Gene Chizik is the new defensive man in charge, but Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville came up through the ranks coaching defense. And this year's unit still bears his mark. "You can see that Tubs is still involved a bunch with the defense," Koenning said. "They're still a 4-3 front. They're still doing the same stuff that they did last year, but you can see some changeups and some blitzes. You some see some changeups in their adaptation to formations."
Yielding 334.4 yards per game, Auburn is 32nd in the country in Total Defense. But the Tigers rank fourth nationally in interceptions with 19. Alabama Head Coach Dennis Franchione commented. "Defensively they find ways to cause takeaways and turnovers, and we have to avoid that. Across the board as an entire unit they all can run, they all have great size and range. They play the game very physical, play very well."
Last season Alabama ran over and through the Tiger defense, dominating in the second half by running the football. But Koenning thinks this Auburn defensive line is improved. "They're very talented," he said. "(DeMarco) McNeil and all those guys are good players. They get off blocks and run to the ball well."
283-pound Spencer Johnson starts on the inside next to McNeil, backed up by Dante Booker and true freshman T.J. Jackson. "Up front they're very good," Koenning said. "(Their tackles) are run stoppers. They do a nice job of that."
With three sacks and six quarterback hurries, Reggie Torbor is the best pass rusher. He and Jay Ratliff start at defensive end. "Their defensive ends are really fast and quick," Koenning said. "They're good pass rushers. Their motor runs all the time, which is impressive."
Karlos Dansby, Mark Brown and Dontarrious Thomas start at linebacker, comprising one of the most athletic linebacking crews in the conference. "Whoa!" Koenning responded when the conversation turned to the Tiger backers. "They're very worthy of that reputation. Their linebacking corps is very talented. They're big and they run very well."
Recruited by Alabama as a linebacker, Dansby ended up signing with the Tigers in part because they promised he could play wide receiver. Three years later that original Tide talent assessment has been proven correct, as Dansby is now considered one of the most physically gifted outside linebackers in the country.
Koenning commented, "The closest one I've seen with that combination of size and speed is the kid from Georgia, Boss Bailey, that we've played. Those two are very comparable, but Dansby is probably faster."
At middle linebacker, Mark Brown leads the Tigers in tackles. "He's a classic run stuffer," Koenning said, "but he runs really well, too. They've got a really nice looking linebacking corps."
The defensive secondary is one area where Auburn has changed this season. Former starters Roshard Gilyard and Rashaud Walker are now backups, and their replacements have helped forge a ball-hawking unit.
"You can see their talent," Koenning said. "When you watch them on film, they run to the ball. They're coached well. It's an exceptional secondary. They're another SEC secondary."
Safety Travaris Robinson and cornerback Carlos Rogers have four and three interceptions respectively. But new safety starter Junior Rosegreen could be the best athlete in the group. "He's a very good tackler," Koenning said. "He doesn't miss many tackles at all--very talented. He can cover well. He's what you look for in a safety."