2010 Auburn Defense Preview

So will the 2010 Auburn defense be a steel curtain like they were against Alabama or a wet paper towel like they were against Northwestern?

By: JR4AU

The 2009 Auburn Defense suffered from a great lack of depth.  That was the buzz phrase last year.  It was true, but there was an overall lack of SEC level talent too. 

That lack of depth was compounded by an offense that was either quick strike or quick three and out.  Yes, the offense does contribute to the overall effectiveness of the defense, and vice versa.  Still, Auburn’s defense was just plain bad in 2009.  Injuries played a big part, but so did just plain lack of players. 

Some of the ugly truth from 2009 on Auburn’s Defense: 12th in SEC Scoring Defense; 11th in Total Defense; 10th in Rushing Defense; 10th in Pass Defense; 12th in First Downs Allowed; 11th in Red Zone Defense; 12th in 4th Down Conversions Allowed.  Auburn allowed 15 of 24 (62%) 4th down conversions!  That would be a horribly bad number of 3rd down conversions allowed!   In the 5 losses in 2009, Auburn held a lead at half in two of the games, and was tied in one.  Defense was a problem, and depth was clearly an issue.  What a difference a year could make!

 

Corners and Safeties
The defensive backfield was decimated by injuries last season.  In 2010, the loss of Walter McFadden, who was 4th in the SEC in passes defended, and 3rd in Interceptions (6 with 2 TDs) will be biggest shoes to fill.  One positive that came from that was the emergence of Daren Bates (So.) at Safety.  Although they’re not technically all returning starters, Mike McNeil (Jr.), and Aairon Savage (Sr.)  both return to the lineup at the Safety spots, each having missed all of last season due to injuries, as does Zac Ethridge (Sr.) just recently cleared from last year’s late-season neck injury. 

T’Sharvan Bell (So.) saw a good bit of action last season, and had a pair of interceptions in the bowl game.  Some publications have pegged Bell as one of the most athletic of the DBs on Auburn’s roster, and with NFL potential.  Neiko Thorpe (Jr.) is a solid Corner, and Bell could push Demond Washington (Sr.) for playing time or the starting spot at CB.   The core of starters will likely be Thorpe and Washington at CB, and McNeil, Savage and Ethridge will rotate at the Safety spots.   Daren Bates will be playing more of a hybrid LB/S position most likely, and will be factored in the LB rotation as well, but any injuries could return him to full time safety play.  Juniors Mike Slade and Drew Cole also contributed last season. 

At any rate, if this bunch can make it through August unscathed, then the depth charts suddenly seems much better stocked.  Including Bates there’s a lot of potential personnel combinations to suite whatever opposing offenses show personnel-wise.   

 

Linebackers
Auburn was just plain short on Linebackers last season, and the starters took the overwhelming majority of the snaps in most of the games.   That’s just too much to ask in this league.   Josh Bynes (Sr.) is the anchor in the middle and has been a solid player there finishing 6th in the SEC in tackles last season.  Craig Stevens (Sr.) may be the best LB nobody talks about, and was 11th in the SEC in tackles. 

Bynes and Stevens combined for 199 tackles in 2009.  Eltoro Freeman came to Auburn with much hype, but last season seemed to be struggle with his assignments, and briefly lost his starting spot.  Freeman is penciled in as the starter, but could easily be pushed by Bates if he’s not careful.  There’s no doubt Freeman is talented and athletic, and another year in the system can only help.  These starters are all in the 225-240 pound range depending on which roster you’re viewing, and all have legitimate SEC Linebacker speed.  Jonathan Evans (So.) at 5’11” 230 rounds out the experienced LB core.  Added to the mix this year will be incoming Freshmen LaDarius Owens at 6’2” 236, Jessel Curry at 6’1” 210, and 6’0” 230 Jake Holland.  It’s unclear which of them will contribute, though Owens seems to be the favorite of the bunch followed by Holland. 

Whichever one or ones it is, it seems clear from last year’s linebacker depth problems that they will be most likely asked to step up early and often.  As mentioned previously, Daren Bates factors in this mix as well, and does so at 5’11” 203, but with DB speed.     

Defensive Line
Defensive line was by far the weakest of a porous defense last season at Auburn, and gone is the one bright spot in Antonio Coleman who lead the league in Tackles for Loss and Sacks.  It’s this writer’s opinion that the middle of this group, while improved from last season depth-wise, is still short of top notch SEC players in both talent and size. 

The Defensive Tackle rotation likely will be Nick Fairley (Jr.) at NG/DT, and Mike Blanc DT (Sr.) at the three technique.  Fairley is supposedly beefed up a tad, but listed anywhere from 295 to 315 depending on where you look.  He’s not really a classic run stuffer NG type, so much as a middle pass rusher.   Zach Clayton (Sr.) at 6’3” 295, who was hampered by a nagging ankle injury last season, can rotate in at both spots.  With these three we’ve got a solid rotation, though nothing fancy. 

 Sophomores Jamar Travis, 6’0” 292 and Derrick Lykes, 6’2” 281 will provide depth at the NG/DT spot.  Jeffery Whittaker (Fr.) 6’3” 308 could be called on to contribute as well.  Frankly, I think that those first three will have to step it up quite a bit from last season, or it could be ugly again in 2010. 

At Defensive End there is a very good, athletic rotation.   Seniors Antoine Carter and Michael Goggins at one end are in the 260+ pound range and more the run stopper type DEs.  Carter can rush the passer some and will need to step up his game in that area.  Nosa Eguae (RFr.), and Dee Ford (So.) are more the pass rush specialist type.  Ford saw action in every game last year, but has added some 25-30 pounds, to his 6’4” frame, up to 235-240.  Corey Lemonier (Fr.) 6’4” 227 is also being reported to be as advertised, maybe better, and could certainly factor in to pass rush situations. 

Finally, Junior College transfer Joel Bononmolo (Jr.), 6’3” 245 arrives in Auburn with much promise.  Depth shouldn’t be a problem at DE.  Roof could tinker with several on field combinations here to see what works best.  The overall look of the defensive line isn’t very flashy, but there’s some nice potential at the DE spots.  Going in to fall camp, the overall depth has a much better look than last year’s group. 

The 2010 Auburn defense is heavy on upperclassmen and experience, but light on star power.  Last year’s missing depth seems to be provided for somewhat in the form of what could be some talented Freshmen and Sophomores at every position.  In looking at each of the groups it appears that Roof and Chizik can package size or speed in the front seven depending on the situation, and still have confidence in the talent and overall experience level.  Barring injuries, the Auburn Defense could show a remarkable turnaround in 2010, and should show improvement. 

In fact, I would say that Roof has enough to work with on this 2010 squad to show marked improvement.  By that I mean, move those 11th and 12th place defensive stats up to the upper half of the SEC.   Really there’s nowhere to go but up for Roof and the Auburn defense, and I believe Roof is in the position that he needs to show significant improvement in 2010.

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