Heading into year two of the defense under coach Ted Roof, Auburn's improvement must begin up front. Returning a solid group of upperclassmen led by seniors Antoine Carter, Michael Goggans, Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton, Rocker has some veterans to build around. Throw in junior Nick Fairley and Auburn's first five are capable of getting the job done.
Five won't get it done though and that's the dilemma facing Rocker this preseason. With some talented sophomores and freshman returning such as Nosa Eguae, Dee Ford and Derrick Lykes as well as a strong incoming class, Rocker said the focus is on teaching early in fall practice.
"Right now we're at the point where we're looking at details," Rocker said. "Trying to make sure people understand exactly what they're doing every down, every play.
"Football has a lot to do with muscle memory," he said. "When the game starts you should be ready to go. The older kids have a better feel for it. With the younger kids you've got to have more attention to detail. The older kids are a little more comfortable."
Much of the focus early in camp will likely be on a pair of defensive tackles. Both Jeffrey Whitaker and Kenneth Carter have a chance to compete early and Rocker said both will have to help for the defense to reach its full potential this year. They're not the only newcomers that could help though as several ends could get into the mix including junior college transfer Joel Bonomolo.
Despite missing the summer workouts while finishing classwork on the West Coast, Bonomolo arrived in solid shape physically and Rocker said the goal for him now will be the mental side of the game.
"Joel is in great condition," Rocker said. "He's a workout maniac. He came in and he's in great shape. It's just a matter now of understanding defensively our terminology, the communication process, the whole picture of what we're doing defensively.
Joel Bonomolo is shown at Thursday's practice.
"He understands the intensity it takes to win," Rocker added. "It's a matter of now can he understand when that defense comes in this is where you fit, this is your responsibility. It's not do your own thing. The thing is understanding the team concept. He will have no problem doing that. He's all for it."
While all of the newcomers may get the attention, when all is said and done the productivity of Auburn's defense may depend on Fairley and Clayton. While Blanc has been the steadying influence, both of them have the ability to be game changers or the unit and Rocker said that's what he's hoping to see.
"Nick is very important but what's going to be important for Nick is that Derrick Lykes, Jeff Whitaker, Carter, he feels that those guys can play too not just me," Rocker said. "That's going to be important that the guys behind him can come in and fill in and make Nick a force. Nick will need Clayton to be a force and Antoine Carter and Michael Goggans to be a force to help him out.
"Zach is going to be a key cog for this whole deal if he can stay healthy," Rocker added. "He's doing well. He's always done well. It's just a matter of keeping him healthy. He wants to stay healthy. We all have our fingers crossed. We've got rabbit feet in his locker. He's doing well. He's taking a bit more of a leadership role. He's opening his mouth a little more and that's a good thing."