Auburn, Ala.--An area of the 2013 Auburn football team that certainly needs to improve for the defense to play to its potential is the cornerbacks group, which managed to go through the entire 2012 season without intercepting a pass.
The two most experienced players on the roster at that position, senior Chris Davis and junior Jonathon Mincy, are predicting there will be more production from the corners this fall under the direction of their new position coach, Melvin Smith.
Bringing 18 years of Southeastern Conference experience to the Plains after making the move to Auburn in December from Mississippi State to join Gus Malzahn’s staff, Smith arrived with a reputation for developing raw players into outstanding defensive backs.
Mincy notes it is not difficult to see why Smith has had success as a coach. “He is very energetic,” says the cornerback, who is a returning starter. “Coach Smith wants everything done right and his way of doing that is to focus on the little things every day in practice.”
Mincy notes that when he and his fellow cornerbacks take the practice field that Smith is insistent that they stay focused and find a way to be better at carrying out their assignments at the end of the day than they were at the start of practice.
“Coach Smith is a great guy,” Mincy says. “We are trying to learn everything he is teaching us and go out there and get better every day.”
Smith and Charlie “Cheese” Harbison are the tag-team teaching duo for the secondary, reuniting a pair of coaches who have had success working together.
Harbison, the co-defensive coordinator with Ellis Johnson, is primarily responsible for coaching the two safeties plus the “star” rover position, which is a cross between a safety and an outside linebacker.
Harbison agrees with Mincy that even though Smith is well into his fourth decade teaching football skills that he is as sharp as ever. According to Harbison, Smith is razor sharp.
“He really sees what it is going on around him,” says Harbison, who is known to the players as Coach Cheese. “That is what makes him a great coach. He is a hands-on teacher and you can’t put his knowledge on a power point presentation.”
Last season at Mississippi State both of Smith’s starting cornerbacks, Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay, were early round selections in the NFL Draft. Banks was an All-American, who won an award as the nation’s top defensive back. Slay earned second team All-SEC honors and led the league in interceptions.
“I tell kids their game tape is their resume,” Harbison says. “Coach Smith has impressive game tape. He just coached the Thorpe Award winner last year, which means he coached the Heisman Trophy winner of defensive backs. Coach Smith is the Heisman Trophy winner of defensive back coaches.”
A 1982 graduate of Millsaps College in Jackson, Miss., Smith began coaching football that same year as an assistant at Greenville High School in the Mississippi delta region. Now in his 32nd season in the business, Smith’s passion for the game burns strong.
“I absolutely enjoy it,” he says with a big smile. “I am a blessed man. To be able to do what I love and to be able to teach it is a blessing.”
In the coaching business each year is different from the previous one, something Smith says he enjoys.
“There is nothing like getting ready for what we are doing,” he says of the challenge of coaching a new season with a new team at a new location.
“I love reinventing myself,” Smith adds. “These guys I am coaching, they have had to adapt to me and I have had to adjust some to them. I tell them what they have done previously doesn’t matter. What is important is what you do today because we are judged on how we perform.”
Smith's cornerbacks and their teammates will get their first test on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Washington State, an opponent that is expected to pass almost every down, will keep the AU secondary very busy on opening night.
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