AU Spring Football: Five Questions On Defense

We take a look at five questions for the Auburn Tigers on defense as the team opened spring drills this week.

1) Life without A.C.--The biggest question mark on defense for the Tigers is how they'll fare without one of the top playmakers in Auburn history. Last season Coleman played with a cast on his hand for the first half of the year, but still managed 49 tackles and led the SEC with 10 sacks and 16 1/2 tackles for a loss. For his career the Mobile native had 24 ½ sacks and was an emotional leader on defense since his redshirt freshman season.

Michael Goggans

Without him it will be up to seniors Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans to carry over that leadership role. Last year the two combined for just two and a half sacks though, making sophomore Dee Ford, redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae and true freshman Craig Sanders players to watch in spring practice to see if they'll be able to bring pressure off the corner for coach Tracy Rocker.

Safety Mike McNeil is back on the field for the Tigers this spring.

2) Walking wounded return for Tigers--While the prognosis for playing is still undecided for senior safety Zac Etheridge after suffering a neck injury in the Ole Miss game, Auburn's secondary adds some much needed help and experience with the return of seniors Mike McNeil and Aairon Savage. Missing last season with a leg injury, McNeil should be back to full speed this fall and will likely be tough to beat out at one of the safety positions. For Savage the comeback is still in progress as he was awarded a sixth-year after missing last season with an Achilles Injury. The question remains where Savage will line up with the likely spot being safety with the move of sophomore Daren Bates to linebacker.

3) Let the bodies hit the floor--After playing much of last season with only three healthy linebackers, seniors Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes return this spring with some help in the wings with junior Eltoro Freeman and sophomore Jonathan Evans back after playing in 2010. Throw in Bates, who started every game at safety last season, and you have a more athletic group already for Coach Ted Roof to work with. Redshirt freshman Harris Gaston and true freshman Jessel Curry will bring depth and athleticism to the group this spring.

Craig Stevens will be one of Auburn's most experienced players in 2010.

4) Replacing Big Jake--After playing sparingly his first three seasons, senior Jake Ricks stepped up in 2010 and played huge for the Auburn defense with 38 tackles and four and a half tackles for a loss. At the other tackle spot both Mike Blanc and Nick Fairley return after playing well last year, but a healthy Zach Clayton would be huge for the Tigers to add another physical player to the equation. That's still just three players for two spots, meaning it's an important spring for sophomores Derrick Lykes and Jamar Travis to show what they can do if they hope to earn significant playing time in the fall.

5) Nobody puts the Tigers in a corner--With a significant amount of help coming in the fall from a strong signee class at the position, Auburn's needs at cornerback may not be huge, but the spring will provide an important test run for Demond Washington at the position after he was moved to safety during the 2009 season. Junior Neiko Thorpe is back for his third season with the Tigers after finishing third on the team with 84 tackles with two interceptions. Washington made 36 tackles playing sparingly for much of the first half of the season, but should fit in nicely back at cornerback full time. Depth should come from sophomores T'Sharvan Bell and D'Antoine Hood with fellow sophomore Anthony Gulley also expected to get a look at the position again this spring after moving over from offense during last season.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories