Thought to be one of the strongest positions for the defense this season, instead it has been a source of disappointment for Coach Mike Pelton so far, and he's looking for more from this group beginning this Saturday against ULM.
"Right now they haven't played really well," Pelton said. "I won't say haven't played really well, but we've got to have more production out of that position. They understand that and that's the goal.
""Just maintain gap integrity and affect the quarterback," he are the things they need to improve on. "You can't be a defensive tackle and done affect the quarterback.
"In our defense if you do what you're supposed to do then you'll make plays. The concept of ‘I'm playing by myself and I've got to make every play' instead of just doing my job, we've got to focus on playing as a team.
"Too many guys think they've got to make the play and miss the play when it comes. It's just a process of learning and doing what you're supposed to do. That's what we're learning and stressing. That's what we've got to have and we're not backing down from that."
In two games this season Auburn's defensive tackles have produced just 15 total tackles with 14 coming from Kenneth Carter (eight) and Angelo Blackson (six) combined. The group has just two and a half tackles for a loss this season, no sacks, and four quarterback hurries.
To compare those numbers look back at the 2010 season that featured Nick Fairley, Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc in the middle. Through two games that season the group had 19 total tackles, six tackles for a loss, and six quarterback hurries.
While the gap isn't massive, there is a telling difference because of the difference in styles with the two defenses.
More of a read and react style in 2010, Auburn is now calling on its defensive tackles to get up the field and make plays. Without constant pressure from the middle of the defense it has caused the rest of the defense to have to work overtime to get the job done. That means the defensive ends have gotten extra attention and more offensive linemen have gotten to the linebackers, keeping them from making more plays.
Two of the players who have made some plays early are Carter and Blackson. Pelton said while both have plenty to work on, they have done a good job of putting in the time to get better on the field.
"Ken is coming along," Pelton said. "He missed the spring and he's a worker. That's one thing I can say about Ken. He doesn't say much, but he's a worker. He's a guy who has played a lot of games here and he understands. He's one of those guys that could step it up and be real productive. We've got to have it. Somebody has to step up and produce out of that position.
"Angelo is going to be one of those guys that, he's probably one of the hardest workers I've got out there," Pelton added. "He works his tail off. It's every day. I can't think of a day that he hasn't come out there and worked. It's just going to be a matter of time before that light comes on and it's probably going to be ‘see you Angelo.'
"He has all the physical tools," Pelton added. "He's big. He's fast. And he's athletic enough. He's really a pup and hasn't played much ball. It's like he's starting over every time he goes out. You want to see him improve, but at the same time you can't get mad at him because that guy just works. Eventually the light will come on."
The job this week isn't an easy one for Pelton and his crew as they face a ULM offense that put up 34 points last week in an overtime victory over Arkansas. With a quarterback in Kolton Browning who does a great job of getting the football off and avoiding pressure, Pelton said it's important for his guys to play hard, smart and within the defense not just this week, but all the time.
"The thing we've got to express is that our expectations, there is pressure to perform and do it every day," Pelton said. "That's the way we're going to stand by it and that's the way it is. We're going to do it our way. We're not going to be satisfied with you doing it your way. It's our way. Our way works and your way doesn't. That's what they've got to buy into."
Kickoff for the Auburn-ULM game is scheduled for 11:21 a.m. CDT on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium and can be seen on the SEC Network.