Going into the 2010 season, the Auburn Tigers see themselves in familiar territory. The media had almost lost faith in the Tigers in 2009, but after a winning season and a bowl win, Auburn is back in the AP preseason top 25.
Though it is great to garner national attention again, Auburn fans everywhere have one question that needs to be answered. How will the defense rebound from a very disappointing 2009?
Last year was statistically the worst defensive season of the century for Auburn, but the offense more than made up for what the defense lacked. This season’s offense looks to be even more potent than last, but everyone knows a championship isn’t possible until the defense becomes stingier.
Each of the three defensive units has shown flashes of improvement in depth, talent, and leadership in fall practice. There are several familiar names mixed with fresh faces. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for this season and seasons to come.
Last season the secondary was riddled with injuries. Before the season even began veteran safeties Mike McNeil and Aairon Savage were sidelined with season-ending injuries. Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen’s hand was forced so much, he started a true freshman, Daren Bates, at the beginning of the season. When the depth issues seemed like they couldn’t get worse, Zac Etheridge suffered a severe neck injury during the Ole Miss game.
This season looks to be a different story. Though veteran Walter McFadden is gone, there is still a bevy of experience and talent returning this season. Zac Etheridge, Mike McNeil, and Aairon Savage have all fully recovered from their injuries. With all three of them returning, the defensive coach moved Darren Bates to linebacker to help with depth there.
The cornerbacks also have a lot of experience. Junior Neiko Thorpe will be starting again this year alongside Senior Demond Washington. Thorpe is already being discussed by NFL scouts as one of the elite corners in the conference. Washington is well known for his coverage abilities, change of direction, and quickness. T’Sharvan Bell is the second team corner. He saw time his freshman year and started to develop a ball-hawking reputation.
Several freshmen could also see extensive playing time across the whole defense. The impact freshmen in the secondary are safeties Ryan Smith and Demetruce McNeil, and cornerbacks Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis.
The linebackers are the most experienced defensive unit going into the 2010 season. Seniors Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes will surely see a decreased workload this season. Both players were forced to play nearly every play of every game last season. A talented group of newcomers look to give them more rest this season.
Linebacker coach and defensive coordinator Ted Roof mixed the depth chart up a lot in the offseason. Last year Stevens played strong side linebacker. This year he will move to weak side to make room for Daren Bates at strong side. Junior Eltoro Freeman, a starter on the weak side last year, will back up Stevens along with sophomore Jonathan Evans.
On the strong side a pair of freshmen Jessel Curry and Jawara White will back up Bates. Curry, who enrolled in January has shown a good understanding of the defense and will be a quality backup this season.
In the middle, freshmen Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens will back up Bynes. If both can learn the defense, they will also provide quality depth. Both were highly recruited out of high school and will have a good shot at playing this season.
The Defensive Line
Last year getting to the quarterback was one of the biggest problems the defense faced. If a defensive lineman doesn’t get in the quarterback’s face, it usually results in a complete pass. That was the case most of the year.
This season, the defensive line could actually be the strongest unit on the defense. Antonio Coleman, Auburn’s leading sack artist in past years, left for the NFL in the offseason. This year senior Antoine Carter will attempt to fill his shoes on the end. Freshmen newcomers Craig Sanders and Corey Lemonier will back him up. Sanders was one of the stars of the A-day game and enrolled in January. Lemonier shows great speed around the edge and was highly rated by all recruiting services this year.
On the other side, senior Michael Goggans has to fight off freshman Nosa Eguae and junior Joel Bonomolo. Though Goggans might be named the starter, all three will see significant playing time.
On the interior line, junior Nick Fairley and senior Zach Clayton will be the starters. Fairley is one of the more anticipated players on the team, because most fans feel he did not reach his full potential last year. Senior Mike Blanc, freshman Jeffrey Whitaker, and sophomore Derrick Lykes are also likely to get some playing time in the middle this year.
There is no doubt; Auburn will face growing pains this season. With fresh faces all across the defense, there will most likely be several ‘rookie mistakes’. Despite that fact, Coach Gene Chizik and company are starting to build a good base of talent that Tommy Tuberville did not leave them with.
About the Author
Written by Joshua Ethridge
As a kid, grew up in the heart of the South (Birmingham, AL), where you have to choose your side. You either bleed orange and blue or you bleed crimson. There is no middle ground in the state of Alabama when it comes to fan-hood, and I chose, long ago, to be part of the Auburn family. For many years it has been my dream to bring the latest and greatest news in Auburn athletics. That is my intention through this blog. I am a recent graduate from the University of Montevallo. I received a Bachelor of Science in Mass Communications, with a journalism concentration. I'm a pretty easy-going guy. If you want to get to know me better hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my pleasure to talk with you.