Gene Chizik's defense was ranked fifth nationally in total defense in 2003.
That trend will likely continue in spring training 2004 as Chizik takes on expanded duties as coach of the cornerbacks in addition to the safeties with Phillip Lolley moving off the field to become the director of high school and NFL relations.
With starters Junior Rosegreen and Will Herring returning, plus all of the backups coming back with the exception of 2003 senior Roshard Gilyard, Chizik will have a variety of options to look at this spring.
"Right now, I don't know what position changes we are going to do at this point," Chizik says. "We are throwing around some ideas."
Will Herring is the returning starter at free safety.
Chizik says whoever mans the free safety and strong safety spots, he wants to see them do a better job in 2004. "Obviously, we have to become better tacklers at those positions and we have got to get some more guys making some plays at the safety positions," he says.
"Obviously, the guy who has got to step up right now is Junior because we are not going to move him around or bounce him around," says Chizik, who had Rosegreen open the 2003 season at cornerback. "He is going to play safety. I am not really sure yet which one, but I know it will be at one of the two and he will be there all year.
"Junior has got to come through and make some plays and he has got to up his game a notch and so does anybody else that is going to play with him," Chizik says.
Rosegreen will be a senior this fall while Herring is preparing for his sophomore season. "Now that Will is comfortable in the defense and knows where he is supposed to be he needs to come on through and be a better tackler," Chizik says. "You know he feels comfortable with where he is at. He is one of the guys who has got to make some more big plays for us and make some things happens. We are just hoping he comes through and continues to grow as a player and get better."
Another redshirt sophomore, Karibi Dede, competed with Herring and will be in competition for a starting spot again this spring. "The same thing is true of Karibi Dede as with the others," Chizik says. "We need some more consistency out of him.
"I didn't think anybody was a great tackler this past year and we have got to really try to really work on those skills this spring," Chizik says. "Karibi had a couple of balls hit him in the hands that I thought he should have picked off so we have just got to get more consistency and we have got to get guys that are going to make some plays when they get the opportunities."
"A guy you don't want to leave out of the mix is Eric Brock," Chizik says of the redshirt freshman from Alexander City. "I am really looking forward working with Eric Brock at safety and seeing if he can go in there and push somebody for a job."
Eric Brock is shown in practice last fall.
Antarrious Williams, a junior who played defensive back in high school, is expected to get a look at safety this spring. Williams, 6-0, 205, was a little-used backup last season at weakside linebacker behind Travis Williams, who will also be a junior this season.
Among the other experiments that could take place in the spring with the safeties are moving both Dede and Herring closer to the line of scrimmage to see how they handle the assignments at outside linebacker. Karlos Dansby, the star of the 2003 defense, made a similar move with lots of success two years ago.
Another possibility as a safety is starting cornerback Carlos Rogers, the senior who has seen some practice time at safety in the past. However, that is an experiment the coaches might not make, especially if the group of young cornerbacks does not step up and push for playing time in the spring.
The Tigers take the field on Feb. 29th for the first of 15 practices that will run past the March 20th A-Day Game.
Editor's Note: This is the fifth in a series of previews on spring football 2004.
Next Up: Linebackers.