The loss of Sears and Blackmon equates to the loss of valuable playing experience in terms of Sears' appearance in 35 games and depth in terms of Blackmon's potential to be a star at linebacker.
Even without the recent disciplinary action, Auburn had already lost the services of Montae Pitts (DB). Pitts career at Auburn was a rollercoaster ride, but he did have 104 career tackles, which was second on the team only to Will Herring (176). Pitts would not have been a starter in 2006, but he would have provided Auburn with experienced depth needed on a youthful defense.
Looking at the projected two-deep chart on defense, Auburn's average defensive player enters the 2006 season with 14.2 games of experience. The projected starters raise the experience level to only 18.1 games.
Projected Starters for Washington State…
*Marquies Gunn (DE), 24 games
*Quentin Groves (DE), 27 games
*Josh Thompson (DT), 23 games
*Sen'Derrick Marks (DT), 3 games
*Merrill Johnson (LB), 11 games
*Karibi Dede (LB), 8 games
*Will Herring (LB), 38 games
*David Irons (CB), 11 games
*Jonathan Wilhite (CB), 12 games
*Eric Brock (S), 25 games
*Aairon Savage (S), 0 games
Auburn should be very good at defensive end in terms of experience and talent. Gunn and Groves provide Auburn with a combined 51 games of experience to go along with 100 tackles and 21 career sacks. Other than Georgia, Auburn has the best set of defensive ends within the conference. Browder has seen action in 22 ball games and redshirt freshman Antonio Coleman will see his first live action this upcoming season.
Thompson and Marks combine for only 13 career games as Auburn breaks in two new starters at defensive tackle. This is one of the reasons why Coach Muschamp wanted to switch to a 3-4 scheme on certain occasions. There is very little experience behind them with Tez Doolittle and Pat Sims seeing limited action in 12 games. Auburn's four defensive tackles have accumulated only 18 career tackles at Auburn. The good news is that Doolittle and Sims had their best spring since arriving at Auburn and both players could play a major role in making Auburn a great defense in 2006.
Will Herring will be counted on to be one of Auburn's top tacklers this fall at his new position.
Most of the experience on defense can be found at the linebacker position with Herring and Dede. Both senior linebackers have 38 games under their belts, but Herring will be playing linebacker for the first time at Auburn. It was a great move on the part of the coaching staff because Herring has excelled at playing close to the line of scrimmage during his career and he's one of the most reliable tacklers. Both players are the two leading career tacklers on defense, combining for 274 stops in three years. Johnson has seen action in 11 games with 21 career tackles.
Jonathan Wilhite looks ready to have a big junior season for the Tigers.
Irons and Wilhite just might be the best set of corners in the Southeastern Conference despite their limited experience at the Division I level. If they can stay healthy, they will allow Coach Muschamp more flexibility with his blitz packages. Patrick Lee will provide solid depth at corner with 24 appearances in an Auburn uniform. Jerraud Powers brings quality talent to the table, but will see his first action as an Auburn Tiger in 2006.
Brock has 40 career tackles in 25 games, which is a primary reason he could lock down one of the safety positions. Savage will be the new face in the secondary, but he will bring plenty of athletic ability. With Herring's move to linebacker, the safety position becomes a major question mark.
Projected Second Team…
*Chris Browder (DE)--Most experienced reserve DL
*Antonio Coleman (DE)--No previous experience
*Tez Doolittle (DT)--Limited action
*Pat Sims (DT)--Limited action *Steve Gandy (LB)--Starting experience at safety, he moved to LB because of recent suspensions
*Chris Evans (LB)--Limited experience
*Pat Trahan (LB)--No previous experience
*Patrick Lee (CB)--Most experienced reserve
*Jerraud Powers (CB)--No previous experience
*Lorenzo Ferguson (S)--Limited experience
*Tristan Davis (S)--Limited experience, great speed.
Breakdown of experience at each position…
The starting defensive ends average 25.5 games of experience, but the second team drops to 11.0 games. All around the defensive tackles lack experience with 6.5 games from the starters and 6.0 games for the reserves.
The starting linebackers possess the most experience with 29.0 games per player, but the second-string average only 8.3 appearances. The starting corners average 11.5 games with 12.0 games of experience in reserve. Thanks only to Brock, the safety position averaged 12.0 games of experience with 11.5 games of experience on the second team.
Only Herring, Dede and Gunn bring more than 50 career tackles to the 2006 Auburn defense. In fact, 15 of the 22 players on the projected depth chart have less than 25 career tackles. Of the 22 defensive players on the projected two-deep chart only seven have seen action in more than 22 games, but five of them are starters. The first and second team defense has combined for 647 tackles, 28 sacks, 10 interceptions and seven forced-fumbles.
Defensive Averages since 1999…
Since the arrival of Tuberville at AU, here are Auburn's defensive averages against Division I-A opponents with a winning record:
1999: 391 yards and 26 points
2000: 341 yards and 25 points
2001: 380-yards and 27 points
A change was needed at defensive coordinator (John Lovett) and Gene Chizik was brought on board for 2002 season.
2002: 349 yards and 20 points 2003: 318 yards and 20 points 2004: 310 yards and 13 points
Auburn improved defensively every year under Gene Chizik. Even during the 2003 season with a brutal schedule and an inconsistent offense, Auburn's defense was one of the best in the country.
2005: 339 yards and 20 points
Even with an improved offense under coordinator Al Borges compared to the 2003 season, Auburn's defense struggled, especially late in the year. It was in the best interest of both parties, Auburn and Coach David Gibbs parted ways.
The Washington State Cougars will probably be the best "passing" offense Auburn will face in 2006. Opening the season with a deficit in experience could become a factor if the Cougars can establish a running game.
There is no doubt the Cougars will throw the ball 30-40 times, but how Auburn defends the run will decide the outcome of this game. Since 1961, Auburn is 29-2 against opponents who have thrown for at least 250 yards, but were held under 100 yards rushing. Defending a one-dimensional offense is much easier to do, especially if the offenses are having to throw out of necessity. It's imperative the Auburn offense has success early on, which would dictate the flow of the game. Under Borges, Auburn is 17-0 when scoring more than 14 points by halftime.
Tuberville stressed the importance of Auburn getting off to a great start in the season opener during SEC Media Days. The coaching staff, players and fan base have not forgotten the "egg" laid against Wisconsin and there is definitely a sense of pride on the line for the Tigers. Last season the defense had to carry the offense as the group found its identity, but the role will change come September 2nd. Based on the production from last season, the majority of "star" players are currently on the offensive side of the ball. Auburn is the only offense in the conference which returns it's starting quarterback, its key running back and wide receiver. It's not every year the Auburn offense garners more attention than the defense, but this season it just might become a necessity.