As promised, here’s the second installment in a series of looks at Auburn’s roster leading up to SEC Media Days next week. The first, a look at the Tigers’ most reliable players on offense, ran on Monday.
Now, for a look at the defense, a unit that is in almost the same boat as the offense. A lot of guys have experience, but for Brian VanGorder’s defense to be successful, a few are going to have to realize their potential and step up to All-SEC status this season.
For the record, when the blog says most reliable, I’m talking about the players who are proven commodities. The guys with the biggest upside will come later in the week.
As always, feel free to disagree in the comments.
5 to Watch: Auburn’s Most Reliable*
* – Defense Edition
5. Nosa Eguae, DE – Eguae is coming off of shoulder surgery, so he wasn’t able to go through spring practices, and it appeared that Dee Ford’s emergence may have limited Eguae’s role going into two-a-days, especially after Eguae came away from his sophomore campaign without a sack in 2011. On the other hand, Eguae’s a two-year starter who is consistent, assignment-sure and one of the team’s leaders, a role he will likely play again.
4. Jeffrey Whitaker, DT – Whitaker’s role in Auburn’s defense has changed, but he’s durable, and by all indications he has made a smooth transition to VanGorder’s penetrating, attacking defensive line. In addition, Whitaker has plenty of game experience after starting 13 games for the Tigers in 2011 and being a part of the playing rotation as a freshman. What remains to be seen is whether or not Whitaker can translate that new penetrating style into big plays, which will be sorely needed.
3. Chris Davis, CB – In a secondary short on proven players, Davis is the closest thing to a sure bet that Auburn has with T’Sharvan Bell’s status uncertain after blowing out his knee in the offseason. Davis is a physical, tough corner who tackles well, although he needs to get better in man-to-man coverage to play a traditional boundary corner, which often ends up matched up. Auburn fans got a glimpse of Davis’s potential in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, when he made eight tackles, forced a fumble and earned Defensive MVP honors.
2. Corey Lemonier, DE – Lemonier exploded onto the scene in 2011, notching 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss and generally turning himself into the player who has been sprinkled throughout the preseason All-America teams published in preview magazines across the country. If he can add a little weight and some power to his already potent speed rush, Lemonier will likely be hard to block again, a must for an Auburn defense that needs to get more pressure on the quarterback in 2012. Unleashed by VanGorder’s defense, expect big things out of Lemonier this year.
1. Daren Bates, LB – Even with all of Lemonier’s explosiveness, Bates has to be the pick here. The team’s leading tackler in 2011 with 104 stops, Bates has been a key player on the defense ever since arriving on campus. He’s not the biggest linebacker, but he runs well, gets to the ball, and he transformed into a sure tackler as a junior. Heading into his senior year, expect Bates to be a key tackler in VanGorder’s defense again and the de facto leader of the entire defensive unit.