2006 Auburn Football Preview: Defensive Ends

Although big-name defensive end Stanley McClover is gone from last year's team, the Auburn Tigers have one of the top defensive end tandems in the country returning and Coach Terry Price is looking to build depth behind the two when the Tigers open fall practice in early August.

Auburn, Ala.—-While Stanley McClover seemed to get much of the attention at the defensive end position the past two seasons, the combination of Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves has quietly gotten the job done without much fanfare. This season could be different though as the duo is expected to form one of the SEC's top defensive end units when the Tigers open the 2006 season on Sept. 2nd vs. Washington State.

Auburn is expected to have one of the top teams in the SEC this year. For that to happen the defense must continue to learn and improve in Coach Will Muschamp's system after a spring practice introduction to the new coordinator. Position Coach Terry Price says that while there were some good things he saw from the ends in the spring, the unit must improve dramatically this fall if Auburn hopes to reach championship caliber early in the season.

"I thought spring was okay," Price says. "It was an average spring, it could have been better in a lot of areas. We'll continue to harp on the physical part of the game, just being more physical at the point of attack for all our guys up front. I think we've got a lot of room for improvement in all areas.

"I think we've got guys that are willing to learn and work," Price adds. "They've worked hard in the offseason to get bigger and more physical. Hopefully, that will carry over to two-a-days when we start practice again."

Quentin Groves is a player who should excel in Will Muschamp's defensive system.

Being bigger is something that Muschamp believes in from his time at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins under Nick Saban. That has been a point of emphasis in offseason conditioning for the Tigers. Price notes that his players are bigger and stronger following a winter, spring and summer with Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Yoxall.

"All of the credit goes to Coach Yox," Price says. "He's done an outstanding job. I remember Marquies Gunn came to camp as a high school guy and he was 207. Last year he was 248 and now I think he's up to 265. He has continued to get bigger and stronger. That's what we need and the size he needs to be to compete week in and week out in this conferece.

"Q (Quentin Groves) and some of the other guys have put on some weight. He's 250 plus and Antonio Coleman is 250 plus so hopefully now we can be anchors and more physical against the run."

Returning as the starters coming out of the spring are Gunn and Groves. One of the most experienced defenders on Auburn's roster, Gunn has 13 starts in his career on the Plains and has been solid with 61 career tackles and eight career sacks. A more explosive pass rusher, Groves has also fared well in his two seasons of play with 47 tackles and an impressive 13 1/2 sacks. Price says that both will go into the season as the starters, but that is not etched in stone.

"I don't feel solid about anybody right now," Price says. "I'm going to put it up for grabs during two-a-days as far as a lot of positions and see what happens. Obviously, Marquies Gunn and Quentin Groves have played a lot of football for us. Antonio Coleman did some good things during two-a-days, but we've got to try to find at least five guys to get ready. Right now we don't have that number. We hope to find them during two-a-days.

"Hopefully, some of the young guys will step up and some of the older guys will continue to get better," Price says. "It's still a work in progress, but a lot of those questions will be answered when we start practice."

Antonio Coleman is a fierce pass rusher that could be a third-down specialist for the Tigers this season.

A redshirt freshman, Coleman is a good bet to win the backup job behind Groves on the weak side while sophomore Octavious Balkcom returns after playing well in the spring behind Gunn on the strong side. Throw in walk-on Brandon Haley along with incoming freshmen Zach Clayton, Bryant Miller and Darrell Roseman and Price has some bodies to work with, and all of the ends are expected to see all the action they want during two-a-days.

Zach Clayton, a true freshman from Opelika High, has been on campus all summer preparing for the 2006 season.

"It (scrimmage time) won't be as hard as it has been in the past because I'm not as deep as I've been in the past," Price says. "With Chris Browder going to tackle and Alonzo Horton going to linebacker it has made my position thinner than it has been in the past. Some of these young guys will get reps and we'll get a chance to evaluate them. We've got a lot of big bodies in this class so we'll get a chance to look at them and see how they react in that pressure cooker known as SEC football for the first time.

"We've got a bunch of big bodies out there," he adds. "Usually in the past we've had guys that have had to put on weight over the first two or three years. Now we've got guys that have size and strength already, which is a big plus. It's going to be exciting to get some guys out there that are bigger body guys. We'll see if they can help us this year or in the future."

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