Gone is second round NFL draft choice Groves and his 38 tackles, seven tackles for a loss and three sacks. Those numbers were down as Groves battled through a toe injury for much of the season. Without him junior to be Antonio Coleman came into his own. Also finishing with 38 tackles, Coleman racked up 18 1/2 tackles for loss to lead the team and eight and a half sacks. Price says Coleman's return is big for the Tigers because it gives them a player to build around in 2008.
"It's always tough to replace a guy who has played a lot of football here," Price says. "Quentin played a lot of football since he stepped on campus and we'll miss his leadership. It's tough to replace, but we try to put it on some of our young guys to try to step into that role now that he's gone. Every year you have different guys as leaders and we have to depend on some younger guys. Hopefully, they'll step up and be leaders for us.
"He's one of the guys I've talked to more than one time about being one of the leaders on the football team this year," Price adds about Coleman. "It's something he hasn't had to do since he's been here. He's not the most vocal guy, but he leads by example as far as his toughness and how hard he plays. Hopefully, he can lean on that part of his game to provide leadership for us.
"We don't have any seniors on our defensive line this year, but that's not a factor," Price says. "We tell our guys all the time you don't have to be a senior to be a leader. Hopefully, some of our young guys will step up--especially A.C."
Antoine Carter should provide solid depth for the Tigers.
Behind Coleman Auburn will feature sophomore Antoine Carter. A solid performer last season as a true freshman with 16 tackles, four tackles for a loss and one and a half sacks, Carter should be an even better player following an offseason of conditioning.
"He's a young man who played a lot last year as a true freshman," Price says. "He's gotten a little bigger and stronger since last year. He's probably put on 15 or 20 pounds. I think he's ready for more reps this year. He had a very productive spring. There is still some work to do to improve his overall game, but the kid got better in a lot of areas."
On the other side of the line at strongside defensive end, the starter heading into the season is sophomore Michael Goggans. A physical player who improved his play during an impressive spring practice, Goggans will have to fend off a challenge from redshirt freshman A.J. Greene as well as junior college transfer Raven Gray in the fall to hold down his spot.
"The one thing he does that is positive is that he's improved his technique from last year," Price says of Goggans. "The thing for us at that position is you've got to be a big, physical, tough guy. He's got to continue to play tough, hard-nosed football for us. That's what that position is all about.
"It's a blue collar position," Price adds. "He's got to show that toughness and strength and be able to hold the point and be a really good run defender. He got better at that but there is still a ways to go."
Behind him both Greene and Gray are untested on the SEC level. Bigger and stronger than last fall, Greene has the frame and ability to help, but must improve his consistency. As for Gray he's coming off knee surgery and must prove he can be his old self before he's ready to challenge, says Price.
"A.J. Greene is a young man who has a lot of work to do," Price says. "He's a big body kid that has some athleticism. He still has a long way to go until he's ready for the SEC. He's working hard every day trying to get there.
"Raven Gray is a young man who is rehabbing every day," he adds. "He didn't go through the spring. He's just trying to get healthy right now. We can't really make a judgment or an opinion on him until he gets on the field."
Price works with Greene during spring practice.
Also figuring into the playing rotation could be several incoming freshmen for the Tigers. Cameron Henderson figures to get his first look on the weak side while Jomarcus Savage and Andre Wadley are likely strong side players. Price says it's just a wait and see approach with freshmen.
"We haven't sat down and ironed out exactly where these young guys are going to fit," Price says. "They have been working out with the strength coaches getting bigger and stronger. We'll kind of figure out before two-a-days start where these young guys go. We don't really place them in a position right now, but when it gets a little closer to practice time we'll figure out how they fit in the puzzle."
With the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe not far away as well as the start of fall practice on Aug. 2, Auburn is considered one of the favorites in the SEC West despite having new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Price says at the moment all he's concerned about is having his guys ready to play at a high level when the Tigers tee it up in 2008.
"The first thing we've got to do is develop a depth chart," Price says. "'A solid depth chart where we know we have some guys we can depend on. The second thing is just improved overall play. That's the thing every single year. You try to play better than you did the year before."
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