Muschamp, Auburn emphasize ball skills
Will Muschamp’s track record speaks for itself.
His defenses force the issue and attack the football, an element he’s trying to emphasize at the back end during his first season at Auburn.
Strong ball skills is priority No. 1 when recruiting defensive backs according to Travaris Robinson, the Tigers’ secondary coach and Muschamp’s right-hand man. Auburn is looking for players who are keen on tracking the football while it’s in the air, whether that be on defense, at receiver, or in the return game.
“Can you track a punt? If you can’t track a punt, then you probably can’t track a deep ball,” Robinson said recently to AL.com.
Some staffs prefer fast and physical defensive backs, but the Tigers lean more toward the long, lean and athletic variety. During four seasons at Florida, Muschamp flexed a combination of both types and finished in the SEC’s Top 4 in pass defense three consecutive years before falling to seventh last fall.
The secondary has been a major weakness for the Tigers in recent years, but last season Auburn found a way to create turnovers despite obvious deficiencies at the back end. Cornerback Jonathan Jones contributed 11 pass breakups and six of the team’s SEC-leading 22 interceptions on a unit that was often tested — and beat — by the deep ball.
Muschamp will rely on Jones’ ball skills this fall as the Tigers’ most consistent defensive back in a secondary replacing multiple starters.
“He can finish on balls down the field,” Muschamp said according to AL.com. “In our scheme, he’ll probably, maybe, be in a little more 50-50 ball situations down the field the way we plan on playing.”
One of the new replacements is former Georgia safety Tray Matthews, a player who fits into Muschamp’s ballhawk mindset. A-Day’s defensive MVP with five tackles, a forced fumble and a pick, Matthews will pair up with Johnathan Ford at safety to strengthen what should be an athletic unit at the back end.
The other cornerback position along with Muschamp’s preferred nickel spot are a bit murky. Josh Hosley has completed the transition from safety to the outside while true freshman Tim Irvin appears ready to perform at the nickel in certain packages.
Irvin was limited throughout spring practice with a cast over his hand, but as a former multi-position threat at the prep level, has those aforementioned ball skills the coaching staff covets.
Post spring, Muschamp was encouraged by his secondary’s overall improvement from early March to mid-April, but there’s still several areas — mainly depth concerns — that need to be addressed during fall camp.