April 4, 2008

Rhoads loves speed of AU defense

Long before Auburn even began spring practice, Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads knew the word that defined his defense.

Speed.

From watching film of the 2007 season, Rhoads knew that the Tigers were fast and athletic at every position. And the first few days of spring practice proved it.

From the start of practice, Auburn defenders dazzled Rhoads with their speed. There was just one catch.

Though the Tigers had no problem playing fast, they weren't always playing smart. Defenders could race across the field in the blink of an eye, but they didn't always end up in the right spot.

So Rhoads went to work, starting from the beginning. He and Auburn's other defensive assistant coaches reviewed the ins and outs of Auburn's system with his players, starting with the fundamentals.

By the end of spring practice, the results spoke for themselves. In the final scrimmages, Rhoads said, his players weren't just moving quickly. They were moving to the right spots - and that was even more important.

"I don't think a defense can play fast unless they truly understand what they're doing," said Rhoads. "I think by the end of the spring, we were playing faster as a team."

It wasn't always easy. Auburn's players were used to playing hard. Rhoads rarely had to encourage them to race to the ball or to fight through blocks.

But all that effort didn't always translate to effective play.

"You have to play fast effectively," said Rhoads. "Anybody can play fast. You have to know what you're supposed to do, where you're supposed to go, prior to the snap. … If you do that, you're going to go there fast, and you're going to be there when you're supposed to be."

Now that Auburn's players are playing fast and smart, Rhoads is enthusiastic about the unit's potential. After 15 spring practices, the defensive depth chart is becoming clearer.

And Rhoads says the unit is loaded with potential.

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