Who will be the all-important 'star' in Auburn's new-look defense?
Ron Roberts puts a lot on his 'star' — a nickel that does more than slot coverage. The search to find Auburn's is already heating up.
DB Keionte Scott (Auburn Athletics)
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it a million times by now: In modern football, the nickel is now the base.
Or, to put it another way: If you don’t have five defensive backs on the field most of the time, you’re not going to have a fun time against today’s offenses.
You might hear a defense still being described as a 4-3 or a 3-4 these days. But that defense isn’t usually going to have seven linemen and linebackers, because you can’t survive with just four defensive backs.
This isn’t a new concept by any means. Auburn was a base 4-2-5 defense under Ellis Johnson at the beginning of the Gus Malzahn era, and there was a dedicated nickel on the official depth chart in all the years under Will Muschamp and Kevin Steele. Even when the Tigers changed their scheme up front under the previous staff, they started five in the secondary.
The nickel is a critical defensive piece in this day and age. It’s hard to find a single scheme that doesn’t rely on that fifth defensive back.
“They're going to play man-to-man, they can blitz, they can do a lot of different things,” Auburn defensive backs coach Zac Etheridge said last week. “They can go in the box and play linebacker. So they're physical guys who can move around on the defense, and they've got to be smart and handle that.”
But some coaches put more on their nickels than others — and one of the most notable examples is new Auburn defensive coordinator Ron Roberts.
Under Roberts, the nickel is also known as the “star,” which is what Johnson called the position during his time on the Plains. And, for Roberts, the star is a key component to an ultra-versatile scheme that has spawned a loaded coaching tree.
“You have to be multiple nowadays in college football and the SEC,” Roberts said last month. “You've got to have multiple. We can't just sit in a front, unless you have better players than everybody else. You can't do that. Offensive coordinators will pick you apart. The skill level is too good. They'll find a weakness.
“We'll be multiple in what we do, but we will play with aggression. We will blitz. We will pressure. We will be an aggressive defense.”
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