2013 Auburn Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Auburn Tiger Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know:
The woes on offense were one thing considering all the talents were trying to figure out what to do, but the defense's problems were unacceptable considering 2011 was supposed to be the rebuilding year. The pass rush was non-existent at times, the front seven was like tissue paper against the run, and the entire D came up with a grand total of two interceptions. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is changing things up to a 4-2-5 alignment to try be far more active and far more disruptive. The talent is undeniable on the line with Dee Ford leading a deep and athletic group. The secondary has experience, but playmakers have to emerge around corner Chris Davis, who's great in coverage but doesn't pick off passes. The linebackers will be asked to hold up against the run, and veteran Jake Holland can do that.
Star of the defense: Senior DE Dee Ford
Tackles: Demetruce McNeal, 90
Sacks: Dee Ford, 6
Interceptions: Trent Fisher, 1
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Nosa Eguae
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB/DB Justin Garrett
Best pro prospect:Junior DT Angelo Blackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Ford, 2) CB Chris Davis, 3) DT Gabe Wright
Strength of the defense: Athleticism, Experience
Weakness of the defense: Interceptions, Proven Production
Corey Lemonier might be gone, but statistically, senior Dee Ford had a stronger field with 34 tackles with a team-leading six sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He's now the star up front turning in big offseasons, but he has to keep a problem back in check and he has to stay healthy like he did for the most part last season. Quick off the ball, the 6-2, 238-pounder might not be big, but he can move and he can close in a big hurry. He'll be backed up by Craig Sanders, a 6-4, 242-pound senior who saw time throughout last season making nine tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. He's not a pass rusher, but he adds a little more bulk up front.
Is this the year when senior Nosa Eguae breaks out? Expected to grow into a superstar pass rusher over the last few years, injuries and inconsistencies have kept him from being more than a decent part of the rotation making 23 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss last season. With 6-3, 268-pound size, good toughness against the run and excellent athleticism, he's an elite prospect who has to play like it. He'll combine with senior Kenneth Carter, a starter throughout 2011 making 21 tackles on the inside. At 6-4 and 287 pounds he's a tackle who'll play inside or out, but he has to prove to get behind the line after making 17 tackles with a tackle for loss.
6-3, 300-pound junior Gabe Wright was one of the nation's top defensive tackle recruits two years ago with fantastic size and shocking quickness. All the tools are there to become a special presence inside, but he couldn't stay healthy in his first year and didn't take over the starting job until late last year finishing with 19 tackles with a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. Great at engineering pressure, he could be a dangerous interior pass rusher. 6-1, 310-pound sophomore Ben Bradley is built like more of a pure run stuffer on the inside, but like Wright he can zip into the backfield without a problem. A big-time JUCO transfer coming in from Hutchinson CC, he was a fixture behind the line and should become a good part of the rotation.
At 6-4 and 312 pounds, junior Angelo Blackson has excellent size and enough experience to become the anchor to work around up front. He made 26 tackles with a sack, seven tackles for loss and two blocked kicks in an interesting first season as a starter, and he also has the versatility to play on the nose or in a four-man front tackle. He'll combine forces with senior Jeffrey Whitaker, who started throughout the last two seasons but was banged up a bit and only finished with 12 tackles. He hasn't been a pass rusher, and now he has to start doing more against the run.
Watch Out For … some more superstar recruits. 6-3, 310-pound Montravius Adams is one of the nation's top defensive tackle prospects, while Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel will work on the end. The 6-2, 250-pound Lawson ranked out 27 sacks and 44 tackles for loss in his senior year at Milton High in Georgia, while the 6-4, 250-pound Daniel is a devastating pass rusher from Indiana who could be a specialist right away. Adams can do a little of everything right.
Strength: Looking the part. Like most areas on Auburn, the defensive line seems like it should be fantastic considering all the talent in place. The possible starting foursome of Ford, Eguae, Blackson and Wright all came in with tremendous high school résumés, and even more talent among the backups.
Weakness: Production. The pass rush wasn't totally miserable, but it wasn't nearly as good as is should've been with the athleticism at all four spots while the run defense was non-existent at times. The Auburn line looks the part, but it doesn't play like it.
Outlook: Parts of the offense might disagree, but this should be where the biggest turnaround comes. Lemonier is the only key part missing from last year, and there's more than enough talent and more than enough NFL potential to go from good to truly special in a snap. If nothing else, there's absolutely no excuse for the pass rush not to work with so many good options in the rotation at all four spots.
Unit Rating: 7.5
One of the few positives from last year, Daren Bates, is gone, and now in the 4-2-5 alignment, the linebackers have to hold up and standout. The one sure starter is senior Jake Holland, a 6-1, 243-pound veteran in the middle who overcame an injury-plagued 2011 with 73 tackles and six quarterback hurries. Smart enough to be the quarterback of the front seven, he's a good tackler who's always in the right spot.
With Holland set at one linebacker job, it'll be up to a pair of sophomores to fill in the other side. 6-2, 231-pound Kris Frost is one of the best all-around athletes on the defense with tremendous quickness and upside, but he has to start producing after missing time two years ago hurt and making just five stops last year. The 6-3, 245-pound Cassanova McKinzy has more than just a great name, making 23 tackles in half a season of action. He jumped into the mix as a true freshman and showed tremendous upside with 12 tackles against Vanderbilt and seven against Georgia.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Kenny Flowers, a 6-2, 230-pound big hitter from Hutchinson CC who made 95 tackles and also showed nice quickness in pass coverage. For a corps that needs depth, he's needed right away.
