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Friday, January 8, 2010

Looking forward to 2010: Defensive line

If you haven't been here all week, I'm doing a position-by-position look at Auburn's 2010 roster. The blog has done quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends and offensive line.

Today, we'll jump over to the defensive line ...

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  • Starters: Antonio Coleman, Jake Ricks
  • Reserves: None
  • Seniors: Antoine Carter, Mike Blanc, Michael Goggans, Zach Clayton
  • Juniors: Nick Fairley, Joel Bonomolo (JC)
  • Sophomores: Dee Ford, Derrick Lykes, Cam Henderson, Chris Humphries, Jamar Travis
  • Redshirt Freshmen: Nosa Eguae
  • Incoming freshmen: Craig Sanders, Kenneth Carter, Justin Delaine
The biggest moment that defined Auburn's defensive line last season happened about a year ago at this time: Coleman announced his intentions to return for his senior season, a major coup for Gene Chizik and a staff that was still under construction. Despite some nagging injuries and a brief midseason swoon, AC turned in a senior season to remember, leading the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss and generally being a disruptive force in the second half of the season.

Now Auburn has to replace him, which won't be easy. Midway through the season, I would have said the Tigers would have a hard time trying to find a replacement for AC. Now I think they have one with the same initials. Carter became an all-around threat in the latter part of the year, working off the left end and giving Auburn bookend pass rushers that could get to the quarterback. Even better, Carter played a well-rounded game. Once a pass rushing specialist, he focused more on stopping the run, allowing him to get on the field for more than just third-down situations. Is he on Coleman's level? Of course not. Coleman was an NFL talent at this time last year; Carter is not quite there yet. But the dropoff from Coleman's departure doesn't look like it will be as drastic as once feared.

Beyond Carter, Auburn has some talent on the line, although still probably not as much as line coach Tracy Rocker would prefer. Blanc is back at tackle and will probably be paired with Fairley, who showed glimpses of being an impact performer. If he can play consistent enough that Rocker can trust him being on the field the majority of the time, he should be OK. Clayton, who will finally be able to let his ankle heal this offseason, gives the Tigers another option at any position on the line, although he'll probably be in the rotation at tackle. Goggans, who fought through injuries this year and lost his starting job to Carter, has made 18 career starts, bringing loads of experience. And even Lykes seemed to start making some progress toward the end of the year, being part of Auburn's wholesale four-man substitutions in the bowl game.

But the X-factors, I think, are Ford and Eguae. Ford showed some skills this year, thrust into the playing rotation despite being woefully undersized and a bit inexperienced. Another year in the weight room should help him add to his 214-pound frame, a must if he's going to be anything more than a third-down factor. But he did show some ability to get to the quarterback, using his speed to his advantage to get in on 2.5 sacks this year. After losing AC and his 10 sacks, Auburn will need someone to bring the pressure.

The bigger question is how will Eguae perform? There was no freshman on the team (other than Daren Bates) who drew more praise from coaches and players than Eguae. In August, he was the newcomer everyone predicted would make an immediate impact. But a foot injury on the eve of the season kept him out the first few games. By the time he returned to full strength, Carter had worked his way back into the rotation and burning Eguae's redshirt would have been a waste. But that benefits the Tigers next year. Eguae was healthy by the end of the year, practicing in the weeks leading up to the bowl game without restrictions. Everyone think Eguae's going to be special. I'd be surprised if that many people missed the mark with their prediction.

So what does that give Auburn? Two full lines to work with: Carter, Goggans, Ford and Eguae at end; Blanc, Fairley, Clayton and Lykes at tackle. That's a start. It'll be interesting to see who else gets in the mix. I don't know much about Bonomolo, other than he had surgery on his rotator cuff in November. You never quite know how much junior college transfers contribute once they get into a program, but I would imagine that he could crack the rotation. Beyond that, there are plenty of question marks. Henderson's status with the team remains in limbo after Chizik kept him out of games all year. I can't imagine the staff thinks too highly of Travis, since they burned his redshirt to fair catch a kickoff. And freshmen are freshmen: they might be able to contribute some right away, but there's always a size limitation that prevents them from being major forces off the bat. This is especially true on defensive line. (Although Sanders plans to enroll in January, which gives him a head start.)

All in all, I think this group should be solid. It might not have the headliner name like AC, but it has a deep enough group of potential contributors that it should be able to hold up well.

(Quick programming note: We'll take the weekend off from these position-by-position looks and resume with the linebackers on Monday.)


JoeinFP said...

Looks like Ken Adams will sign with LSU instead of resigning with Auburn. However, I think that’s good news. Auburn is still in the running for two or three blue chip D’linemen and given the depth at end (per your great article) we have the luxury to build for the future.

easyedwin said...

What if we had a DEFENSE?

Anonymous said...

Right now at least I think losing Adams is not too bad....better to get an equvalent talent with full eligibility rather than a player with two years left. Meanwhile, we have filled the remaining 2009 slots I believe....is that true?