However, most of the players are back for Coach Tommy Thigpen to work with. Making the move from the safeties to linebackers, Thigpen has veterans and promising newcomers to build around when the Tigers take the field on Friday.
Leading the charge for the Tigers at the position is a pair of seniors in Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans. Auburn's leading tackler in 2011 with 104 stops and tied for second on the team with eight and a half tackles for a loss, Bates came into his own as a linebacker in his second season at the position after playing safety as a freshman.
With new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder wanting more size on defense don't rule out the possibility that Bates could end up back in the secondary, but for now he's Auburn's most productive returning linebacker.
Daren Bates puts a hit on the South Carolina quarterback
A player who has continued to improve throughout his career, Evans played in 10 games last season and made 40 tackles with one tackle for a loss. Versatile enough to play either side at linebacker, Evans gives the Tigers versatility at the position.
In the middle Auburn will build around junior Jake Holland. Fighting through injuries last season, including ones to both ankles and a hand, Holland still managed to make 43 tackles with three and a half tackles for losses. He also added a pair of interceptions and one forced fumble. Back healthy at the end of the year, Holland played perhaps his best football in the bowl win over Virginia to build momentum heading into spring practice.
Jake Holland and Jonathan Evans lay the lumber to Robert Turbin
Behind that trio Auburn returns young players who got valuable experience last season. Even though he was just returning from a neck injury that kept him out of the entire 2010 season, Jawara White showed the ability to be physical at linebacker and could be a player to watch in the spring. The sophomore made 23 tackles in limited action last season and should be primed for a bigger role in 2012.
Sophomore Justin Garrett will be another playing looking to push for a starting spot this spring. Pressed into a starting role against Samford and playing in eight total games last season, Garrett totaled nine tackles as a true freshman. With his speed and ability to close on the perimeter, Garrett could be a player who takes a big step forward after a year of conditioning and getting bigger and stronger.
That group of veterans will be joined by three redshirt freshmen in the spring, all with a chance to make noise in the 15 practice days. Expected to play a big role for the Tigers last season as a true freshman, Kris Frost instead had shoulder surgery early in the fall and missed the entire season. Now healthy and ready to make a run at playing time, Frost has the size and speed to be an impact player right away this spring.
A big linebacker who was still dealing with a knee injury suffered his senior year at Sweet Water High School, Chris Landrum redshirted last season and has the chance to come in and be a solid player behind Holland in the middle. Also a redshirt last year, Anthony Swain was recruited as a safety out of Gadsden City but moved to linebacker last fall because of his size. His mix of size and athleticism could give him a chance to be a playmaker for the defense this spring.
Auburn is scheduled to open spring practice this Friday afternoon. The annual A-Day game is set for Saturday, April 14 at 2 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium.