The guys with their hands in the dirt are lined up closer than anybody to the opposition's quarterback and will determine who is going to control the line of scrimmage. If they don't do a good job with that assignment their team is in big trouble.
A defense can go into the game with the best linebackers in the country, but it is going to have a difficult time stopping offenses when 325-pound offensive linemen are consistently getting in their faces. Those are battles the big guards and big tackles are going to win on a consistent basis. All too often that was a problem for the 2012 Auburn team.
If the Tigers' defense is going to make major improvement this season there will have to be better play from the front four. Those guys are going to have to give the linebackers a chance to do their jobs.
The front four also need to be able to pressure the quarterback, especially on third downs, because if they can't do that the defense is going to have a difficult time getting off the field without allowing points or changing the field position.
Considering how good college offenses have become at pitching and catching, you can't give quarterbacks time to sit back there forever waiting for their receivers to get open. Even the best cornerbacks and safeties can only cover receivers for so long.
If you look at who is returning in the Southeastern Conference this season, the majority of teams in the league are returning their starting quarterbacks. That is going to put plenty of pressure on defensive fronts across the SEC to get the job done.
If Auburn's defensive front can step up its play this year I think we will see much better results on Saturdays at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Those guys don't have to come up with sacks or tackles behind the line of scrimmage on every series to get the job done. If they can take care of their assignments, and give the playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary a good opportunity to do their things, I think the Tigers will be able to force a lot more punts and a lot more turnovers than they did last season.
When the Tigers open the season vs. Washington State, how well the defensive ends and tackles perform will be something worth watching closely.
Letters to the Coach:
Coach Dye, I just finished reading your column on the hurry up offense controversy, and I have to say...Well done! I'm glad to see that more coaches are stepping up to the plate and letting their opinions known. I guess if they want to stop the hurry up offense, then the coach better teach them the hurry up defense!
David, I am glad you enjoyed that column. The no-huddle offenses are a big part of the game in high school and college football and are exciting to watch. I don't see that changing anytime soon.
(If you have a question or a subject you would like me to write about in future columns, you can email it to PatDye@autigers.com.)
Editor's Note: This is part of a series of columns that College Football Hall of Fame member Pat Dye is writing for AUTigers.com about the game he played and coached. An All-American player at Georgia and one of the top head coaches in SEC history at Auburn, he also served as a head coach at East Carolina and Wyoming. Dye writes three columns for AUTigers.com--The Dye-Log, the Dye-Gest and Pat's Picks.