more than he has before.
"It's been a real focus on personnel - getting people in the right place and trying to identifying those people who didn't help us very much last year, due to age, inexperience or injury - seeing who's going to emerge and get into that two-deep and help us," he said Thursday morning. "We do have a few guys making some positive steps, but right now we still have long way to and a lot of time for guys to make those moves."
The biggest move, at least in terms of curb appeal, involved defensive tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams. They were spotted at end during the first spring practice last week and starting end Carl Lawson said he's been impressed with what Wright and Adams have accomplished outside.
Johnson added some clarity to that situation Thursday, saying it's more about a minor injury to end Elijah Daniel than anything else. Still, portability is good.
"It really hasn't been much of a luxury as it's been a necessity," Johnson said. "In addition to being very thin at defensive end in spring practice, we also got Elijah (injured during) the very first drill of the very first practice. (Wright and Adams) do some pretty impressive things out there, but we need their depth and rotation in the interior line. So I don't foresee that being permanent, but it would be good that if we did have some unusual rash of injuries next year or something occur, those guys have got the ability to maybe go out there and help us."
Johnson has made some other adjustments that may stick. Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have traded spots; Frost now works outside while McKinzy has moved to middle linebacker.
Justin Garrett, who told AuburnSports.com in January that he expected to play outside linebacker this season, has been pushed back to the star position.
The reason? Depth, of course, and the fact that incumbent star Robenson Therezie is nursing a broken left hand.
"Whether Justin stays there or not … there's a lot of factors in that equation," Johnson said. "How deep do we build the depth at inside 'backer and how soon do we get Therezie back? Justin has been very unselfish in moving in, moving out, moving in, moving out. It's been probably hard on him to learn both (positions), but he's had a good spring so far and right now we can't afford to move him."
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READY TO GO: Johnson said safety Joshua Holsey, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in October, has returned to form more quickly than expected. "We could be practicing Holsey, we just erred on the side of caution," he said. "He's doing some 1-on-1 stuff, maybe out there in a little bit of pass skele, but if we were getting ready to line up and play next week against Arkansas, he'd be ready to go."
PLEASED WITH DEPTH: Auburn's secondary took some big personnel hits last fall when three contributors (Jonathan Jones, Demetruce McNeal and Holsey) were removed from the playing rotations for various reasons. Johnson believes the current secondary can mitigate staffing issues more usefully this year. "I feel a lot better," Johnson said. "You've got (Jonathon) Mincy back, Jones back, T.J. (Davis) has improved quite a bit and Kamryn Melton, he's really coming into being a really good, reliable player. We've got some good young ones coming in that I think are going to be OK as long as they can learn what we do."
STAYING PUT: With Garrett and Therezie both thriving at star, it seems rational that Johnson could consider moving one of them to help at another position. However, he's not in favor of that idea. "I could see him possibly having to go to safety if we had some kind of disaster," Johnson said. "But right now, we certainly haven't found a Star, or two Stars, I should say, that we can afford to move. You know, they had him at corner before. As fast as he is, he wasn't as natural at corner as you might think. He's more of a contact player."