Auburn Football Preview: Defensive Line

A look at Auburn's noseguards and defensive tackles is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Defensive line coach Don Dunn will be checking out a mixture of old and new candidates to take over for the pair of starters he must replace off the 2005 Auburn football team.

Last season the Tigers started senior Tommy Jackson at noseguard and senior Wayne Dickens at tackle. Heading into the start of preseason practice, senior Christopher Browder is running first team at tackle while redshirt junior Josh Thompson is number one at the nose.

"We are excited to get going again," says Dunn, whose linemen take the field for the start of practice on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at the intramural fields. "It is that time of year. Talking to Coach Yox (strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall) and everybody involved in summer workouts, everyone has been working hard. Some people are trying to step up and be leaders.

"I am anxious to see the young kids," Dunn adds. "From what I have heard they have done a good job. They seem to be willing to learn and to work. I am excited about that. Just seeing them in the hall and when they come by my office, they look the part. Physically, they are probably the best looking group we have brought in to Auburn in a while."

Josh Thompson is the likely starter at noseguard after a strong spring and two seasons of significant playing time in a reserve role.

Newcomers to the position include freshmen Mike Blanc from Pompano Beach, Fla., and Deerfield Beach High, Bart Eddins from Montgomery's Trinity Presbyterian School, Byron Isom from Lovejoy High in Jonesboro, Ga., and Jermarcus Ricks from Colbert County High in Leighton.

Dunn says he will probably give all of the freshmen a look at the tackle spot. "I don't know who will play where yet," he says.

Two more newcomers who could move into the mix are freshmen Zach Clayton from Opelika, a player who is likely to get his first look at defensive end, and Greg Smith, a junior college transfer who is still trying to finish classes and transfer to Auburn.

"A wildcard is whether or not Greg Smith joins us," Dunn notes. "We will swap the guys around (between noseguard and tackle) and we may also have a guy who can move outside (to end). Maybe Zach Clayton can grow and come down inside.

"I am sure there will be one or two who may eventually go over to the offensive line," Dunn says. "It is our philosophy to get real good athletes who have real good feet and move them around. We want to get the best ones out there."

All of the new defensive linemen have been on campus this summer working with the older players except for Smith.

In the spring, Dunn noted that he liked what he saw from Tez Doolittle, a 6-3, 298 junior, and Pat Sims, a 6-4, 314 sophomore. They can play both tackle and noseguard. Another option is redshirt freshman Sen'Derrick Marks, who has bulked up to 6-1, 287. He showed promise last fall and in the spring.

Pat Sims quit the team last fall, but decided to come back in the winter and could see playing time this season.

"We are looking for big things out of Josh Thompson and from Chris Browder," Dunn says. "Chris, being the only senior inside, we are trying to put some pressure on him to be a leader. Josh has been trying to be a leader all summer. I am excited about the prospects of Tez Dooley coming through, finally, and Pat Sims. It is kind of their year. They have got to get something done.

"With Sen'Derrick Marks, another young kid, we feel good about him and all of the other young men," Dunn adds. "I don't know who of the freshmen we will play, if any. I would love to redshirt them all."

Christopher Browder, who played end last year, will try to win the starting job at the tackle spot vacated by Wayne Dickens.

Dunn, the senior member of the defensive staff in age after Joe Whitt moved off the field to Tigers Unlimited earlier this year, says he is excited about working with the two new coaches on defense. Will Muschamp has taken over as coordinator and secondary coach while former Tiger James Willis returned home to coach the linebackers.

"I am extremely upbeat about Will Muschamp being here along with James Willis," Dunn says. "I think we have a young, enthusiastic group of defensive coaches. I am the oldest one on the staff now. I have to keep up with those young guys. I think you are going to see a lot of emotion, a lot of commitment, a lot more aggressiveness as far trying to get turnovers. This group seems to really enjoy practice, which isn't always the case. Hopefully it will be a good year and we will stay healthy. We have got to be lucky. We have to play our tails off."

The Tigers open the season Sept. 2nd as the Washington State Cougars make their first appearance at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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