2014 AU Football Preview: Defensive Tackles

Coach Gus Malzahn's Auburn football Tigers return experienced players at the defensive tackle positions heading into the 2014 season.

Auburn, Ala.--Improved play at the defensive tackle spots in 2013 was one of the reasons the Tigers were able to become SEC football champions, but Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson and Defensive Line Coach Rodney Garner want to see an even better performance from the group this season.

That is certainly a possibility with the Tigers returning three tackles with substantial starting experience and the potential for major help from other returning players as well as newcomers.

Gabe Wright returns for his senior season after starting 11 times last year. Credited with 16 solo tackles, 15 assists, 8 1/2 tackles for losses, nine quarterback hurries and three sacks in 2013, the 6-3, 285 Wright dropped weight to add quickness that should make him a more effective pass rusher.

That improved quickness is something that Wright also displayed when lining up at end in a spring training experiment that Tiger fans could see plenty of in the fall.

Also returning at tackle is Angelo Blackson, a 6-4, 306-pounder who has extensive experience in big games for the Tigers. He started four times as a junior and finished the season with six solo tackles, 10 assists and six QB pressures. He has the potential to significantly improve those statistics.

Angelo Blackson has 14 career starts and has seen action in 39 Auburn games.

Another senior in the competition for a starting spot is Jeffrey Whitaker, who missed last season with an injury. He started six games in 2012 and finished the season with five solo tackles, seven assists and two QB hurries. Overall, Whitaker has started 19 games for the Tigers.

Ben Bradley, who started three times in his first season with the Tigers after transferring from junior college, is back as a senior after making six solo tackles with eight assists, one sack and five QB hurries. With more than a year in Auburn’s strength and conditioning program, he looks ready to become a bigger factor in the defense this season because of his combination of size (6-1, 303) and quickness.

Montravius Adams is shown during a spring training workout.

Montravius Adams also provided immediate help up front last year. Now a sophomore the 6-4, 306-pounder is going to be a threat to break into the starting lineup at either tackle or end. He made 10 solo tackles with 10 assists while adding one sack with seven QB hurries and performed well in spring training when the coaches experimented with lining him up outside at end.

An experiment that worked well last year for the Tigers was moving end Nosa Eguae inside to tackle where he started 10 times and produced 22 tackles with a pair of sacks. Eguae and fellow 2013 senior Kenneth Carter, another Tiger with extensive playing experience, will be missed.

To bolster the group the Tigers brought in Dontavius Russell from Carrollton, Ga., High, plus teammates Devaroe Lawrence and Davonte Lambert from Georgia Military College. Russell is scheduled to line up at tackle while Lambert and/or Lawrence might see playing time outside at end instead of tackle.

If the Tigers need additional depth at tackle the possibilities include redshirt junior Jabrian Niles, sophomore Tyler Nero and walk-on junior Brian Walsh.

Last season Garner rotated his tackles on a regular basis to keep his group as fresh as possible for four quarters. If the Tigers stay relatively healthy at the position the coach should be able to employ the same strategy this year.

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