2012 Auburn Preview – Defense
Auburn DE Nosa Eguae
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Auburn Tiger Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder isn't going to change up much, but it will be his job to get more out of a group that suffered through too many growing pains on the way to finishing with the second-worst defense in the SEC. There was going to be a drop off in some ways from the national championship D, but the secondary was actually a wee bit better despite getting burned time and again for big plays. The front seven should get more from the pass rush with Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford a potentially devastating pair on the outside. However, the promising defensive tackle prospect brought in over the last few seasons have to be far better. The linebacking corps is a liability outside of Daren Bates, but it's an athletic group that can swarm around the ball.
Star of the defense: Junior DE Corey Lemonier
Tackles: Daren Bates, 104
Sacks: Corey Lemonier, 9.5
Interceptions: Neiko Thorpe, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Jeffrey Whitaker
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Dee Ford
Best pro prospect: Lemonier
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lemonier, 2) LB Daren Bates, 3) Ford
Strength of the defense: Defensive End, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Proven Production
The Auburn defensive front had to undergo a major overhaul, and the hope was that junior Corey Lemonier was going to step up his play and become a star after making 17 tackles with two sacks in the national title year. After mostly being known for making a few key stops in the BCS championship, he turned into a pass rushing star making 47 tackles with 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. The Tigers were blown away by Georgia, but Lemonier was phenomenal with two sacks and two forced fumbles, and he rocked Florida by camping out in the backfield. He came up with a steady, disruptive year even when he was keyed on spreading out 15 quarterback hurries and lots and lots of big plays. At a bulked up 6-4 and 240 pounds, he's poised and ready to be dominant.
With all the attention paid to Lemonier on one side, 6-3, 262-pound junior Nosa Eguae should be terrific on the other. Expected to be the breakout star last year, he was fine with 38 tackles with six tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries, but he didn't generate a sack. Big for an end, he's built to be tough against the run with the quickness to get off the ball and the athletic to wreak havoc on a regular basis. An elite prospect, if he can finally stay healthy he'll be in for a big year.
6-2, 237-pound junior Dee Ford has star potential after rocking for a second straight offseason. He was the defensive MVP of the 2011 spring game and was even more impressive preseason. Back problems kept him from doing too much last year, making seven tackles with a sack and four hurries, but if he can stay healthy he's about to be a pass rushing terror.
6-3, 305-pound sophomore Gabe Wright was one of the nation's top defensive tackle recruits last season with terrific size and shocking quickness. All the tools are there to become the program's next great defensive tackle, but he has to stay healthy after being dinged up throughout last year making 12 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. A spot starter, he got the call three times late in the year and now needs to be a rock on the nose. He'll be backed up by 6-4, 316-pound sophomore Angelo Blackson a strong big body in the middle who made six tackles as a true freshman. The talent and upside are there to be a rock on the nose in a rotation with Wright.
Backing up Lemonier at one end will be Craig Sanders, a 6-4, 263-pound junior who was a star on special teams early in his career before making 13 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss in the rotation. With good size and quickness he could be a good situational pass rusher, while 6-4, 295-pound sophomore Devaunte Sigler should be ready to do more on the inside after serving as a decent reserve as a true freshman. He made ten tackles with a sack, and while he came to Auburn as a defensive end, he bulked up and will work on the inside.
Will Kenneth Carter be able to get back a starting spot? Injured, he missed spring ball and now will have to fight his way back for a tackle job after starting most of last year but making just 21 tackles. The 6-4, 290-pound junior has to do more to get into the backfield and he has to hold up.
Watch Out For … Ford. He looked like a world-beater last offseason but couldn't get healthy and was limited. He was dominant enough to potentially grab a starting spot this year, but can he stay on the field? If so, with Lemonier doing big things on one side, Ford should be special.
Strength: The pass rush. Lemonier and Ford have the potential to be among the SEC's best 1-2 pass rushing threats, and Eguae has the skills to potentially be a factor if he can stay healthy.
Weakness: Health. Oh yeah. It was a huge problem last year with too many young players failing to progress thanks to injuries of one type or another. If everyone can get and stay 100%, watch out. Not everyone will get and stay 100%.
Outlook: The potential is there to be outstanding. Universally praised by the coaching staff as the team's best unit this spring, the line should be a major plus as the year goes on. It's a young, YOUNG group with a world of upside, but the backup tackles have to play stronger and everyone has to try to stay in one piece.
Unit Rating: 7.5
The linebacking corps has to be better, but it has a good one to work around in veteran Daren Bates, the team's leading tackler who made 104 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. He went from going for the kill shot to being a sounder, steadier tackler, but he's still an intimidating force on the weakside. The 5-11, 211-pound senior moved over from safety and was trying to do everything early on, but now he knows what he's doing and he should be one of the team's top defensive playmakers.
Junior Jake Holland has to be better in the middle after getting banged up last year and making 43 tackles with two picks and 3.5 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 236 pounds he has decent size, and he's versatile enough to work on the strongside if needed. While he's smart enough to be the quarterback of the front seven, he needs to be steadier and he has to be a better tackler.
5-11, 225-pound senior Jonathan Evans is back on the strongside after making 40 tackles with a tackle for loss as a spot starter. A good reserve over the course of his career, he got his shot last season but couldn't seem to stay healthy and was out this spring. A big hitter, he should be able to hold his own, but can he hold off Kris Frost? The 6-2, 225-pound redshirt freshman is one of the best athletes in the linebacking corps and now he's ready to show off his skills after missing all of last year hurt. He'll be a threat in the backfield.
