That is not the case any longer as a mass of minor injuries has limited Coach Terry Price to just four players on each of the last few practice days and has forced Price to turn to some unfamiliar faces for depth this season.
One of the most promising has been true freshman Neil Brown. A standout at Buford, Ga., High since early in his high school career, Brown was a player that was also being considered as a potential center on offense.It turned out his collegiate home is at defensive end and Price says he's already shown some signs of being a good end down the road.
Neil Brown is showing that he is willing to work at becoming a defensive end.
"With the injuries we are moving our depth chart around to fit what we do on defense this year," says Price, who adds he isn't sure if Brown will play this seson or redshirt. "Nobody really knows right now. I know he's proven that he's going to be a real good player for us in the future. We just have to see how he fits into our plans. Right now we're not real sure yet.
"He's a guy that comes from the state of Georgia in a great program, Buford High School," Price adds. "He plays with good technique and pad level, and is really quick. The biggest thing about him is that his motor runs all the time. He's going to be a good player for us here at Auburn. I like the way he works. He's really improving every day."
Undersized to play inside at tackle or noseguard for the Tigers, Brown was slotted to start his Auburn career at defensive end, but the Auburn coaches were unsure of what to expect from him. A battler in high school, Brown has carried that trait over to his first two weeks of college practice and he said that's something that was instilled in him by his high school coaches.
"It's been fun," Brown says. "I was coached well in high school and that has helped me here, but it's a totally different level up here. It's fun getting to know the players and hitting. The contact level is a lot higher and the speed is faster. It has been pretty fun.
"I think that has given me a leg up," Brown adds. "Our coaches back in Buford, they pushed on effort. That's what it is here. If you give the effort, you're going to make mistakes here, but running down a play will make up for it. That has helped me out a lot."
Quentin Groves (54) has good speed as a pass rusher.
Brown has been the beneficiary of some injury problems to his fellow defensive ends. Starter Bret Eddins has been out for the better part of a week with an ankle problem and fellow senior Doug Langenfeld has also been bothered by a bad ankle. With just Quentin Groves on his side, Brown has been able to get more reps in scrimmage and practice full squad situations. He says that is going to help him a great deal as the Tigers get into the season and may give him a leg up to help out the team this fall.
"I think it's going to give me a shot," Brown notes. "You never know when it's going to be your turn. I'm just taking every day like it could be my last. I'm just enjoying every rep I get so that when I get into the game, hopefully it will transfer."
Brown is not the only player taking full advantage of the injury situation. Groves is also making strides at defensive end after playing linebacker for much of last season and all spring. Price says that Groves definitely has the talent to make good things happen at end, but has to get more consistent to become a solid player.
"In certain areas he's gotten better and in certain areas he still needs a lot of work," Price states. "The good Lord blessed him with a lot of ability, but technique-wise he has a lot, a lot of work to do. He's really struggling sometimes in that area. He's trying to work at it and get better, but he's just not there yet."