Auburn, Ala.—Playing a backup role last season as a true freshman, safety Erique Florence showed the ability to make plays in the secondary despite limited action. Now expected to take over a starting spot with Neiko Thorpe gone, Florence said he’s a much different player now than he was last year.
“It helped me a lot,” Florence said. “I can say, if I would've never got as much playing time as I did last year, I would still be relating to high school ball. But, since I played as much as I did last year, I know what to expect – the speed of the game, the power, and I know what to bring with me every Saturday.”
One of the biggest differences for the Valley native is that he’s now one of the players expected to take over in the secondary as opposed to last fall when he came in to learn from Auburn’s most experienced defensive player. Having that on his shoulders along with learning a new defense makes for a busy spring practice.
“It's totally different,” Florence said. “Last fall, I was coming in behind some people that had already done what I was trying to accomplish. I had Neiko in front of me, playing the same defense that he had been playing for a couple of years. Although he was at a different position, he was still in the defense. This year, I'm one of the starters so far, and it's a new defense for everybody. So everybody is just learning as we go, and we're trying to go as fast as we can.”
In addition to learning the new defense of VanGorder, Florence and the secondary are also getting used to a new position coach with Willie Martinez joining the staff. A veteran secondary coach and defensive coordinator, Martinez is a demanding coach and Florence said has fit in well with the players.
“Oh, he's an animal,” Florence said. “He comes back and he tells us from day one, you've got to have swag,” Florence said. “You've got to do this, you've got to do that. He's a guy that we definitely can relate to as being so young. And he brings stuff to the table that we never thought of. He kind of relates football to other stuff. He kind of touch home with us. He'd tell us this, and then he'd tell us why we need to do this, and all. So we kind of believe in him, and we're going to do whatever he tells us.”
With just 15 practice days this spring to get the basics down on defense and get prepared to hit the ground running in the fall, Auburn’s coaches are asking a lot of the players to get the job done on and off the field. While there will be mistakes and problems Florence said because the entire unit believes in VanGorder it makes everything go smoothly.
“I think things so far have been progressing pretty fast,” Florence said. “We've got potential to be a great defense this year based on what we've seen so far. We've got a coach, you know, everybody is trusting in him. We know where he came from and we think everything he tells us will get us to the next level. With him being new, and new players and all, we've had to get rid of the old defense. It was getting everybody to think a different way, and the competition level has to be raised. It's making everybody better players. “
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