AU Spring Football Preview: Part Four

Our series of articles previewing Auburn's 2008 spring football drills continues with the interior defensive line positions featured.

Auburn, Ala.--It doesn't happen often, but last season defensive linemen Josh Thompson led the Auburn Tigers in tackles while counterpart junior Pat Sims finished second in tackles for losses. Now both are gone, leaving Coach Don Dunn with two big question marks heading into spring practice.

"We knew Josh was graduating, of course," Dunn says. "That leaves a big void as far as leadership and toughness. He had a great year. He led the team in tackles, which still blows my mind coming from a noseguard that only played first and second down basically with short yardage and goal line. He's going to be hard to replace.

"It seems like he's been here forever," Dunn notes. "He's one of my favorite players of all time just the way he carried himself because he was old school and hard nosed.

"Pat Sims is another big loss for us," Dunn adds. "It was kind of a shock, but not totally. I expect him to have a good career. I don't blame him, but selfishly I wish he would have come back. We had two big losses. We knew one was coming, but not the other. That's life and you close ranks and keep going."

Jermarcus Ricks is a physical player that checks in at around 300 pounds heading into the spring.

That means a lot of work ahead for Dunn and new defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads beginning with the first practice on Feb. 28. With three players back from 2007 who saw limited time on the field, Dunn says the Tigers could always turn to an old hand at the tackle position if needed and that might be an option in the spring.

"We have three guys kind of in the core," Dunn says. "Zach Clayton, Mike Blanc and Jake (Jermarcus Ricks) are there with the ability to move Sen'Derrick Marks back inside. Sen'Derrick has some experience at both spots. The other three are green. They are going to have to hurry up and get a lot of experience. That's going to be the key this spring is getting those three young guys as many reps as we can."

A starter for all 13 games at defensive tackle in 2006, Marks moved outside to end last season and played well with 43 tackles and nine tackles for losses in 13 starts. While he's had plenty of experience, the same can't be said for Ricks, Clayton and Blanc. Combined they totaled 22 tackles in 2007 and Dunn says that means they've got a lot of work to do to get ready for the amount of playing time they'll see in 2008.

"They did play some, but not a lot," he says. "Mike Blanc was hampered all year. He's going to have to step up. Jake played more than all of them together, but he's still young and he's still green. Zach played some, but not a lot. We're very inexperienced when you look at it. Even though they have played, they haven't played a lot. They are good players, great athletes and they work hard, but they are young experience-wise."

A player the Tigers were hoping to have available for spring practice was sophomore Darrell Roseman. Bothered his first two seasons with stress fracture problems in his feet and ankles, Dunn says it appears Roseman will be little if any help this spring to the Tigers.

"Unfortunately Roseman has got a bad stress fracture," Dunn says. "That poor kid has been hurt since he got here. I'm very disappointed for him. He's just had some bad luck. That's about it going into the spring. We have the possibility of moving somebody inside later, but right now that's what we've got. That's good though because those three guys have got to get a lot of reps. They've got to grow up."

Mike Blanc was hampered by injuries much of the 2007 season.

With the junior Ricks and sophomores Clayton and Blanc to build around, Dunn says that at the moment he's not sure how things will play out in the spring. The only thing he is sure of is that anytime Marks is inside he'll be one of the starters. That leaves one spot open and Dunn says that one is fair game.

"The nice thing about it is that they can all play every position, there's not that much difference," Dunn says. "We're going through our defense right now and we're not going to change a whole lot. We didn't really play a nose or a three last year, even those Josh was more of a true noseguard. These guys are a little taller and a different body type than Josh. He was thick and strong and built like a bull to hold the double team. These guys are taller, just different body types.

"If we had to start tomorrow and if Sen'Derrick was inside then he would be at the three technique and Jake would be at the nose. There's not a lot of difference between those three, I just know Sen'Derrick would be the other starter going into tomorrow because he's got experience. The nice thing is he can play end or tackle and I'm sure you'll see him at both."

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