Auburn, Ala.--Terry Price says he wishes he had more experience to work with at defensive end, but his situation could be worse. Much, much worse.
The Auburn assistant football coach says he will be looking for replacements for a pair of seniors from the 2006 team, Marquies Gunn and his backup Christopher Browder. Price is fortunate that he doesn't have to replace the other starting end, Quentin Groves, who seriously considered leaving after his junior season for the NFL Draft like his former teammate and friend, Stanley McClover, had done a season earlier.
With Groves returning as the number one weakside end, the Tigers have an all conference caliber player to build around.
"The biggest goal this spring is to just develop a depth chart so we can go into two-a-days (in August) knowing who our first team, second team and third team guys are," Price says.
"There are a lot of question marks now because we only have two returning players, Quinton Groves and Antonio Coleman, who have any experience at all," Price adds. "Those guys will start the spring as the first team ends.
"Quentin will stay at weakside end and Coleman will move to the strongside end," Price states. "After that, the rest of the depth chart is a question right now until we get a chance to evaluate all of these players in every spring practice and every scrimmage."
Coach Tommy Tuberville's Tigers are tentatively scheduled to start spring drills on Feb. 27th. The annual A-Day spring football time has been set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 17th.
"I expect Coleman to be an improved player in all areas this year," Price says of the former Williamson High star from Mobile. "He has gotten a little bigger. He told me the other day he is around 257or 258 pounds, which is good. He has had a good offseason to this point working hard to get better.
Antonio Coleman has proven to be an aggressive player for the Tigers.
"I am expecting him to step up when he runs with the first team," Price adds. "Like I told him and the other guys, starting status is always temporary. You are going to be graded every day. I hope he will step up to the challenge of being a first team player."
Coleman played in every game last season for the 11-2 Tigers. He finished the season with three tackles in the bowl victory over Nebraska and totaled 18 for the season.
The only other Tigers who have seen playing time at defensive end are redshirt sophomores Octavius Balkcom and Alonzo Horton. Balkcom played in five games last year and finished with four tackles. Price says he will get a look at the strongside spot. Horton had three tackles last year in 10 games, as he split time between weakside end and outside linebacker. Horton has missed some offseason workouts. Tuberville says the sophomore, who has had several personal problems since enrolling at AU including the displacement of family due to Hurricane Katrina, is dealing with some issues and is still part of the team.
Price says that he plans to use a pair of promising freshmen, Bryant Miller and Michael Goggans, as weakside ends to start practice. Miller, who is from Miami, spent his first fall on campus on the defensive scout team. Goggans, who is from Alex City, spent his first fall at AU redshirting, too, but he was lined up as a tight end on the offensive scout team.
Price states that both players should have good size for the position. "We will give them a chance to produce out there," he says. "Miller is probably between 250 and 260 pounds now and Goggans is about the same size."
Bryant Miller is shown at a bowl practice as the Tigers prepared for their game against Nebraska.
Two more freshmen will get looks at strongside end. Darrell Roseman, who is from Dunedin, Fla., High, has bounced back from a leg injury that limited what he could do last fall. Zach Clayton, out of Opelika High, won praise from Tuberville for his work in the fall on the scout team and in bowl practices. Clayton is a guy who could also line up at defensive tackle, but the plan for now is to play him at defensive end.
"Roseman is about 265 pounds and is Clayton about 275 pounds," Price says.
Price admits that the freshmen have potential, but adds, "Potential is a dangerous word because these guys haven't played at all. We have a lot of bodies out there. Most of them are redshirt guys who haven't played at all. I expect to see good competition out there every day in practice."
The Auburn coach says that he believes his senior in the mix, Groves, should continue to improve this spring. "He is the 250s and I know he wants to gain five or 10 pounds and play at around 260 as a senior," Price says. "I think he will be able to do that. We also want Quentin to step up and be a leader for us as a senior."
As a junior Groves was named a first team All-SEC player by the league's coaches as well as the Associated Press. He finished the regular season with 9 1/2 sacks giving him 23 for his college career. He finished the season with 37 tackles, up from 21 as a redshirt sophomore.
Groves was named the Football Writers Association National Player of the Week after his contributions to Auburn's victory over the Florida Gators last season. He was also SEC Player of the week vs. the Gators and in AU's regular season finale victory at Alabama, Auburn's fifth consecutive football win over the Crimson Tide.