AUBURN — Ellis Johnson is always trying to find different ways to address the problems his defense faces.
With Dee Ford, Auburn’s best rusher last year, gone to the NFL and Carl Lawson, Ford’s heir apparent, out for at least half the season, Johnson is looking at a variety of ways the Tigers can get speed on the field for pass rush and coverage.
To do this, Johnson installed the “Cinco” package, which adds a defensive back in place of a lineman, during the first week of preseason camp.
“We had it last year, but our personnel didn’t fit it very well. So we sort of moved on,” Johnson said. “We’re working five DBs and a star safety out there in addition to three down (linemen) and two linebackers.
“Our personnel fits to it a little bit better right now. We worked with our offense the other day in a blitz period and got two different days in executing it. We’re a long way from knowing exactly what we’re doing in it, but it looked good.”
The veteran defensive coordinator is playing to go to use the “Cinco” package on obvious passing third downs, an area in which Auburn struggled last season.
When Auburn opponents faced third downs with 7 to 9 yards to go, they were 14-for-24 for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception, nine first-down conversions and had three plays of over 25 yards. On third-and-10 or more, opponents were 20-for-48 for 259 yards with an interception, converted nine first downs and had three plays over 25 yards.
In contrast, Florida’s SEC-best pass defense held opponents under 50 percent passing on third downs with more than seven yards to go, allowed no touchdowns and had four interceptions, but allowed a similar first-down conversion percentage.
“The ‘Cinco’ package is awesome because my experience with the last time I had the No. 1 defense in the country (at Mississippi State), we played a four-man front and then we’d play a ‘Cinco’ package,” cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said, “and it really messes with an offense.”
The additional safety was lined up over the middle, behind the traditional field and boundary safeties, during a practice earlier this week, though they can play almost anywhere on the field.
“The coverages are similar,” safeties coach Charlie Harbison said, “but it looks different.”
The defensive line personnel in the “Cinco” package could be quite unusual. Pass rushers need to be on the field on third down but should an opponent convert, Auburn will need players capable of stopping the run in case they can’t substitute.
“Right now, I’ve got some really good athletic big kids that I think they can thrive in that package,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said, mentioning true freshman Raashed Kennion as a possibility.
During Tuesday’s practice, Derrick Moncrief was playing the middle safety spot, with Josh Holsey back at boundary safety and Jermaine Whitehead at field safety, with Jonathon Mincy and Jonathan Jones at cornerback.
“Anytime you can bring pressure and have guys in coverage at the same time, it’s fun,” Jones said. “There’s guys everywhere on the field in that package so it’ll be a different wrinkle for the offenses we face and hopefully it leads to some turnovers."