Auburn, Ala.--While Joe Whitt is smiling a few doors down the hall at the Auburn Football Complex, defensive ends coach Terry Price is not exactly ready to start turning cartwheels in anticipation of spring practice on Friday.
Whitt is three deep in strong candidates at the three linebacker spots he is coaching. In contrast, Price is more concerned about being one deep in quality and healthy players for the two defensive end slots after graduating Alton Moore, James Callier and Javor Mills from the 2001 team. Compounding the problem was that early signee Seante Williams could not make the grade academically to enroll at Auburn and the junior college defensive end re-signed with Southern Mississippi.
Reggie Torbor is the only experienced defensive end on the 2002 team.
"Man, it is going to be a long spring," Price says. "The only guy I have got coming back with any real experience is Reggie Torbor. He has played a lot of snaps for us since he has been here. He is the one who is going to have to provide leadership for the group."
Torbor, a 6-3, 235-pound redshirt junior from Baton Rouge, La., is a converted running back and safety who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman. He had 17 solo tackles, nine assists, three sacks and five tackles for losses that fall. Last season he didn't start, but had made more total tackles with 26 solos and four assists. He had five tackles for 32 yards in losses and was credited with 2.5 quarterback sacks.
Junior Reggie Torbor
Torbor is expected to miss the first week of spring practice as he recovers from a hamstring injury he suffered during winter workouts. With Torbor out, Bret Eddins will open the spring as the No. 1 weakside defensive end. Eddins is a 6-5, 254-pounder.
"Bret Eddins is a redshirt sophomore and it is time for him to step up for us," Price says. "He has been here for two years now. It is time for him to start being a productive player for us and I think he can. He works hard. He just has to show it on the football field. He played on special teams last year. He has an opportunity, but it is up to him how much he plays."
Sophomore Bret Eddins.
True freshman Brian Kuhn is the third stringer as a weakside defensive end. Kuhn, who is 6-4, 234 pounds, was playing for Crescent City High a little more than three months ago. He decided to take early graduation from high school to get a head start on spring drills. His timing couldn't have been much better with Auburn having a major need for help at both defensive end positions.
"Kuhn is a kid who should still be in high school," Price says. "He is a kid who we won't know much about until we get out there on the practice field. He has worked hard in the offseason program as have all of our defensive ends."
Jay Ratliff is making a move from offense to defense.
At the strongside defensive end spot, converted tight end Jay Ratliff is listed as the number one player ahead of redshirt freshman Steven Bouldin. Ratliff has much better size at 6-5, 252 pounds. Bouldin is 6-4, 222 pounds.
"Ratliff is a big physical guy we moved over from tight end," Price says. "With our lack of depth at tight end, hopefully he can help us a bunch. He has never played the position. We just have to get out there and go to work and see who shows up. It is going to be a real interesting spring."
Sophomore Jay Ratliff
The fact that Price has Ratliff as his number one strongside defensive end shows how little experience the coach will be working with in 2002. Bouldin, a 2001 signee, made some progress last fall and showed signs of developing into a good pass rusher.
"Steve Bouldin is tall, real rangy and real raw as a football player," Price says of the former high school football and basketball standout. "Obviously, he needs to get bigger and stronger to be a productive player. He is a guy who works hard. We will see how he does in spring practice. He came as a quarterback and this will be his first year being a full-time defensive end."
Bouldin (48) runs a drill last season at the indoor practice facility.
While other position coaches are trying to figure out who will work into the picture in their two deep or even three deep lineups, Price has more serious concerns. "I am worried about being one deep first," he says. "I don't know who that is yet. We have a bunch of question marks. That is the best way to describe it."
Redshirt freshman Steven Bouldin
Tiger Ticket Extra: Price has these comments on the roles of the strongside and weakside defensive ends in the 2002 Auburn defense. "A strongside end has to play a lot more against the tight end. He plays a lot more six (head-up on the tight end) technique. The strongside defensive end has to be a little more physical because he will get a lot of double teams. The weakside end is your better pass rushing guy. He has to be quick, but he doesn't have to be as big as the strongside end."
Bret Eddins (94) battles offensive tackle Rich Trucks during two-a-days last August.
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