Allowing 27.5 points per game in the eight-win 2009 seaosn, the Tigers struggled with a lack of depth and playmaking on defense in the first year under defensive coordinator Ted Roof.
While the backfield and linebacker positions have gotten the most talk heading into the season, perhaps the key to the entire defense lies up front and in the middle to be specific. With senior Jake Ricks gone the Tigers will build around three veterans hoping to put it all together at the same time and stay healthy in the process.
Senior Mike Blanc has been solid throughout his career but he'll have to be much more than that in 2010 for Auburn to have the defense its looking for. Last season the 6-4, 297-pounder had 44 tackles, six and a half tackles for a loss and three and a half sacks. For his career Blanc has 77 tackles and five sacks.
Fellow senior Zach Clayton is hoping to play a full season for the first time since he's been at Auburn after a high ankle sprain kept him out of all but six games in 2009 and he was bothered by a shoulder injury earlier in his career. He had just seven tackles and one tackle for a loss in very limited action last year and for his career the 6-3, 296 Opelika High standout has 37 tackles, nine for a loss, and four and a half sacks.
While the seniors are important players the key to the line play may be held by junior Nick Fairley. At 6-5, 298, Fairley has a combination of athleticism, strength and quickness that gives him a chance to a dominant performer for the Tigers.
Last season the Mobile native played in all 13 games and finished with 28 tackles and one and half sacks. Those numbers are just a drop in the bucket of what Fairley should deliver in his second year at Auburn and playing just one year of defensive tackle in junior college.
Those three played a great deal of snaps last season and along with sophomore Derrick Lykes (6-2, 286) are the only experience at tackle for the Tigers. Last season Lykes played in all 13 games, but managed just nine tackles. Also returning is sophomore Jamar Travis (6-0, 288) after he played mostly special teams last year.
With a need at the position Auburn will look for help from at least one of a pair of talented freshmen on campus this fall. The biggest is 6-3, 308 Jeffrey Whitaker from Warner Robins, Ga. A high school All-American and an imposing physical presence already despite being just out of high school, Whitaker could provide an immediate impact to the Tigers' defense.
Also physically ready to make a push is Greenville's Kenneth Carter. At 6-5, 281, Carter has added a dozen pounds to his frame since the end of his senior football season. With the quickness to play outside if needed, Carter could provide some depth in pass rush situations for Auburn this season.
Senior Mike Goggans, who opened the 2009 season as a starter at defensive end, is another possibility inside at tackle, a position he has played in the past on a part-time basis.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker likes to play at least a two-deep rotation and says he needs his players to stay healthy and for the freshmen to step up and be able to contribute as soon as possible.