Dee Ford coming back after being injured last year gives the Tigers another dimension at end. He is as good or better than Corey Lemonier when it comes to rushing the passer, something the Tigers didn't do as well as they needed to do last year.
I know a couple of the key interior players the Tigers will count on this fall missed practice time in the spring, including starter Kenneth Carter and freshman Gabe Wright, who played a lot of football last fall. I expect those two to be improved and the same is true of returning starter Jeffrey Whitaker, who from what I saw this spring is better.
With Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders returning at end and young players like Justin Delaine and Keymiya Harrell trying to break into the playing rotation, I don't see any reason why the Tigers won't be able to go with a four-man rotation at end. Throw in another player at end who I thought improved in the spring, LaDarius Owens, and I am looking forward to seeing what these guys do.
LaDarius Owens pressures quarterback Clint Moseley in the A-Day Game.
Owens is up to around 255 to 260 pounds and can run. He's turning himself loose and looks 100 times better to me than what I had seen previously. He has speed and that is so important to success when you are playing out there on the corner. From what I saw in spring it won't surprise me if Owens beats out one of the older players for a starting spot at end.
I am expecting a stronger, more consistent pass rush out of the entire front four and that will be appreciated by the secondary. I am not sure how it will shake out with who starts at the corners and at the safety spots, but I see a lot of good athletes back there. Most of the guys who played in the secondary last fall are back.
One of the key players on defense will be Daren Bates, who returns as a three-year starter. He obviously had a great spring at linebacker. Because of his character and personality he is a player who has worked hard to get better since the day he arrived and broke into the starting lineup as a freshman safety before moving to linebacker as a sophomore. I think Bates is ready to step up as a leader of the defense.
From what I saw Jake Holland has improved at middle linebacker. With his added age, maturity and experience he looks like he is ready to be a leader on defense. If Jonathan Evans starts at the other linebacker spot that could give the Tigers two seniors and a junior lined up behind the front four so they should be able to make a lot of plays.
One of the young linebackers is a player I noticed in the spring. Kris Frost, a redshirt freshman, is a guy you can't help but be impressed with because of his potential. Now, he might not have lined up in the right place all of the time or done the right thing all of the time in spring drills, but he can run and he is not contact-shy. He will get after you and I like that.
If experienced players like Whitaker, Bates, Ford, Lemonier and Holland, as well as a couple of guys in the secondary, step up as leaders this defense will be fun to watch develop. As a coach in the offseason you hope and pray that the leadership takes hold and everybody continues to develop physically, stays out of trouble and gets to the season healthy ready to play their best football.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye participates in the Legends Poll, a Top 25 rating of the best teams in college football as determined by a panel of all-star former head coaches. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.