Slowly but surely, the blog continues to make its way through a position-by-position look at how Auburn’s roster ended up shaking out at the end of spring, and what it might look like when the footballs start flying around for real on September 1st in Atlanta.
As always, any depth charts listed below are only my best guess. Nothing more, nothing less. By now, most Auburn fans know that the Tigers do not usually release an actual depth chart after spring practice, and this season was no different. With so many players out on defense and new schemes being installed on both sides of the ball, a spring depth chart can only mean so much anyway.
As always, feel free to disagree with my take. At this point, with such a young roster, everything’s open to discussion.
For a look at the other four position groups in the series, take a look at the following links:
- DE: Corey Lemonier, 6-4, 245, Jr.
- DT: Jeffrey Whitaker, 6-4, 301, Jr.
- DT: Kenneth Carter, 6-4, 294, Jr.
- DE: Dee Ford, 6-2, 237, Jr.
- DE: Nosa Eguae, 6-3, 262, Jr.
- DT: Gabe Wright, 6-3, 305, So.
- DE: LaDarius Owens, 6-2, 255, So.
- DT: Angelo Blackson, 6-4, 316, So.
- DT: Devaunte Sigler, 6-4, 295, So.
- DE: Keymiya Harrell, 6-4, 260, R-Fr.
- DE: Craig Sanders, 6-4, 263, Jr.
- DT: Jamar Travis, 6-0, 296, Sr.
- DE: Justin Delaine, 6-5, 250, So.
- DT: JaBrian Niles, 6-2, 292, R-Fr.
- DT: Tyler Nero, 6-2, 290, Fr.
- DE: Gimel President, 6-4, 255, Fr.
- DT: Brian Walsh, 6-3, 302, R-Fr.
WHAT ANDY WROTE LAST YEAR
“Of the Tigers’ position groups, this one has perhaps the most promise. The group was a force to be reckoned with on A-Day, although “sacks” were usually the result of breathing on the quarterback during that scrimmage. Still, they were an active group, putting pressure on the quarterback all afternoon. That’ll be important for a team whose secondary is still relatively young. Auburn proved last year that you can overcome a lot of deficiencies in your pass coverage if you can rattle the quarterback with your line. If you can do that without committing 6 or 7 blitzers, all the better. Which is why this group must make big strides for the Tigers to be successful. With Eguae, Lemonier, Ford, Carter, Whitaker and Wright, Auburn has a solid nucleus. It’s simply a matter of getting them the proper experience while filling in some key reserves to give them a breather every now and then.”
Plagued by injuries throughout the season, the defensive line failed to put the kind of pressure on quarterbacks that it showed during that spring game. Other than Corey Lemonier, who put together a breakout season with 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss to earn second team All-SEC honors, the rest of Auburn’s defensive linemen failed to produce big plays on a consistent basis. Dee Ford, who showed promise, had to sit out most of the season due to back surgery, LaDarius Owens missed six games with a stress fracture, and both Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright were hampered by injuries. Unable to stay healthy, Auburn’s defensive line failed to play in the opponent’s backfield much at all.
According to Brian VanGorder, Gene Chizik and anybody else who was asked, the defensive line had the best spring of any position group, and the competition for that title wasn’t even close. Healthy after having surgery to repair a herniated disc, Ford was so impressive as a pass rusher that he earned the starting job opposite Lemonier, and the coaches are encouraged by his progress. Late in the spring, LaDarius Owens and Keymiya Harrell both came on as pass rushers who can back up Lemonier and Ford on the edge. In the middle, Jeffrey Whitaker, a two-gap plugger in Ted Roof’s defense, showed that he can get into the backfield well after dropping weight to improve his quickness. Even little-used senior Jamar Travis had a big spring, enough that VanGorder thinks he’s headed for playing time next season.
Three of Auburn’s players expected to be battling for starting spots — Eguae, Carter and Wright — all missed the entire spring due to injury, and for the moment, VanGorder is saying they will provide depth alone due to all the missed time on the practice field. At the other defensive tackle spot, next to Whitaker, neither Angelo Blackson or Devaunte Sigler seemed to generate the same kind of praise that the rest of the defensive line earned.
No incoming freshmen on Auburn’s roster face a tougher road to the playing field than Tyler Nero and Gimel President. On the line, the Tigers are intensely deep, and it’s likely that both players will redshirt. If one player is going to make a push for playing time, the bet here is that it will be Nero, who had a big performance at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and jumps into a position that’s a little less set than defensive end.
Ford has been around for a while, but a combination of injuries and depth chart obstacles have kept him from making a big impact in game action. VanGorder’s scheme changes that. Instead of playing behind the already-established Lemonier, Ford can line up on the opposite side, and all indications have been that Ford has “special traits” when it comes to rushing the passer. Extra playing time means more opportunities for sacks.
BATTLE TO WATCH
When Carter and Wright get back on the practice field in the fall, both will presumably resume a battle for playing time that raged hard at the end of last season, this time with some combination of Blackson, Sigler and Travis also battling for a chance to get on the field. Of the five, Wright has shown the most ability to penetrate in games so far, but his recovery from a foot injury could rob him of some explosiveness. For the moment, Carter earned some mention from VanGorder in his post-spring press conference, so he’s on the coordinator’s radar.
THEY SAID IT
“Jeff Whitaker. He’s probably someone who surprised you. I didn’t anticipate that he’d perform like he did in our system. I saw a guy who was a line-of-scrimmage player a year ago. He was able to do that effectively — penetrate and do some things that I didn’t know he could do.” — Brian VanGorder
1 — The highest number of sacks recorded by any Auburn defensive lineman not named Corey Lemonier in 2011.
THE END OF THE DAY
For the second straight season, the defensive line was the star unit of A-Day, but that’s a trend that followed the rest of the narrative from spring football. Unleashed by VanGorder’s scheme, which doesn’t require the linemen to read before they attack the line of scrimmage, instead simply asking them to penetrate. Lemonier’s already a proven pass rusher, and if Ford is what the coaches have been saying, the Tigers should have two dangerous players off the edge. With Eguae, Owens, Harrell and Sanders, there’s plenty of depth on the outside, and Whitaker appears to be a fit in the new defense. Even though Auburn’s defensive line didn’t play to its potential in 2011, it’s possible that the playing time gained last season could be the springboard to a big season next fall.