Where's The Beef? Defensive Ends Undersized

Auburn, Ala.--<b>Gene Chizik</b> listens to the question and suddenly there is a gleam in the eye of the new Auburn defensive coordinator.

With 11 spring practices down and four to go, Chizik says he generally likes what he has seen from the Auburn defense. The secondary is improving, the linebackers look strong and the defensive tackles are playing better. Even at the No. 1 area of concern on defense, the two end positions, the Tigers are making some progress.

The question of the day for the former University of Central Florida defensive coordinator is: "How big does he like his defensive ends to be?"

"I like 'em about 6-7, 350 pounds with great speed," Chizik says with a laugh. Unfortunately for Chizik and position coach Terry Price, there is nobody that remotely fits that description on the 2002 Auburn football roster.

In fact, the current crop of defensive ends is not very big by collegiate standards. The two-deep depth chart features 6-5, 254-pound redshirt sophomore Bret Eddins running number one on the strongside ahead of 6-2, 232 redshirt freshman Jake Slaughter, who started spring drills as a middle linebacker.

On the weakside, the only proven performer at the position, junior Reggie Torbor, says he has bulked up to 248 pounds on his six-foot-three frame. His backup is the smallest of the current scholarship defensive end bunch, Steven Bouldin, who is officially listed at 6-4, 222 but has gained a few pounds the past month.

"You always want the defensive ends to have good height," Chizik says. "And, you would like them to be a very sleek 255 to 260 pounds or bigger provided they can still move like you want your defensive ends to move. So, anywhere from 250 up is really what you're looking for in our defense."

One of the players trying to make a name for himself with Chizik and Price in Auburn's new 4-3 defensive alignment is a former high school quarterback. In his last outing, a Thursday scrimmage prior to spring break, redshirt freshman Bouldin did a good job of harassing the quarterbacks with his outside pass rush.

Chizik says Bouldin is showing some potential, but needs work. "He has just got to get bigger," Chizik says. "He's got to get more physical. He's got to get stronger. And, you know, there are a lot of young guys that are kind of in the same boat as him, but he stood out in the scrimmage."

Bouldin is ahead of true freshman Brian Kuhn on the depth chart. Kuhn, an early high school graduate, is slightly larger than Bouldin at 6-4, 234 pounds, but is being outmuscled by the offensive linemen and will need time in the weight room to be more competitive. The other defensive end in the spring training mix has been out of action since the first day of full contact work. Former tight end Jay Ratliff is a 6-4, 252-pounder who is recovering from an MCL sprain. He could be practicing again when the Tigers resume drills on Tuesday following spring semester break.

With Ratliff out and the Tigers graduating Alton Moore, James Callier and Javor Mills and Torbor missing half the spring, the young defensive ends like Bouldin are getting plenty of attention.

"In terms of him getting bigger and stronger, and all that, obviously, he's a long way away," Chizik says of Bouldin. "But, he is getting better as the spring progresses. On the D-line, it's just a matter of getting more reps and more reps and more reps in order to be good at the position. So, I think that is kind of what's happening right now."

Bouldin says he believes he is making progress. After not making much noise in the first two scrimmages, the redshirt freshman was the only defensive lineman who got much pressure on the quarterbacks in the half scrimmage that closed practice prior to spring break.

Steven Bouldin (48) is trying to gain weight this spring.

Bouldin says he went into the scrimmage with the mindset that he was behind on the depth chart and it was time to crank up his game and make a move for playing time this fall. "I just got my mind set that I had a mission to take care of. I had to come out and give it all I had, you know, or likely get passed up on the depth chart. I just knew that we were fixing to have a long break and I needed to make a name then instead of waiting."

Torbor, who is running first team ahead of Bouldin, missed the first half of spring training as he recovered from a hamstring problem, but has played well since returning. Bouldin is not seriously challenging the junior, but is trying to get ready to hold off challenges from newcomers who will be arriving for two-a-days.

Reggie Torbor will be a junior this season.

"I am getting better," Bouldin says, who admits, "It's going to take a while. There are a lot of things to learn. "We're putting in so much right now, you know, it's hard. It is typical spring ball, but as far as I am concerned I am getting better. I had a slow start, but I feel I'm getting better every practice."

Unlike many Americans, Bouldin is trying to gain weight instead of lose it. "I'm trying to get up to about 245 or 250 before fall. I'm about 225 right now. That is the main thing I'm trying to work on right now."

A quarterback and basketball star at Crossville High who also played baseball, Bouldin had a difficult time keeping his weight up in high school. With just one sport to concentrate on now, he should be able to add strength and pounds. He eats three meals a day at Sewell Hall and pounds the dessert bar there. He also takes dietary supplements provided by the strength and conditioning staff and is encouraged to eat between meals.

There is opportunity for immediate playing time at defensive end this year for any Tiger who steps up and proves he can get the job done. Bouldin is well aware of the situation. "I could not be put in a better position," he says. "Reggie's the only one who got snaps last year. He's the only one who has really had playing time on the weekends."

If that isn't enough incentive to perform well in practice, there are the no-so-subtle reminders from volunteer student assistant Doug Smith about the need to go hard every play. In the neighborhood of six-foot-six and 400 pounds, the former Auburn and NFL star is an imposing presence. "Doug keeps you pumped up out there," Bouldin says. "He lets you know if you do something wrong."

Adjusting to college, gaining weight and learning a new position have made it a challenging first year for the former high school quarterback. "I've never really had to tackle anybody," he says. "I've always hit people and ran the ball. And that is been the hardest thing, probably--learning the technique on defense."

Bouldin and his teammates will go on public display on Saturday, April 6th at the annual A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. Among the activities for the weekend are an Auburn baseball series vs. LSU and the TigerWalk Run being sponsored by the Auburn Football Lettermen Club. There will be a five kilometer race and a one-kilometer fun run. Both will finish at the 50-yard line at Jordan-Hare Stadium. To register and for more information to go:

TigerWalk Run

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