Without him Auburn will rely on two players to do his job. However, that's the not the big story this week on defense because two experienced defenders make their return to the field for their first games playing under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
Out for the first three games for very different reasons, senior Kevin Sears and sophomore Steve Gandy return just in time to get ready for Auburn's mid-season stretch run. Following what is expected to be a tune-up this weekend against Buffalo, the Tigers will face a slate of SEC games in the following weeks. Muschamp says it's big for the defense to get those guys back on the field this weekend.
"It's good," Muschamp says. "It helps the depth, especially with Karibi (Karibi Dede) (bruised leg) being a little banged up right now. They are both good players that have played football here before and played well for us. I'm glad to have them back."
Even though he's still just a month removed from emergency surgery on his left thigh that left a 22 inch incision when the doctors were done, Gandy is back and anxious to get on the field for the first time as a linebacker. A former safety, he earned the respect of the coaching staff during the spring and two-a-days and Muschamp says he'll bring a lot to the table for the Tigers.
"Nothing shocks me that kid does," Muschamp says. "He's a very tough individual. He loves the game of football and he did what he had to do to get back. Him being back at this point doesn't surprise me one bit. It's the person he is. He's a very tough individual.
"He's getting his weight back," Muschamp adds. "It will be just be a matter of time before he's back to the 205, 208, 210 range. He plays heavier than that. He's a tough kid.
"The biggest thing right now is endurance," Muschamp adds. "You've got to get in football playing shape. It's a different type and you've got to get used to the clanging. I think that takes a little time. We've got to watch his snaps Saturday and monitor him good to make sure we don't over use him."
Jerraud Powers plays bigger than his 5-9 frame suggests.
While the depth at linebacker is getting some help, in the secondary the Tigers will use Patrick Lee and Jerraud Powers to compensate for the loss of Wilhite at cornerback. Against LSU with both Wilhite and Lee on the shelf it was Powers who gave the Tigers a lift on defense. Muschamp says because of that and his work in practice that the redshirt freshman has put himself in line for a starting job this weekend.
"We're going to look at the film at evaluate it," Muschamp says. "Pat Lee and Jerraud Powers are both guys that are deserving to start. I consider both of them starters. We'll look at the film and decide sometime (Friday). They're going to play a lot. Really we have four starters at corner in my opinion. They both deserve to start and we'll make a decision tomorrow."
With one of the top defenses in the country facing an offense that will likely be challenged on Saturday because of the speed on the field, Auburn should be able to not damage its impressive stats against Buffalo this weekend. Coming into the game allowing just 5.7 points and 248.7 yards per contest, Muschamp says he wants his defense to just keep playing hard because that's the only way they'll see improvement.
"I'm looking for them to compete and play well just like we did last week," the coach says. "I don't see anything different. It doesn't matter who we play it matters how we approach the game and how we play the game and how we compete in the game. That's what we're looking for. There should be no drop off. We only play 12 games. I don't believe in a letdown."