Strength: The new system. The pressure is on the defensive line and the defensive backs to make most of the big plays, while the linebackers can focus mostly on holding up against the run. Frost has the speed to get behind the line, but the more that Holland, McKinzy and Frost have to do to keep big plays to a minimum, the better.
Weakness: Depth. Auburn is used to using safety-sized linebackers to utilize their speed and quickness, but now the safeties really will need to be used. The depth isn't quite there to get big when needed.
Outlook: Losing Bates is a huge problem. He led the team in tackles and did a little of everything for a woeful defense, but in the 4-2-5 alignment, Holland should do a nice job and there are just enough options to work around him, but this group needs help from an improved defensive front.
Unit Rating: 6
The pressure will be on the defensive backs to start doing more in the new alignment with the new star likely being at the Star position. 6-1, 214-pound junior Justin Garrett, who came up with a great offseason, should shine at a more natural position. He saw a little bit of time last year serving mostly as a reserve in six games making 12 tackles, but now he gets to roam free a little bit more and use his speed and range to be an all-around playmaker. Backing him up will be junior Robenson Therezie, a tremendous athlete who can fly all over the field as a safety or like an extra linebacker. He only made three tackles, and he's undersized at 5-9 and 202 pounds, but he can move.
Starring at corner is Chris Davis, who's good enough to lock down on No. 1 SEC receivers also make plays in the open field. Banged up a bit through part of the season, he still made 46 tackles with three broken up passes – now he has to start picking off passes. He didn't come with any over the last two seasons, but he's a good all-around playmaker and the star of the secondary. Working on the other side is 5-10, 191-pound junior Jonathon Mincy, a 5-10, 191-pound hitter who played mostly in nickel and dime packages but found a starting job at corner as the season went on finishing fifth on the team with 57 stops with a sack, four tackles for loss and four broken up passes. He needs to show off better ball skills, but he can pop.
5-11, 198-pound junior Jermaine Whitehead is a sound nickel defender who'll take on one of the safety jobs after finishing third on the team with 86 stops with a sack and five broken up passes. He had to do way too much to help out against the run, and he wasn't bad when the ball was in the air, but the more he could do against the pass, the better. He'll be backed up by Ryan Smith, a 6-2, 197-pound senior who came up with 27 tackles in just four games – including 12 against Clemson – but he missed most of the season before coming back late to make nine tackles against Alabama.
Whitehead will be joined at safety by the combination of junior Trent Fisher and senior Demetruce McNeal, two veterans should put up big numbers. The 6-1, 200-pound Fisher rose up this offseason after spending most of his career on special teams making 16 tackles, but the former walk-on and son of St. Louis Ram head coach Jeff Fisher holds the distinction of actually coming up with an interception last season – his 60-yard pick six against Alabama A&M was one of the team's just two interceptions on the season. The 6-2, 194-pound McNeal started last year at free safety and finished second on the team with 90 tackles with a sack, seven tackles for loss and four broken up passes. While he didn't come up with any picks, he became a more secure, steady tackler.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Brandon King. This was a good class of talent for the secondary, but King will likely make the most immediate impact. The 6-1, 210-pound tackler from Highland CC in Kansas made 118 stops last year, and now with his great size and popping ability he should find a role right away.
Strength: Hitting ability. The Auburn defensive backs are all tough and they can all tackle. Often times they have to thanks to the leaky front seven, but they help out against the run. There might have been too many big plays allowed, but the DBs will hold their own.
Weakness: Interceptions. One. The secondary came up with a grand total of one interception, and that came against Alabama A&M. The Tiger secondary has been a disaster over the last few years in pass efficiency defense.
Outlook: The pressure is on in the new 4-2-5 alignment. There's experience, speed and talent, but someone has to start making more big plays. Davis is a good one to work around, and Garrett is about to blossom into a statistical star, but unless the interceptions start coming, it'll be another long year.
Unit Rating: 7
The kicking was a plus with senior Cody Parker hitting 11-of-14 field goals with all three of his missed coming from beyond 46 yards. The problem was that he didn't get a whole bunch of chances late in the season missing from 48 against Texas A&M and 47 against New Mexico State, and not getting any attempts over the last three games – his last made field goal came on October 20th. The former Under Armor All-American was a top kicker recruit with a big leg, but he has to show he can hit from beyond 50.
The punting was a positive with senior Steven Clark averaging a pedestrian 39.8 yards per try, but doing a nice job of keeping the big plays to a minimum. He worked phenomenally well with the coverage team with the longest return just seven yards.
Receivers Quan Bray and Trovon Reed will handle the punt return duties after doing a decent job last year. Bray was the main man averaging 8.5 yards on his 16 tries, while Reed returned two punts for 25 yards. Running back Tre Mason will do more for the kick return game after averaging 26.3 yards per try on his three returns.
Watch Out For … Daniel Carlson, one of the nation's top kicker recruits. Parkey is done next year, and then Carlson has to use his huge leg to be a blaster on both kickoffs and deep shots. He'll get a year to work and practice, but then it's Game On.
Strength: Punt coverage team. Phenomenal, the Tigers allowed just 0.8 yards per return on five tries. The kickoff coverage team was also outstanding allowing just 16.6 yards per try.
Weakness: Consistent deep kicks. There's no argument with the punting production overall, but it would be nice if Clark could blast out a few more bombs. Parkey has the leg, but he has to start connecting on a more regular basis from beyond 45.
Outlook: As bad as everything else was for Auburn last season, the special teams turned out to be amazing. From the solid returning game to among the nation's best coverage teams, this was a positive. Just about everyone of note is back, and while the kickers could stand to be a bit better, overall this should be one of the team's strengths again.
Unit Rating: 8
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