Defense A Good Mix Of Youth And Experience

Auburn's Tommy Tuberville talks about his defense heading into spring practice and some of the players he's looking forward to seeing in action.

Auburn, Ala--One glance at Auburn's defensive depth chart and the one thing that stands out is depth and experience. Half of the two-deep going into the opening practice on Feb. 28 is comprised of juniors and seniors. That's quite a change from past seasons when several freshmen and sophomores made an impact on the defense.

What had been a position of questions following the losses of seniors Travis Williams and Antarrious Williams, the linebacker position could turn out to be a position of strength with the move of senior Will Herring to the strong side ahead of fellow senior Kevin Sears. Senior Karibi Dede moves inside to the middle linebacker position and will be backed-up by sophomores Chris Evans, Courtney Harden and Mark Pickett.

At the weak side position could be the biggest battle of the spring as sophomore Merrill Johnson will attempt to hold off freshman Tray Blackmon for the starting job. Similar players in terms of speed and size, both bring something to the table and should help Auburn's defense right away next fall. Tuberville said Blackmon showed what he could do during bowl practices in December.

"The guy that really showed out was Tray Blackmon at linebacker," Tuberville said. "He was all over the field. You can always tell when you've got a pretty good defensive player when the offensive coaches are talking about him. They normally don't know the names of the defensive guys they're going against, but Tray was already showing up."

Blackmon is a physical player that brings a rough edge to the defense.

Up front there are plenty of question marks with the losses of starters Tommy Jackson, Wayne Dickens and Stanley McClover from last season's line. Although veterans return such as Marquies Gunn, Quentin Groves, Josh Thompson and Christopher Browder, there will be new roles for some and also the chance for quite a few young players to make a push during the spring.

On the outside players such as Alonzo Horton, Antonio Coleman and Octavius Balkcom will be pushing starters Gunn and Groves for playing time. Tuberville said that all three have a chance to make some noise this spring and for several players it's their time to shine.

"The guys we need to come on are Alonzo Horton, who we know nothing about other than he's big and strong and can run," Tuberville said. "We've got to get him in the technique mode along with Antonio Coleman and Octavius Balkcom. He's a guy that has been around and needs to show it. We've got a lot of guys that, it's their turn. If they're going to play here and perform for us and help us win games then it's their time to show up. Most of them understand that."

Gunn and Groves will be counted on to provide leadership to the younger defensive ends this spring and next fall.

Inside the spring is one for growth, not just mentally but physically as well. With the undersized Browder the number one tackle, there is definitely an open spot there with freshman Sen'derrick Marks and sophomore Andrew McCain behind him. Bigger and more physical in their second season, both should show improvement this spring. Also look for sophomore Pat Sims to get a look at tackle in addition to seeing time at noseguard behind the starter Thompson.

Noseguard Josh Thompson takes over for the departed Tommy Jackson for the Auburn defense.

Under the watchful eye of new coordinator and position coach Will Muschamp, the Auburn secondary returns a number of veterans at key spots but will be looking for some help at free safety with the move of Herring to linebacker. Sophomores Tristan Davis and Lorenzo Ferguson will get the first crack at the position and both bring more speed and athleticism to the position. At strong safety junior Eric Brock and sophomore Steve Gandy return to battle for top honors once again.

Tristan Davis enters the spring as the first-team free safety.

At cornerback Auburn is as deep and talented as any team in the SEC this season with the return of starters David Irons and Jonathan Wilhite along with veterans Montae Pitts and Patrick Lee. Throw in talented freshmen Aairon Savage, Jerraud Powers and Walter McFadden along with talented walk-on Zach Gilbert and Auburn is eight-deep at the position heading into spring practice.

"Aairon Savage is going to be a guy that is going to push our other corners," Tuberville said. "I think he's going to push our other corners along with McFadden and Jerraud Powers. He didn't do a whole lot in the fall because he broke his foot. He missed most of the fall.

"We've got a lot of young guys in the secondary," he added. "Eric Brock needs to have a good spring along with Gandy. There's going to be a lot of competition there at the strong safety position."

Defensive Depth Chart:

Defensive End
48 Marquies Gunn, Sr.
41 Octavius Balkcom, So.
93 Brandon Haley, Jr.

Noseguard
97 Josh Thompson, Jr.
99 Tez Doolittle, Jr.
95 Pat Sims, So.

Defensive Tackle
92 Chris Browder, Sr.
94 Sen'Derrick Marks, Fr.
80 Andrew McCain, So.

Defensive End
54 Quentin Groves, Jr.
46 Antonio Coleman, Fr.
85 Alonzo Horton, Fr.

Strong Linebacker
35 Will Herring, Sr.
40 Kevin Sears, Sr.
42 Patrick Trahan, Fr.

Middle Linebacker
21 Karibi Dede, Sr.
59 Chris Evans, So.
56 Courtney Harden, So.
57 Mark Pickett, So.

Weak Linebacker
55 Merrill Johnson, So.
10 Tray Blackmon, Fr.

Strong Safety
33 Eric Brock, Jr.
26 Steve Gandy, So.
28 Blake Shrader, So.

Free Safety
27 Tristan Davis, So.
14 Lorenzo Ferguson, So.
39 Josh Hebert, Jr.

Cornerback
4 David Irons, Sr.
2 Aairon Savage, Fr.
20 Patrick Lee, Jr.
38 Zach Gilbert, Jr.

Cornerback
24 Jonathan Wilhite, Jr.
19 Montavis Pitts, Sr.
29 Jerraud Powers, Fr.
6 Walter McFadden, Fr.

Placekicker
37 John Vaughn, Sr.
18 Zach Kutch, So.

Punter

30 Kody Bliss, Sr.
13 Patrick Martyn, So.


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