Depth A Key For Pelton And Defensive Line

Auburn defensive line coach Mike Pelton talks about his group heading into the season opener Saturday night against the Clemson Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Following a major struggle on defense last season, one of the places that the Auburn Tigers are expected to take a big jump in production during the 2012 season is on the defensive line where coach Mike Pelton returns plenty of players with experience in his second season on the job.

Playing in a new system under Brian VanGorder that requires the defensive linemen to be more aggressive and make plays up the field, starters Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford at end along with Jeffrey Whitaker and Angelo Blackson at tackle will be called upon to set the tempo early for Auburn's defense Saturday night against Clemson. With plenty of depth to back them up, Pelton said he won't hesitate to substitute early and often to keep his guys fresh against an up-tempo offense on the other side of the ball.

"You always want depth, but there is a distinct difference between the first and the second guys," Pelton said. "There's a reason why those guys are first team, but at the same time you feel confident with putting those guys in and I really do feel confident with putting them in and letting them play. The best experience is just going in there and doing it.

"There will be a chance to sub," he added. "They can have a tempo, but they have to substitute guys, too. We just have to pick up spots and try to get our guys in when we can get them in. The good thing about it is we're trying to play two deep. We feel comfortable with the guys we've got in there and we're going to honestly put our best foot forward and go at it."

Inside, Pelton is looking for Whitaker and Blackson to step forward and become more productive this season after a solid preseason for both. One of the most veteran defenders for the Tigers, Whitaker has dropped weight and gained quickness and explosion in the process. The same is true of Blackson, who is continuing to learn how to play the position every day.

"Jeff is one of those guys that ever since he dropped the weight he's trying to be a leader," Pelton said. "He's one of those guys that comes to work every day and you know what you're going to get out of Jeff Whitaker. He never has a day he doesn't hustle or doesn't try. He's just a consistent guy, consistent worker.

"Angelo has really worked his tail off," the coach added. "He's earned it from day one coming into camp. He's battled for it and he's improved. Angelo still has a long way to go. It's going to be interesting to see how he does under the lights and on national TV. We're just going to see how he responds."

Angelo Blackson

One of the most interesting things that came out of practice this week was on Tuesday when Gene Chizik announced the opening game depth chart with former starter Nosa Eguae the third team defensive end behind starter Dee Ford and second-teamer Craig Sanders.

A player who missed spring practice after having his shoulder repaired after the 2011 season, Eguae's absence opened the door for the hard-working Ford and he ran through it and never looked back. Now fighting to get back into the mix, Pelton said Eguae hasn't hung his head and will play a big role for the Tigers early and often this season.

"Dee benefitted from a fresh start," Pelton said. "He benefitted from VanGorder coming in and having a fresh start. He impressed Coach VanGorder and really took it by the horn. He really benefitted from Nosa being out this spring, and Nosa is trying to figure out his way through things and is learning. The motto in the room is you get what you earn, and Dee has earned that.

"Nosa is a competitor and he sees it, he understands, but he's not going to surrender," Pelton added. "Like I tell him every day, ‘You work because you never know what the next day holds.' He understands it's that way now and he's a competitor and he's working. I don't think he's surrendered, I think he's realized that Dee has earned it. At the same time, he hasn't surrendered and said, ‘It's his,' he keeps fighting for it. As time goes on Nosa will get better and you're talking about a guy that started a long time here and that thing isn't over with."

Dee Ford

With the season opener almost here and Auburn's task on defense a tough one, Pelton said he expects his guys to play hard and give it everything they've got from the opening kickoff until the final horn. As for how they'll perform and match up against Clemson? That's something that Pelton said even he's anxious to see the answer to.

"You really don't know," Pelton said. "They've worked and I've seen them every day. Saturday will be a big test against a great opponent with great skills and great coaching. We know what they're capable of. There's no better way to start your season off than with a team like this.

"We'll know Saturday," he added. "They have worked, but I see them every day. Saturday will be a big test against a great opponent with great skill and great coaching. We know what they are capable of. No better way to start your season off than against a team like this."

Kickoff for the game Saturday night is scheduled for 6 p.m. CDT time and can be seen nationally on ESPN.


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