That was a weak point for the Tigers in 2011, however, as inexperience was the word of the day at the defensive tackle position for Coach Mike Pelton.
Struggling to play consistent football up front, the Tigers allowed 28.9 points and 189.2 yards rushing per game. Now a year older, stronger and wiser, Auburn has a group that should be able to take a big step forward beginning with spring practice.
The building block at defensive tackle starts with junior Jeffrey Whitaker. Auburn's most experienced player at the position, Whitaker led the group in tackles in 2011 with 25 stops and has just started to tap into his potential up front. With strong leadership qualities and the ability to tie up blockers and allow the linebackers to make plays, Whitaker should be an even bigger part of the defense this spring.
He will have to get through the spring without his sidekick Kenneth Carter after Carter had shoulder surgery right after the season.
Out for spring practice, but good to go in the fall, Carter had and up and down sophomore year and finished with 21 tackles. With the ability to take his game to another level, Carter will have some catching up to do in a new defense when the Tigers take the field for two-a-days in August.
Without Carter in spring practice it will open the door for several young players to walk through and take over the position. The two most likely candidates to do that are sophomores Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright.
A part-time starter as a true freshman, Wright showed flashes of his potential last season with several big plays in the bowl win over Virginia. He also showed how tough it is to play the position coming out of high school as he struggled with consistency play in and play out as he finished with 12 tackles, one sack, and three tackles for losses. Those are things that should begin to get corrected in spring practice for Wright as he develops at the position.
The same is true of the ultra-talented Blackson. A physical specimen who has the size and quickness to be a dominating player for the Tigers, Blackson is still learning to play against the level of competition he faces in the Southeastern Conference. Once his techniques and fundamentals catch up with his talent Blackson will be a force at tackle. This spring could go a long way towards that for the Deleware native. He made six tackles in 2011 and also blocked a punt on special teams.
A redshirt last season, Jabrian Niles was an All-State performer at Davidson High in Mobile before coming to Auburn last season. A talented player who was able to use his redshirt season to get bigger and stronger, Niles should provide more depth at the position this spring along with little-used senior Jamar Travis. Last season he made four tackles with one tackle for a loss in limited action.
Two wildcard players who could help out inside this spring and next fall are defensive ends Craig Sanders and Devaunte Sigler. Athletic and capable of adding some pass rush in the middle, both could be used at the position as well as Brian VanGorder looks to make his defense multiple and capable of giving offenses different looks.
Auburn is scheduled to open spring practice March 23 with the A-Day game set for April 14 at 2 p.m.