Despite trying screens and draw plays to minimize their disruption, the dynamic duo of Quentin Groves and Stanley McClover left no doubt that they are ready to emerge as one of the premier pass rushing tandems in the country in 2005.
Last season both Groves and McClover totaled seven and a half sacks, good enough for the team lead for the Tigers and in the top five in the SEC statistics. All that came while neither was considered a starter. Instead they backed up positions with Bret Eddins and Doug Langenfeld as the senior starters.
This season things were supposed to be different as McClover entered the spring as the starter on the weakside and junior Marquies Gunn on the strongside. Groves was scheduled to be McClover's backup as both tried to learn how the play tougher against the run, something which Gunn excels at. Saturday the coaches moved Groves to the strongside opposite McClover for the first time after he had shown progress being more physical, and the results were impressive.
Groves and McClover have a terrific sense of togetherness both on and off the football field.
Despite playing less than half the scrimmage, both players made three sacks and disrupted the offense time and time again. More importantly, they played the run solid. Groves says the experiment was a good one and a good learning experience for him and the defense.
"I have been trying it in practice so coach (Terry Price) can see how I look out there," Groves says. "It was my first time. I'm getting a feel for it with the tight end over me and getting used to it with Marcus McNeill and Cooper Wallace coming down on me. It's a lot of weight."
While both Gunn and Christopher Browder have been solid in practice, there is no denying the fact that Groves and McClover deliver a different game when they're on the field. When they're on the field together, as they were during Saturday's scrimmage, they become even more of a nuisance for the offense as they're unable to be double-teamed. Groves said that the two just have a unique feel for each other and that translates into their play on the field.
"That's me and my brother," Groves says. "Any time we get on the field together we have fun. We play each down like it's our last down. We look at it as a chance, not only to get better, but a chance to show people what we're made of. Most people think because we're young and we're somewhat undersized for the SEC, that we can't play with the big boys. We just have fun and when we break they huddle we say, ‘I'll meet you back there.' That's just something we do."
A powerful pass-rusher since arriving on the Auburn campus two years ago and wowing on the scout team, McClover has improved his game against the run just like Groves through hard work on the field and in the weight room. He says that he believes they're now ready to play opposite each other and cause some headaches for opposing offenses.
"I think it worked pretty good," McClover says of the change. "If I can't get him I know he will and if he can't I will. That works out pretty good to get both of us on the field at the same time. That will be good, and I'm not talking down Marquies Gunn and Chris Browder because they're great players, but Coach Price is moving around some people right now trying to see what his best combination is."