Likely AU Starters and Top Defensive Backups

A preview of the 2006 Auburn football team's defense is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Although Auburn's coaching staff has not announced a starting lineup for Saturday night's season opener vs. Washington State, the following is a look at who will likely play for the Tigers.

STRONGSIDE END

48 Marquies Gunn (6-4, 270, Sr.)--A returning starter who had a preseason injury setback, he looks ready to play at full speed in the opener.

or

92 Christopher Browder (6-4, 267, Sr.)--A player having his best preseason, he made the move back to end after playing tackle in the spring.


WEAKSIDE END

54 Quentin Groves (6-3, 254, Jr.)--The quick end is having his best preseason.

45 Antonio Coleman (6-2, 249, RFr.)--A player who has improved a lot in the last year, he should be a pass rushing threat.


NOSEGUARD

97 Josh Thompson (6-0, 302, Jr.)--The team's strongest player, he looks ready to take over for T.J. Jackson in the middle.

99 Tez Doolittle (6-3, 298, Jr.)--One of Auburn's more improved players since last year, he looks ready to contribute after not being a factor in previous seasons.


TACKLE

95 Pat Sims (6-4, 314, So.)--A talented player who stepped up in spring drills after leaving the team last fall, he has continued to improve in the preseason.

94 Sen'Derrick Marks (6-1, 287, RFr)--He has made major strength and size gains in the past year.


STRONGSIDE LINEBACKER

35 Will Herring (6-3, 220, Sr.)--Auburn's most experienced defensive player, he is making his first start at linebacker after three seasons of starts at free safety.

42 Patrick Trahan (6-2, 217, RFr.)--A player who has significantly improved this preseason compared to his play in the spring.


Merrill Johnson is known as a physical player.


MIDDLE LINEBACKER

55 Merrill Johnson (6-0, 208, So.)--After missing the spring with an injury, he has performed well in preseason after moving from weakside LB to the middle.

56 Courtney Harden (6-0, 230, So.)--Injuries and suspensions have opened the door for playing time.

or

59 Chris Evans (6-0, 217, So.)--After a quiet spring, he has a chance to see prime-time action this fall.


WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER

21 Karibi Dede (6-0, 216, Sr.)--One of the team's smartest players, he can handle any of the three linebacker spots.

46 Craig Stevens (6-2, 210, Fr.)--One of the more impressive members of the incoming signee class, he has shown a good nose for the football.


CORNERBACK

4 David Irons (5-11, 188, Sr.)--He is being counted on to be one of the SEC's top defensive backs.

20 Patrick Lee (6-0, 203, Jr.)--An opening night starter in 2005, after an ordinary spring he has played better in the preseason.


NICKEL BACK

38 Zach Gilbert (5-10, 186, Jr.)--A walk-on who was put on scholarship this month, he has impressed secondary coach Will Muschamp with his coverage skills.

8 Jerraud Powers (5-9, 184, RFr.)--A player who could also see action at cornerback, he is not big but is a physical player.


CORNERBACK

24 Jonathan Wilhite (5-11, 182, Jr.)--He looks ready to have a big season in his second year as a starter.

20 Patrick Lee (6-0, 203, Jr.)--He is the top backup at both cornerback spots and could see significant playing time.


Eric Brock makes an interception in a preseason drill.

STRONG SAFETY

33 Eric Brock (6-1, 213, Jr.)--A player with starting experience, he has shown signs of improvement this preseason.

28 Zaccheus Etheridge (5-11, 191, Fr.)--A talented true freshman who moved to safety from cornerback, the confident rookie has a chance to see early action. or

14 Lorenzo Ferguson (6-2, 208, So.)--An injury put him behind schedule in the preseason, but he should be ready to contribute for the opener.


FREE SAFETY

2 Aairon Savage (5-11, 187, RFr.)--Quick and aggressive, he looks like he will start after making the move from cornerback.

9 Tristan Davis (5-10, 204, So.)--He split time between tailback and safety last year. AU will take advantage of his speed as a kickoff returner.


PUNTER

30 Kody Bliss (5-10, 177, Sr.)

13 Patrick Martyn (5-11, 197, Sr.)


DEEP SNAPPER

62 Pete Compton (6-6, 236, Jr.)--He will handle the punting snaps.

60 Robert Shiver (6-3, 213, So.)--He is the player who will snap for field goals and extra points.


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