He also says that he wants to see some young players step up in scrimmage situations and prove to the coaching staff they are ready to move into starting roles for the 2004 season.
"We have got a lot of holes to fill," notes Auburn's head football coach. "Anytime you lose five of your front seven on defense, it is one of those years where you just have got to grab a hold and hold on. We are going to have to have some guys step up and we are going to have to find some playmakers.
"Having the guys like Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas, you don't replace those," Tuberville says. "You just try to find somebody that can fill the gap. Hopefully, somebody in the long run can stand up and make as many plays as these two did."
The Tigers will have to replace three of the starting front four on the defensive line. Tuberville says the three graduating seniors will be missed. "You look at Reggie Torbor, Spencer Johnson and Demarco McNeil and those guys have been with us a long time," Tuberville says. "We hate to see them go. Defensively, we have been pretty good the last few years because of those guys. Now we have got to have young guys step up."
Some of the spring experiments to watch include:
*Jay Ratliff is making his second position change. The tight end turned defensive end will be tried at defensive tackle this spring. "We feel like that he gives us a bigger body inside--a guy who can make plays," Tuberville says of the 6-5, 278-pounder. "A little bit more height. I think he will be a heck of an inside player. He will have to learn how to play there. He is a senior. It is tough to make a move like that. He is still in a position playing the three-point stance continuing to attack the line of scrimmage. I think it will be good for him."
Jay Ratliff will try to avoid injuries that have limited his playing time.
*Redshirt sophomore Karibi Dede, 6-1, 206, is moving from safety to weakside linebacker to back up Travis Williams. "He has got the speed, we feel like, to play that position," Tuberville says. "I like his mentality so we are moving him there."
*Junior Antarrious Williams, 5-11, 208, is moving from weakside linebacker to free safety where 6-4, 212 Will Herring is the returning starter. Tuberville says he believes Williams has the skills and instincts to be successful in the secondary. "He is over 200 pounds, but I think he gives us a different type of safety," Tuberville says. "He kind of reminds me of Travaris Robinson--instinctive, not too big, a guy who can make a lot of plays."
*Defensive end Kyle Derozan is being shipped to offense to play tight end. However, due to shoulder surgery in November, he will be held out of contact work this spring.
A variety of other swaps are possible. Herring could get a look at linebacker. Tackle Wayne Dickens, 6-1, 297, may play some noseguard. Cornerback Carlos Rogers could see practice time at free safety. Middle linebacker Quentin Groves may play end.
Groves is one of several talented redshirt freshmen defensive players who will be trying to break into the playing rotation. Tuberville says that cornerbacks Courtney Denson, 5-11, 198, and Patrick Lee, 6-0, 193, will be closely watched this spring. Another defensive back, 6-1, 203 safety Eric Brock, has already impressed his coaches.
"Eric Brock is a freshman from Alexander City who is going to be a phenomenal player for us," Tuberville predicts. "He continues to grow. We just have to wait and see what position he plays whether he is free or strong."
Montavian Collier, a 6-2, 219-pounder who joined the team in January, will try to make a move at outside linebacker after becoming an academic qualifier in December. Tuberville says he likes Collier's athletic ability and the freshman has looked good in offseason workouts. "He did open the eyes of the coaches," Tuberville notes. "He has got a lot of speed. Linebacker is a position we do have some depth, but he won't redshirt. He will play."
Three redshirt freshmen defensive linemen are expected to contribute this fall. "Josh Thompson (6-0, 295) and Tez Doolittle (6-3, 298), they are going to have to play," Tuberville says. "Both had real good offseasons. Both did very well in the season of redshirting. Tez Doolittle is coming off of surgery and is up to 300 pounds. Playing fullback position, moving to noseguard, he will help."
Tuberville likes what he saw of defensive end 6-2, 252 Stanley McClover last fall. "He is going to be a heck of a football player and also a leader. He is a guy this defense will be really counting on next year."
Lemarcus Rowell will try to get back in the hunt for a starting spot at MBL.
At linebacker, 6-3, 218 Lemarcus Rowell is back on the team as a junior after being suspended last fall. He spent the season at Itawamba, Miss., Junior College and had a strong season. He is on the middle linebacker depth chart behind 6-2, 225 senior Mayo Sowell and 6-3, 239 Quentin Groves.
Another middle linebacker prospect position coach Joe Whitt will be watching is 6-2, 236 redshirt sophomore Kevis Burnam, who has yet to play. He will be limited in practice this spring as he recovers from his second knee injury. "He is excited," Tuberville says of Burnam. "He is one of those who loves football. The players love him because of his hard work and what has gone through. I think he is going to be a factor us--linebacker, maybe defensive end some like Mayo Sowell played for us a couple of years ago.
"When you look at our depth chart, of all of the positions on the field, Coach Whitt doesn't have an easy job because he has a lot of players there and he has to make sure he gets them in the right position, but he does have depth," Tuberville says. "And, in some places, possibly three and four deep."
On the strongside, 6-5, 267 Bret Eddins returns as a starter at defensive end backed up by 6-3, 254 Doug Langenfeld. Both are seniors. At weakside end, 6-4, 238 sophomore Marquies Gunn starts the spring No. 1 ahead of McClover.
T.J. Jackson, a 6-1, 304 junior, is the No. 1 noseguard with McNeil gone and is ahead of Thompson and Doolittle.
In addition to senior Ratliff and junior Dickens at tackle, sophomore Timmy Duckworth, who is 6-3, 308, is a player to watch.
The first string cornerbacks to start spring are veteran 6-1, 194 Carlos Rogers and 6-3, 203 sophomore Montae Pitts. David Irons, 6-1, 183, joins the mix as a junior college transfer and part-time starter Kevin Hobbs, 6-0, 183, is back as a junior along with 5-9, 187 senior Lamel Ages.
Senior Donnay Young, who is 6-0, 204, and 6-1, 202 junior Andrew Letts back up senior starter Junior Rosegreen (6-0, 196) at strong safety while Herring will try to hold off challenges from Antarrious Williams and Eric Brock at free safety.
Kody Bliss is the returning starter as the punter and Pete Compton goes into the spring as the top deep snapper. "The sky is the limit for him," Tuberville says of Bliss. Commenting on Compton, he says, "I think he is really going to be good."
The Tigers finished fifth nationally in total defense last season, but will be hard-pressed to match that in 2004.
"Defensively, we have got a lot of holes to fill, a lot of work to do," Tuberville says. "I hope we find out some answers. I hope we don't have to wait until we get into two-a-days.
"There are going to have to be some crash courses and some guys are going to have to step up," the coach adds. "We will get our full allotment of scrimmage time because we do have to have a lot of guys who are going to have to get some full speed work vs. the offense."
Whoever does well in the scrimmages will find themselves at or near the top of the depth chart. "The only way you can find out if you have got some playmakers is throw them out in the scrimmage and get after it and see who shows up," Tuberville says.