Caldwell Column: Defense Starts Up Front

Auburn's defensive fortunes may hinge on the play at the tackle position this fall.

There are many reasons why Auburn's defense has struggled the last two seasons, but if you want to pinpoint the root cause all you need to do is look at the tackle position for the Tigers.

Defense starts up front and that means controlling the line of scrimmage in the middle. If the middle of the defense can also create pressure and make plays in the backfield then it becomes a huge plus for the group.

That is something that has been missing from the Auburn defense the last two seasons and the results have been disastrous for the Tigers on that side of the ball. Last season the combination of Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Gabe Wright and Angelo Blackson combined for 74 tackles, two and a half sacks, and 13 1/2 tackles for losses in 12 games. While the production was up from the numbers the group produced in 2011, it's still a far cry from what the Tigers need up front to turn things around defensively.

Angelo Blackson

Under the guidance of new coach Rodney Garner, Auburn's defensive tackles are hoping to get back to the production that has always been a trademark of defenses on the Plains.

Names like Donnie Humphrey, Ben Thomas, Gerald Williams, Tracy Rocker, Benji Roland, Ron Stallworth, Gary Walker, Demarco McNeil and Nick Fairley have been key parts of strong defenses at Auburn and that will need to be the case again in 2013 starting when the Tigers face Washington State in the season opener on Aug. 31 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The good news is that Garner has a large returning group of players back in addition to junior college newcomer Ben Bradley and top high school prospect Montravius Adams. With enough depth and talent to make strides forward this season, Auburn's defensive hopes rest on a group that has plenty of motivation to show people they can get the job done after all.

Here is a rundown of the year-by-year totals from the defensive tackles since 2000.

2000--DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson: 93 tackles/ 8 sacks/ 17 tackles for losses

2001—McNeil and Johnson: 81 tackles/ 1.5 sacks/ 7.5 tackles for losses

2002--McNeil, Johnson, Jay Ratliff, Tommy Jackson: 135 tackles/4.5 sacks/ 27.5 tackles for losses

2003-- McNeil, Johnson, Jackson: 122 tackles/ 11 sacks/ 27 tackles for losses

2004—Jackson and Ratliff: 88 tackles/ 3.5 sacks/ 11 tackles for losses

2005--Jackson and Wayne Dickens: 79 tackles/ 8.5 sacks/ 15 tackles for losses

2006—Josh Thompson, Sen'Derrick Marks, Pat Sims: 95 tackles/ 7.5 sacks/ 20 tackles for losses

2007—Thompson, Marks, Sims: 147 tackles/ 6.5 sacks/ 25 tackles for losses

2008--Marks, Tez Doolittle, Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton: 109 tackles/ 8.5 sacks/ 29 tackles for losses

2009--Blanc, Jake Ricks, Nick Fairley: 110 tackles/ 6.5 sacks/ 14.5 tackles for losses

2010 Fairley, Clayton, Blanc: 114 tackles/ 15 sacks/ 36.5 tackles for losses

2011 Whitaker, Carter, Wright, Blackson: 64 tackles/ 1 sack/ 7 tackles for losses

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