Bringing more size to the middle is 6-3, 238-pound redshirt freshman Chris Landrum a big option who's built more like a thin defensive end. The problem is that he struggled to make a move this offseason and is strictly a backup, while 6-1, 206-pound sophomore Justin Garrett should see time in the rotation on the outside. He has the speed and quickness to potentially be a decent option on the weakside after making nine tackles.
Watch Out For … Frost. There's no questioning his speed and upside, but he has to show he can hold up and handle the workload after suffering a torn labrum. If he's healthy, he'll soon be one of the team's leading tacklers if he can consistently be in the right position.
Strength: Athleticism. This isn't a linebacking corps like Auburn used to have in the Tommy Tuberville days, but there's enough athleticism across the board to make up for mistakes with raw speed. This might not be top-shelf corps, but it will run around its problems.
Weakness: Linebackers. Bates is fantastic, and then it's sketchy. There are concerns about Frost, Holland and the depth, and while there's talent and upside, lots and lots of time, patience and seasoning will be a must.
Outlook: This could be a problem. There's Bates and a whole bunch of question marks. The other two jobs are relatively wide open for the taking, but Holland and Frost wouldn't be bad to round things out. As long as Bates is healthy and strong enough work around, the corps won't be a liability.
Unit Rating: 6
The secondary has to be stronger and more consistent, and that has to start with the corners. 5-11, 196-pound junior Chris Davis made lots of tackles and was a monster in the bowl win over Virginia with eight stops and a forced fumble, but he didn't come up with any picks on the year and only broke up four passes. He made 60 stops and is athletic enough to do far more, but the big plays have to start coming.
On the other side is the 6-0, 177-pound senior T'Sharvan Bell, a versatile veteran who had a nice 2010 with some key plays, but suffered a knee injury last year and missed the last few games after making 45 tackles with two picks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He's a tall, thin defender who might be at his best as a nickel or dime defender, but will push for a job at one corner. Bell might be experienced, but his injury opens things up for 5-9, 203-pound sophomore Robenson Therezie a tremendous athlete who can fly all over the field. He made 17 tackles with a broken up pass as a reserve, but he took his lumps as a true freshman. Now he should be ready.
6-2, 208-pound junior Ryan Smith has good size and decent hitting ability making 23 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. With good quickness, he can move and he can get around the ball, but he didn't do enough when the ball was in the air opening things up for Erique Florence. The 6-1, 187-pound sophomore is one of the team's best all-around athletes after joining the team as one of the team's best free safety prospect. He made 23 tackles with a sack as a true freshman
Junior Demetruce McNeal started most lf last year at strong safety finishing third on the team with 74 tackles with two picks and two forced fumbles. At 6-2 and 193 pounds he has decent size at strong safety and did just enough to prove he has the potential to be solid, but he isn't consistent and he whiffed far too often. Making more big plays would be nice, but making the routine play over and over again would be better. If he can come back healthy after getting hurt this offseason, he'll be backed up by 5-11, 195-pound sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, a sound nickel defender who made 31 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes.
Watch Out For … Therezie. Can he prove he's ready to take over a starting role if Bell isn't ready? He's built like a safety and might be great in a nickel role, but he's also quick and he has the athleticism to hold his own. He'll be physical enough to beat people up.
Strength: Athleticism. The Tigers have lots and lots of speed and plenty of good athletes all across the board to get around. There are plenty of options to play around with and enough versatility to get the best four or five defensive backs on the field no matter what the position.
Weakness: Big plays. Considering few teams in the SEC could throw the ball, finishing dead last in pass efficiency defense and last against the pass isn't a positive. The Tigers came up with just 11 picks as a team while allowing 219 yards per game.
Outlook: The talent and athleticism are undeniable, but do the Tigers have football players? The speed and skill didn't translate into production last year, but the national title defensive backfield got torched, too. However, last year's secondary wasn't as opportunistic. With experience has to come steadier play, and with a better pass rush from the line, the chances will be there.
Unit Rating: 7
There's no question that junior Cody Parkey has a big leg, but can the former Under Armor All-American and top kicker recruit be more accurate. He nailed 6-of-10 shots from 40-to-45 yards, but he also missed a 32-yard chip shot. He has 50-yard range and should be great on kickoffs.
Junior Steven Clark only averaged a pedestrian 40.8 yards per kick, but that can be forgiven with a ridiculous 33 kicks put inside the 20 and with a whopping 34 fair catches. Punting was a huge problem two years ago, but he was a weapon last year turning into one of the defense's best friends.
The kickoff return game was terrific with Tre Mason averaging 26.4 yards per try and Onterio McCalebb ripping off 30.7 yards per attempt. As a team the Tigers finished 14th in the nation and first in the SEC averaging 24.7 yards per try. The punt return game wasn't great, but Quan Bray is experienced averaging 7.4 yards per try.
Watch Out For … more from Parkey. He wasn't quite right this offseason and was battling through a minor injury, but he's expected to be fine to start the season. He has a huge leg and he should start to get more credit for being one of the SEC's better blasters.
Strength: Kickoff returns. The production wasn't exactly consistent, but Mason and McCalebb turned it up a few notches and ended up being a phenomenal tandem. Bray was good, too, averaging 24.2 yards per try.
Weakness: Punt returns. Bray wasn't awful, but there wasn't much pop with a 24-yarder his best try. It would be nice if a more dangerous option could emerge, or if Bray could get loose once in a while.
Outlook: The kicking game turned out to be a positive, even with Parkey's five missed field goals. Clark is a special punter and the kickoff returners are tremendous. The kick coverage team could stand to be stronger, but the punt coverage team, thanks to Clark, should be great again.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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