Dickens was one of the more heavily recruited defensive linemen in the country coming out of Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, Fla. He chose Auburn over Florida State, Florida, Miami, LSU and several other big-time programs. However, since arriving at Auburn, he has only managed to start three games and tally 31 career tackles without a sack.
The 6-1, 297 junior had been working exclusively at the defensive tackle position where Johnson started last year until noseguard Tommy Jackson went down with a dislocated elbow in preseason drills. Since that happened, he has also seen practice time as noseguard where McNeil started last season.
"I know both spots and I can play both," Dickens says. "The last week, I really didn't play as much nose as when T.J. first went out. Hopefully, I don't have to go back to that because I really don't like playing it, but I'm a team guy and I'm going to do whatever I can for the team."
A year ago, Gene Chizik's defense finished the season allowing only 281.6 yards per game, good for fifth in the country. This year, Chizik is looking for somebody to step in the middle to shore up depth. The defensive coordinator says, "Wayne is doing about 50/50–some good some bad–50/50, which is disappointing."
"If Wayne Dickens will come on and at least be 75/25, then you've got Jay (Ratliff) and Wayne (at defensive tackle), Tommy and Josh (Josh Thompson at noseguard), and you're fifth guy could be Pat Sims or Tez Doolittle. I know you've got to have four (interior linemen), and you probably got to have five. That's the way it's been since I've been here. Because they're going to get beat up as the year goes on. Wayne's been playing both right now because Tommy's been hurt."
Dickens would prefer to play the tackle position rather than the noseguard position. "There's more double teams (at noseguard) on pass rush," Dickens says. "At the three-technique (tackle), you get a one-on-one pass rush. Things happen a little bit quicker and you are a little bit closer on the ball. It feels a little bit like you're out there on the end when you're playing the three-technique because you've got good space, and noseguard is real tight and everything things happens real fast."
Dickens is being counted on this year to provide help at two positions.
Defensive tackles coach Don Dunn is looking for more consistent play from Dickens, too. "Wayne did some good things and some bad things (at Friday's major scrimmage)," Dunn says. "I'm probably a little bit disappointed in his overall scrimmage."
Dickens says that he has been spending a lot of time working on his technique, which is something he needs to work on to be more consistent during practice. "Right now it's pretty up and down for me," Dickens says. "I go out there and have a good day, and I go out there and have a bad day. When I go out there it's just trying to do the same things everyday, and doing them right. Once I get my techniques down I think I'll have a good year.
"Some plays I'm getting off slow from not keying the ball," he adds. "Sometimes it's from not focusing, sometimes it's from not being set, and sometimes it's from getting a call late. It's a lot of different things."
The junior had his best practice of the preseason on Tuesday, winning praise from his coaches. With the season opener just a little more than a week away, Tommy Tuberville and his staff will be looking for more of the same from Wayne Dickens.