New staff working to fix Auburn secondary

AUBURN, Ala. -- The Auburn secondary, which allowed 230 passing yards per game and 22 touchdowns last season, was a far cry from the unit Travaris Robinson played on during his senior year at Auburn. The Tigers finished No. 12 in the SEC and No. 68 nationally in pass defense, forcing a shakeup on the defensive coaching staff.

Now Robinson, the new defensive backs coach, is back at Auburn to fix the problem.

"[Last year] should affect them. It affects me," Robinson said. "Like I tell them, it’s not just them. It’s me, too. I wasn’t here, but you know what, I’m here now.

"We all, right now, we’ve got to do better. We want to win it all. We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to compete and we’ve got to play Auburn-style football. Auburn has been playing some good defense around here for a long time, so we’ve got to get it back. And we will."

Robinson isn’t about to let his new team forget what happened last season. He and the other defensive coaches are reminding the players every day at practice just how bad they were on defense. They’re quick to point out where last season's team was ranked in total defense and all of the records they set as a unit, and not the good kind of records.

"There’s no putting that behind you," Robinson said. "We are what we are. We don’t do that. This is what we are, fellas. What are we going to do about it?

"We’ll be fine. We’ve got some guys that are resilient. They’re going to come out and they’re going to battle. They’re going to battle every day at practice. They’re going to battle every game. They’re going to compete. And that’s what we’re going to preach."

The addition of Robinson and new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who both came over from Florida, won’t turn around the secondary overnight. They no longer have a Vernon Hargreaves or a Brian Poole or even a Jalen Tabor back there to work with. But they have been pleased with some of the improvement they have seen this spring.

Muschamp singled out cornerback Joshua Holsey last week as a guy who is having an outstanding spring, and both he and Robinson talked about how fellow cornerback Stephen Roberts has taken the next step as a player. The problem right now is depth.

The team’s No. 1 cornerback Jonathan Jones has been out all spring nursing a foot injury, and T.J. Davis, a guy the coaches were raving about after the first week, tore his ACL in practice last month. That leaves just three healthy scholarship cornerbacks on the roster this spring.

"If I have to suit up, I’ll suit up and go to practice," Robinson joked. "No, we’re excited. It gives guys multiple reps. That’s all we’re trying to get in spring ball anyway. We’re trying to get guys reps. Man down, man up. That’s our motto."

At safety, Auburn is in a little better shape. Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, the team’s leading tackler from last season, is back and opposite him is Tray Matthews, a Georgia transfer who started six games for the Bulldogs as a freshman in 2013. There’s more depth there, too, with Nick Ruffin, Markell Boston and early enrollee Tim Irvin.

The Tigers also have reinforcements coming this summer. They signed four defensive backs, five if you count Irvin, and both Muschamp and Robinson expect at least a couple of those guys to come in and make an early contribution once they get on campus.

The goal is to have four to five cornerbacks and three to four safeties who can go in and play by the time the season starts. Auburn might not be there yet, but it's getting there.

"We’re going to be fine," Robinson said. "I’m excited about the guys that we have."