With just six scholarship linebackers on campus, Auburn signed three players to help fill that void in this year's class. The most impact could come from junior college standout Eltoro Freeman. Originally from Alexander City, Freeman redshirted his second season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and has three years left to play at Auburn. An early enrollee, Freeman should challenge immediately at weak side linebacker for the Tigers.
Joining him in the signing class are a pair of high school players. Harris Gaston is a physical linebacker that also played wide receiver for Bessemer Academy. At 6-3, 210, he has the frame to add more weight and could play in the middle or on the strong side for the Tigers. The younger brother of Auburn's Chris Evans, Jonathan Evans will attempt to pick up where his brother left off for the Tigers. At 6-0, 202, Evans builds his game on speed.
Returning starters for the Tigers Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens are the only experienced veterans for Auburn heading into the 2009 season. Both played a big role on defense for the Tigers last year with only freshman All-SEC performer Spencer Pybus back with any playing time. Also on the roster are redshirt freshmen Adam Herring and Da'Shaun Barnes.
Up front on defense, Auburn signed six linemen that will have a chance to help immediately with depth for the Tigers. The most ready of those is big junior college tackle Nick Fairley. Unable to enroll early, Fairley is expected to enroll for summer classes as a player to watch. If he's able to help right away it would be big news for the defense and coach Tracy Rocker.
Also signing were Terrence Coleman, Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford, Josh Jackson and Jamar Travis. Coleman, Eguae and Ford should all get their start at the end position with Ford also a possibility to see action at linebacker. Jackson and Travis should provide depth inside for the Tigers.
They'll add to a solid group of guys outside led by returning All-SEC performer Antonio Coleman as well as Michael Goggans and Antoine Carter. Athletic Cameron Henderson redshirted last season and will provide depth at the position. The swing guy there could be big Jomarcus Savage. Seeing action early last season before a shoulder injury cut short his year, Savage has the size and athleticism to play inside or out for the Tigers.
In the middle the Tigers return senior Jake Ricks as well as juniors Zach Clayton and Mike Blanc. Behind them you have redshirt freshman Derrick Lykes with Savage also a candidate to play inside as well. The wildcard of the group is Andre Wadley. After suffering heat related problems last summer, Wadley was never able to practice for the Tigers and is attempting to get physically ready to play. It's doubtful that will happen this season though, leaving just five players inside among the returning players.
Looking for speed and athleticism in the secondary, Auburn signed four players that all fit the bill of what Chizik is looking for. At the safety position Daren Bates from Olive Branch, Miss., and Izauea Lanier from Gordo both excelled on both sides of the ball in high school, but will start out at safety for the Tigers. With Jerraud Powers moving on early to the NFL, Auburn needed immediate help at cornerback and that could come from junior college signee Taikwon Paige. Originally from Aiken, S.C., Paige played two seasons at Georgia Military College. Also looking to break into the playing rotation will be Reggie Taylor from Peach County High in Fort Valley, Ga.
Despite the loss of Powers, Auburn's secondary returns plenty of veterans with starting safeties Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil returning as well as cornerbacks Walter McFadden, Aairon Savage and freshman standout Neiko Thorpe. Looking to get into the mix at safety will be a pair of sophomores that saw action strictly on special teams in 2008 in Drew Cole and Christian Thompson. Also in the mix will be redshirt freshman Marcus Jemison.
At the cornerback position depth will also come from sophomores D'Antoine Hood and Harry Adams as well as redshirt freshman T'Sharvan Bell, who missed last season after having knee surgery late in his senior season.