*Courtesy Auburn Media Relations
AUBURN, Ala. — If things get hot, and they will, look for Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson to look for the safety of the players he knows.
It figures experienced players will have the first say in Saturday's 3 p.m. season-opener against Arkansas in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I'm going to be careful, our very first ballgame being an SEC opponent, a 100-degree heat factor, and about 80-something-thousand people, I'm going to err on the side of the veterans," Johnson says.
True freshman linebacker Tre' Williams has been getting noticed, however, so look for him to fall in behind Cassanova McKinzy, Kris Frost, Anthony Swain in the linebacker rotation.
"If I graded him out, he's probably about the fourth-best linebacker," Johnson said. "The other three in front of him have played in SEC football games before, so until things kind of get flowing and we get into the game, I'm going to make sure he knows what's going on out there before I put a true freshman in that environment."
Williams, by position, is backing up Frost as an outside linebacker.
Another young linebacker, Deshaun Davis, was making a move before a hamstring injury slowed him. Also in the mix are Cameron Toney, Kenny Flowers and JaViere Mitchell. And then there are the young guys all over the defense. They can play, Johnson said, but, if you're a young defensive back, "it's going to be hard to put them on the field right now. Front guys, I don't see anybody breaking in the top eight or nine, unless the ballgame gets to the point where we have an opportunity to play them."
Johnson said he's not too keen on starting the season against an SEC team. Arkansas, he said, can create problems because of a dogged, old-school line-'em-up run game that has been replaced at a lot of places in the SEC by running out of the spread. The Razorbacks were still causing Auburn problems last year, Johnson said, even though the Tigers played Arkansas in the ninth game of the year and even though the Tigers' 35-17 win represented the fewest points Auburn allowed to an SEC opponent.
It was all a part of learning a new defensive system.
"I thought our biggest issue last year, and it was partly our guys playing in the first year in the system, and then the unorthodox formations. We got misaligned and misadjusted, and missed some tackles," Johnson said. "They did an excellent job, they had two big turnovers in the second quarter; we got them off the field with turnovers."