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March 22, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive line

This is the third of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: special teams.

AUBURN Miss State

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – There’s not a more enticing position group on the roster.

How awesome has Rodney Garner’s job got to be? He’s got like a 12-car garage, stocked with all shapes and sizes of vehicles to drive his defensive line.

Rodney GarnerOf course, Garner won’t make it a smooth ride for his pass-rushers and run-stuffers, young and old. A sense of entitlement just won’t do – after all, this unit had its moments in 2012 yet ultimately underachieved in setting the tone for an up-and-down defense.

Because of how personnel shakes out for 2013, the entire defensive line has got to be the heart of the unit. If they can attack quarterbacks and plug gaps for the guys behind them to make plays, this defense can match up with the top SEC offenses. If not, well, prepare for more shootouts which might not roll Auburn’s way.

Former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder ordered up a nine-man rotation on the line, and Garner’s already promised five ends and five tackles need to be ready to play in September. With a mass of 14 returning scholarship players (eight ends, six tackles) raring to go in spring, joined by three stud recruits this summer, the internal competition will be as fierce as it will be fun.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s defensive line, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28Who’s been playing: DT Angelo Blackson (jr.), DT Kenneth Carter (sr.), DE Nosa Eguae (sr.), DE Dee Ford (sr.), DE LaDarius Owens (jr.), DE Craig Sanders (sr.), DT Jeffrey Whitaker (sr.), DT Gabe Wright (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: DE Justin Delaine (jr.), DE Keymiya Harrell (so.), DT Tyler Nero (r-fr.), DE JaBrian Niles (so.), DE Gimel President (r-fr.)

Who’s out the door: DE Corey Lemonier, DE Devaunte Sigler, DT Jamar Travis

Who’s in the door: DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.), DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.), DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Rodney Garner, 23rd year (all in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Mike Pelton, Georgia Tech

Thoughts and musings:

Gut feeling on who’s listed as the starters when Gus Malzahn’s post-spring depth chart is released: Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae at the ends, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright at the tackles.

Primary backups: Nero/Bradley inside, Lawson/Sanders outside. We’ll see.

It’s spectacular to think that if Lemonier felt he needed one more year to prove himself to NFL scouts, essentially the entire stable of linemen would be back in spring … to be bolstered by three four- or five-star prospects as true freshmen, depending on which recruiting service you favor. That’s outrageous.

But remember: just like a basketball team laden with McDonald’s All-Americans, there’s only so much space in the lineup. It’s about who proves they can get the job done not just on first down, but on all three downs.

A great line I remember being told by a high school defensive line coach I know and respect: out of an entire football team, he takes the four guys he’s most want on his side in a fight and sticks them on the defensive line. What’s interesting is the group of guys in this program – Wright, Whitaker, Ford, et al – are generally nice, pleasant dudes. But as Wright and I talked about Wednesday, they’ve got to flip that switch the moment they hit the field, and get MEAN.

There’s already a pair of Georgia natives on the defensive line in Whitaker (Warner Robins) and Wright (Columbus). Adams, Bradley (a Hutchinson juco transfer) and Lawson give Garner a total of five guys he recruited while he himself was at Georgia … and they were or are all fairly high recruits.

Now, with that said, Jamar Travis was a 4-star defensive tackle, per Rivals.com. The nation’s No. 11 defensive tackle in his class, per ESPN. Offered by Alabama, Clemson and Florida State. Lettered four years at Auburn and is graduating. Nine career tackles. Don’t get hung up on recruiting stars, folks. Seriously.

Montravius Adams

Statistically speaking:

6 – Sacks for Dee Ford last year, leading the Tigers.

1 – Sack for Dee Ford last year in eight SEC games.

2 – Sacks for Dee Ford in 24 career games against SEC competition. Great player, entertaining personality, but Ford simply must impact more conference games.

5 – Sacks for Corey Lemonier in his first four games of 2012, settling him in at 16.5 for his career, good for ninth all-time at Auburn.

0.5 – Sacks for Corey Lemonier his final eight games of 2012.

T-77 – The Tigers’ national rank in team sacks, with 22. Seeing as pass-rushing was considered a team strength, that tells the story, no? (For comparison, Auburn quarterbacks were sacked 37 times – ranked tied for 107th.)

5 – Different starting lineups along the defensive line in 12 games last year. Starters aren’t the biggest deal in a rotation, but the tackles were spread out between Blackson, Whitaker, Carter and Wright, while at end Lemonier, Ford and Eguae split opportunities.

2 – Number of pass break-ups, number of forced fumbles, and number of blocked kicks … in 2012, for Angelo Blackson.

4.9, 197.6 – Average yards per rush, and average rushing yards per game, Auburn allowed in 2012. Those figures were 101st and 100th nationally, and both were dead last in the SEC.

15 – Times Auburn was whistled for offsides in 2012.

4 – Times Auburn’s opponents were whistled for offsides in 2012.

17 – Options Rodney Garner will have this fall to fix an underachieving unit – ten ends, seven tackles. (It’s a point worthy of repeating.)

Clemson_Auburn18_9-1-12

Good Twitter follows: Follow Gabe Wright @NineORhino (5,063 followers) and Dee Ford @dee_ford_ (3,559), thank me later. LaDarius Owens at @KingLO1091 (2,213) is also quality, and if you’re lucky enough to get approval from Carl Lawson @CarlCarltp, well, you’re in luck.

Say what? “I have no preconceived ideals about any of them. I’m going to evaluate everybody on their body of work that they do under my watch. It ain’t going to be a popularity contest, the media’s not going to decide, the alumni’s not going to decide. Whatever the film says, who’s productive and who deserves to play, that’s who’s going to play.” – Garner

6 Comments

  1. Warrrr Eagle…. Can’t wait til A-Day

    Comment by Jonathan Bryant — March 22, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  2. Uh…shouldn’t you at least have Jeff Whitaker in the two deep, if not starting? Vienna, GA is misspelled. You talk about Jamar Travis as DT but list him as a DE. But, hey, don’t let pesky things like journalistic accuracy get in the way of your ever-present twitter comedy.

    Comment by Wade Moricle — March 22, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  3. ^^^^funny(stewie voice)^^^^….so excited for A-day this year…already got my tickets….d-line should be a beast next season…WAR EAGLE!!!!

    Comment by JR Marcus — March 22, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  4. Jeff Whitaker is one of the nicest players ever at AU but has come nowhere close to living up to expectations on the field. Hard to see that happening at this point.

    Comment by mark — March 22, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

  5. [...] I: Defensive backs Part II: Linebackers Part III: Defensive line Part IV: Special teams Part V: Quarterbacks Part VI: Offensive line Part VII: Running [...]

    Pingback by Gus Malzahn press conference: 4 pm ET blog | Blake Burgess, Erique Florence off the team | War Eagle Extra — March 26, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

  6. [...] I: Defensive backs Part II: Linebackers Part III: Defensive line Part IV: Special teams Part V: Quarterbacks Part VI: Offensive line Part VII: Running [...]

    Pingback by The final Auburn positional battles to watch: Wide receivers, tight ends, H-backs | War Eagle Extra — March 27, 2013 @ 12:03 am

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