Tigers Have Rebuilding to Do On Defensive Line

This is the second in a series of articles previewing Auburn spring football 2004.

Auburn, Ala.--With a pair of multi-year starters gone from the two interior positions on the defensive front, spring training 2004 will be a chance for a new set of players to prove they belong at the top of the depth chart.

Don Dunn, who coaches the tackles and noseguards, will be looking for newcomers to take over the holes left by graduating seniors Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson. The Tigers will also have to replace 2003 senior reserve Dexter Murphy, who played both tackle and end.

"The main thing about this spring is that we are kind of starting over on the inside," Dunn says. "We have Tommy Jackson, who has some game experience. We have Wayne Dickens, who has had some game experience. Tim Duckworth has a little bit. After that we have got to find a couple more guys to fill those spots."

Although he hasn't started a college game, Jackson has been a major contributor as a true freshman and this past season as a sophomore. He played in every game until he was sidelined prior to the victory over Alabama last season by a knee injury suffered a week earlier at Georgia. Jackson is ready to go for spring drills and will be tough to beat for a starting spot a noseguard.

Tim Duckworth is expected to challenge for a starting job this fall.

Dickens, who was redshirted in 2001, is a guy who could challenge for the noseguard starting spot held last season by McNeil. He has played in all 26 Auburn games the past two seasons and has started three times. The 290-pounder will begin spring drills at the top of the depth chart at tackle where Spencer Johnson was the man last season. Duckworth, who is expected to check in for spring drills at around 305 pounds, could push Dickens for a starting spot.

A pair of players who did not see action last season also figure into the mix. "I am anxious to see Tez Doolittle and what he can do," Dunn says. "I am anxious to see Josh Thompson. Our biggest concern going into spring practice is to get those young guys ready to go. We lost some good ones."

Doolittle will probably get his first look at tackle. He sat out the 2003 season while doing rehab on his injured shoulder. He has been cleared to go full speed for spring drills, which will start on Feb. 29th. Doolittle was considered a possible fullback when he signed in February 2003, but at 290 pounds has outgrown that position.

Another 2003 signee to keep an eye on is Josh Thompson, who showed promise last season while being redshirted. He has excellent quickness and is one of the strongest players on the team.

"Going into the spring, we want to develop a two-deep and find five linemen for the interior spots that we feel comfortable playing," Dunn says. "We will probably start out with Tommy Jackson and then Josh Thompson (at nose) and look at Timmy Duckworth, Wayne and Tez at the three (tackle) technique, but Wayne can play both sides. That will help us. Tez might be a good noseguard, also. That is something we have got to find out where they can fit and where they can play. That will be important for us to find out this spring.

Tommy "T.J." Jackson

"The only ones who have been in the heat are Tommy and Wayne, and Timmy a little bit," Dunn adds. "Timmy didn't get to play the last three or four games because of a knee problem, but he is ready to go now. Tez is ready to go. He has got to get used to this tempo. We started winter workouts and he has shown some good things. He is just not in football shape for this level. He is around 290 now. He just has to get used to carrying that much weight.

"Josh is almost 300, according to Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall)," Dunn says. "He is a true nose. We want him to play at around 295 to 293 pounds. We are looking for good things out of him. His motor runs the whole time. He will be a real addition.

Josh Thompson

"I know Josh is anxious to get going because he was a big man on campus in high school. We chose to redshirt him and I know it is hard for a competitor like that to have to go on that scout team. We are looking for good things out of him. He was having a great two-a-days and then he hurt his foot. I believe that was in that first Saturday scrimmage."

In addition to the five scholarship players who will be on the field in the spring, walk-on Todd Hughes will provide depth. Also, there is a possibility that the coaches might move a defensive end like Bret Eddins or Jay Ratliff inside to tackle, but Dunn says that is not a certainty and his priority will be developing a playing rotation using the tackles and noseguards the Tigers currently have at the two positions.

In the fall there could be addition help from the 2004 signee class, but if the current players develop as well as Dunn hopes any newcomers will have to be very good to challenge for early playing time.

Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles previewing spring practice for the Auburn Tigers. Our series will lead all the way up to the start of spring practice.

Up next: Cornerback

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