Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and end Antonio Coleman are two key members of the defensive front this season, but both are redshirt freshmen from Mobile who signed with Auburn in 2005.
Coleman came to Auburn at just a few biscuits over 200 pounds before adding 40-45 pounds during his redshirt season. Marks is a hard-working spirited guy on and off the field, but says the work in the weight room hasn't been enough yet to play at a consistent level.
"I don't know where I get the strength from when I'm out there, but I know I'm going to need to get stronger," Marks says. "That's my plan to improve this summer during the offseason. Get down there and work with Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) and tell him my deal. I know he knows how to get me stronger. He did it this offseason."
Marks, who played prep ball at Vigor High School, adds that he got a welcoming to the SEC in his first big-time collegiate game from LSU offensive guard Will Arnold in the third contest of the season.
"Arkansas had some big guys, too, but they weren't moving me as much as LSU," Marks says. "They surprised me that first snap. I got blown off the ball. Going against players like (Arnold) is going to make me better."
Coleman, who usually plays about 20-25 snaps per game, says that he is getting better, but it is still a learning process playing against bigger guys than he saw during his playing days at Williamson High School.
"I'm like 249 right now," Coleman notes. "I'd like to get to 255 or 260. But with the way I'm playing right now I think I'm holding my ground pretty well. We don't have a strongside or a weakside anymore, we just have a left and a right. Playing those tight ends I think I've gotten a lot better at that. Basically getting off the blocks and making plays."
Coleman, number 52, doesn't look like the same player he was coming out of high school.
Marks adds that although he is still learning, he is playing "way better than I was during two-a-days. I learn a lot every week. I've learned a lot these nine weeks. Quickness and seeing the play before it happens. Just being a player of the sport and the game."
One advantage that Marks has at 19 years old that many of the veterans on the team don't have is in the physical grind of a 12-game schedule without an off week.
"I believe I'm caught up in the start and the hype and all that," Marks says. "My adrenaline is rushing every week and I'm still starting. Nine straight weeks and I don't even feel it yet."
Marks has 24 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his starting role at the three-technique, and Coleman has nine tackles while backing up Quentin Groves at left end. Groves says that Coleman has been a good complement to him because of his similar style of play.
"He's a great guy," Groves says. "The great thing about A.C. is that he knows his role, not to sound like I'm going to be starting and he's the backup. He does a great job of learning with me. We sit down and we watch film together.
"A.C.'s got just as much speed as I do, if not more," he adds. "He's just a little thicker than I am. He comes in and says, ‘I've got to do my job. When Quentin's out we can't have a let off. We have to come in and play with the same amount of speed so tackles are off balance when he gets in the game.'"
At 8-1, Auburn plays 5-3 Arkansas State Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in the Tigers' final regular season non-conference game of 2006.