Five Questions On Defense For Auburn Spring

As Gus Malzahn's football team heads into spring practice plenty of improvement is needed on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage.

Auburn, Ala.—With the start of Auburn's spring football practice next Wednesday, there are lingering questions on both sides of the ball for the Tigers.

Coach Ellis Johnson takes over a defense that is coming off one of the worst seasons in school history, but there is depth and experience for Johnson and assistant coaches Rodney Garner, Melvin Smith and Charlie Harbison to work with in the 15 days of spring drills.

With that in mind we take a look at the biggest question marks on defense for Auburn heading into spring practice.

Can the line get defensive?

Seniors Kenneth Carter, Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae, Jeff Whitaker and Craig Sanders lead a veteran group that is looking to make a mark in 2013 after struggling the last two seasons. That will start in the spring as the Tigers need leadership to step up in a big way.

Angelo Blackson has big-play potential.

With experienced juniors Angelo Blackson, Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens also in the mix, Auburn's defensive line has the potential to show massive improvement under Garner this year. If that happens it should mean improvement across the board for the defense.

Who will play the "star" position this spring?

Switching to a 4-2-5 alignment this spring that features two classic safeties and a hybrid safety/linebacker position called the "star," Auburn will be looking for someone to fill that role this spring. While signees Brandon King and Khari Harding should get a chance to handle that assignment this season, neither will be on campus for spring practice meaning someone currently on the roster will have to step into that role.

A veteran safety, Ryan Smith has the size and mentality to play the role. Another defensive back who would be interesting as the "star" is Robenson Therezie. At 5-9, 200, Therezie is built more like a running back, but has defensive back skills.

Also expected to get a look at the position are linebackers such as Justin Garrett and Anthony Swain.

Will Auburn's linebacker play improve?

The answer is related to question one. When a defensive line performs well it makes it easier for the linebackers to make plays on the second level and that is what Johnson is counting on in his first season with the Tigers.

Even though leading tackler Daren Bates is no longer on the roster, senior Jake Holland and sophomores Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have the potential to improve the linebacker play with more help from their teammates on the front four.

How much impact will Melvin Smith have at cornerback?

This could be the position where the Tigers make the biggest improvement. Seniors Chris Davis and Ryan White, juniors Jonathon Mincy and Robenson Therezie plus sophomores Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones all have game experience and talent, but none of the six has a career interception. That is something that will be a focal point for Smith after his defensive backs at Mississippi State were known as ballhawks.

Chris Davis is a returning starter at cornerback.

Last season Smith's starting cornerbacks Johnthan Banks and Darius Slay combined for nine interceptions and the duo had 15 picks the last two seasons. By comparison Auburn has just 13 interceptions as a team the last two seasons and only two last year. Smith's impact needs to be felt early and often in 2013.

Who steps up as the key playmaker for the Tigers?

The guy in this defense could be Ford. A speedy, highly-motivated end who has the quickness to put pressure on quarterbacks, the senior had six sacks and six and a half tackles for a loss in 2012. With good health he should improve those numbers this season.

In the middle of the front four, Blackson is the guy to watch in this role. Sharing playing time at tackle last season, he led the team in tackles for a loss with seven and forced two fumbles. Getting a constant push in the middle of the defense would do wonders for the Tigers moving forward in Johnson's defense.

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