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