Spring Football Preview: Defensive Line

Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of articles previewing Auburn's spring football practice.

Auburn, Ala.--With the Tigers having to replace senior starters at noseguard and at tackle, Don Dunn says this is an important spring for players on the interior defensive front.

"As always, we want to develop great fundamentals, great technique in the spring," the Auburn defensive line coach tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "We want to continue to run to the football and develop toughness.

"We lost two very good players, who I thought had very good years--Tommy Jackson and Wayne Dickens," Dunn says. "I am very proud of what they did, but they are gone. I have got to develop a three technique (tackle). I have some good candidates like Sen'Derrick Marks and of course Josh Thompson, who will move back to nose full-time. Tez Doolittle (kneecap) is injured now. I don't know how much spring ball he is going to be able to get, which is tough on us."

With Doolittle unlikely to be a factor in spring drills that start on Tuesday, the coaching looked at moving several defensive ends inside to tackle like they have done in recent years with players like Spencer Johnson and Jay Ratliff. Both of those experiments paid dividends and they started at tackle for the Tigers and moved on to play in the NFL.

This spring's experiment is moving senior Christopher Browder from end to tackle, even though he is undersized at 6-4, 262. In pass rushing situations, look for Marquis Gunn and Octavius Balkcom to play inside, too, when the Tigers could go to a four defensive end look in an attempt to pressure the quarterback.

Josh Thompson pushed for a starting job last season as a sophomore.

"We are very young," Dunn says of his overall group. "We don't have a lot of experience other than Josh. Pat Sims is currently back on the team. He is going to have to prove to us he is dedicated to what we want to get done in the classroom with academics and on the football field. He has shown great promise so far."

Sims, a sophomore, quit the team last fall, but decided he didn't want to leave and was given another opportunity. He just wrapped up the winter workout program with his teammates on Thursday.

Pat Sims looks to make a play in spring training last season.

Neil Brown, who played on the defensive front at both tackle and end last year, won't return for the 2006 season. The same is true of Rudy Odom and Brian West, who redshirted last fall as true freshmen. Nathan Farrow, a walk-on who worked at noseguard, has moved to offense.

"Nathan has moved to the offensive line, which is his natural position," Dunn says. "He is a great effort kid. I think he will help Coach (Hugh) Nall and this football team."

Dunn says he wants to get out of spring training with a solid two-deep rotation set at noseguard and tackle. "With our numbers, that might be difficult," he notes. "I know I am pretty set with Josh at the nose."

The defensive line coach says he is excited about the potential that Marks has. He played briefly last fall as a true freshman, but was redshirted after an injury. He is 100 percent now and has added 30 pounds. He is up to 287.

"Sen'Derrick is still young, but has shown great promise," Dunn says. "He is still not strong enough, but he is getting better every day.

Andrew McCain will try to earn more playing time in his second season on campus.

"We will also have Andrew McCain at the three technique," Dunn says of the player who saw action last fall at end and tackle as a true freshman. "Andrew played a little bit for us last year." McCain, the tallest defensive lineman at six-foot-six, is trying to add weight. He played in the high 250s last year and is trying to add more size as a sophomore. With the exception of Browder, the other interior linemen are significantly larger with Thompson, Doolittle and Sims all expected to play at around 300 pounds this season.

"Out of those guys, I have got to find a two-deep," Dunn says. "Besides the linebackers, I will probably have one of the most inexperienced groups on the defense and that is a concern, but they are working hard. Coming out of spring we want to develop great fundamentals, technique and confidence."

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