With injuries to both Reggie Torbor and Jay Ratliff early in the season, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has been forced to use more blitzes than he would like in the early season. He said that he hopes having some healthy players back will remedy that situation.
"Right now, a point of concern for us is pass rush," Chizik said on Sunday. "Right now, we haven't got any continuity at the defensive end position. We've had to move some guys around. You have to try to build a front four that are used to playing with each other. We haven't been able to do that because of injuries.
"We know we have a long way to go, but right now the pass rush is the main thing. We have to get better at that and we have to find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. Right now, it's few and far between when we get that unless we blitz."
A possible solution to the situation could be the return of true freshman Kyle Derozan to the defensive end rotation. A 6-4, 245 speedster who looked good coming off the corner in two-a-days before injuring a knee, Derozan caught the eye of Chizik on his first day back at full speed.
"He ran around out there pretty good today," Chizik noted of Derozan's return to a full practice Sunday. "We're hoping that by game time we've knocked enough rust off of him to go out there and give us some snaps. He certainly out there today showed a little bit better of a speed element, a speed element that we need for sure. We hope that he's going to be ready to go and we've got three more days to get him ready so we just have to keep plugging him along."
More help at end has come from converted linebacker Mayo Sowell. The 6-2, 227 sophomore played exclusively at the position against the Vanderbilt Commodores and made his presence known with a sack and fumble on quarterback Jay Cutler that led to Auburn's last touchdown by defensive tackle Spencer Johnson. Good at getting to the quarterback, Sowell still has work to do against the run, Chizik said.
"He still has a lot of things to do on the running game," Chizik said of Sowell. "He gave us a little added dimension in terms of speed in the pass rush and I think that helped. He needed to have a game like that where he had some production and he did. There's a lot of other things that he has to get better and improve on that are all the things that a linebacker would have a tough time doing making the transition. He still has a ways to go on that."
One of the positions of strength coming into the season on the defense was at cornerback where starters Roderick Hood and Carlos Rogers returned from last season. However, a slow start to the season by both has pushed Chizik into action. He replaced Hood on Saturday with Horace Willis and the coordinator said he liked what he saw from the little-used senior.
"He's gotten better every week," Chizik said of Willis. "We just felt like at the corner right now we want to create some competition to make sure those guys are always working to stay ahead of the game. The first week we were very disappointed in the play of the corners so we challenged them to get better every week. He's one of the kids that has done that. That's why he earned the start."
After facing offenses the last two weeks that were little better than average, the Tigers now must face quarterback Kevin Fant and a surprisingly prolific Mississippi State passing attack. With speedy receivers dotting the roster and a solid offensive line, the Bulldogs will be a challenge for the young Auburn team. Perhaps the biggest challenge for many on this Tiger team is going to be making their first road trip in conference play.
"It's important for the older guys to do that," Walker said of letting the younger players know what to expect. "Starkville is intimidating. It's not the biggest environment or stadium, but their fans are into it. They have their songs like, ‘Who Let The Dogs Out.' It's real important that the older guys tell them what they are expecting and getting ready to walk into."