Auburn plans to actually rotate its inside linebackers in 2023
After two seasons of lopsided snap counts, the new staff wants to play "around five inside linebackers a game." What a concept!
LB Wesley Steiner and LB coach Josh Aldridge (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
New Auburn inside linebackers coach Josh Aldridge didn’t understand at first.
After a few spring practices filled with heavy rotation and evenly split reps among his position group, he could sense his players were feeling something unfamiliar.
So the former Liberty defensive coordinator and the Tigers’ linebackers talked through it. And Aldridge wanted to make one thing very clear to them:
“Hey, man, we’re going to play around five inside linebackers a game,” Aldridge recalled Tuesday. “Fairly evenly snap-wise, too.”
To say that’s not how things have gone for Auburn’s inside linebackers recently would be an understatement roughly the size of the scoreboard at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Under the previous coaching staff, Auburn didn’t rotate its defense much. Inside linebacker seemed to be the biggest example of this peculiar strategy, too.
According to Pro Football Focus, Owen Pappoe played 806 defensive snaps last season for the Tigers. Cam Riley was the next-closest inside linebacker at 477. Then it was Wesley Steiner at 348.
After that, the snap count drops off a cliff. Desmond Tisdol, who is entering the transfer portal for the May window, was Auburn’s No. 4 linebacker in defensive snaps last season… at 46. Former walk-ons Jake Levant (48) and Barton Lester (17) were right behind him.
Meanwhile, Robert Woodyard Jr. — the top signee in Auburn’s 2022 class — played just six defensive snaps in 2022. Eugene Asante, a transfer from North Carolina, only had five.
That imbalance was around in 2021, too. Zakoby McClain played 774 snaps, followed by Chandler Wooten at 633. Pappoe battled injuries and was at 212. Then Steiner (84) and Riley (65) were both below triple-digits. Tisdol and Lester each had five.
LB Cam Riley (Austin Perryman/Auburn Athletics)
Don’t expect that philosophy to stick around under Aldridge and defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, who recently said that he wanted to have 24 or 25 guys across his defense that could play good snaps in 2023.
“I’ve always had the philosophy if you’re playing as hard as you can, you can’t play every snap,” Aldridge said. “I‘m really trying to have about five or six guys. You usually have about two or three that are playing about the same number of snaps in a game, 45-ish. And you have a couple more that are probably playing close to 25-30ish, and you probably have that one guy playing 10-15.”
Extrapolate that across a 12-game regular season, and you’ve got a snap breakdown of two or three players around 540 snaps, one or two more ranging from 300 to 360 and one more anywhere from 120 to 180.
Did Aldridge practice what he preached at Liberty? Here are the linebacker snap counts for the Flames last season, according to PFF: