2010 Auburn Preview – Defense
Auburn LB Josh Bynes
Auburn LB Josh Bynes
Posted Jul 20, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Auburn Tiger Defense

Auburn Tigers

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof wanted the Tigers to be more aggressive and do more to get into the backfield, but it didn't necessarily happen without the consistent production hoped for. Now there's experience and depth to potentially do far more after giving up 20 points or more against everyone but Louisiana Tech in the opener. The problem is in the uncertainty, mainly at safety. Just about every safety option is coming off an injury of some degree, but there's an expectation that enough pieces are in place for Daren Bates, a starting safety last year, to play a key role at linebacker to join Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens as the strength of the defense. The line needs a pass rusher to emerge to replace Antonio Coleman, but there should be a strong rotation at end, while Mike Blanc leads a decent group of tackles. If everyone is healthy, the potential is there for this to be a top 20 defense. Not everyone is going to be healthy.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Josh Bynes, 104
Sacks: Mike Blanc, 3.5
Interceptions: Neiko Thorpe, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Josh Bynes
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior NG Nick Fairley
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman DE Nosa Eguae
Best pro prospect: Sophomore CB T'Sharvan Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bynes, 2) LB Craig Stevens, 3) S/LB Daren Bates
Strength of the defense: Experience, Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Safety Health, Consistent Run Defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The line needs a new pass rusher to replace Antonio Coleman, and the hope is for senior Antoine Carter to kick his game up a few notches. The 6-4, 256-pounder started the second half of last year when Michael Goggans was struggling, and he showed off this offseason that he's on the verge of blowing up after making 30 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He has bulked up over the last few years, has been a good part of the rotation, and now he'll get his shot to shine.

After spending last year as a key back up and a spot starter who got the call in the opener against Louisiana Tech, 6-5, 298-pound junior Nick Fairley will get the first look at Jake Ricks' spot in the middle of the line on the nose. While he's not necessarily built for the position, he's an athletic interior pass rusher who was dominant at the JUCO level before making 28 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss last year for the Tigers.

If Nosa Eguae doesn't start, he'll be a key factor at both end spots. The 6-2, 249-pound redshirt freshman is a great tackler with a fantastic burst from the outside with linebacker athleticism and lineman toughness. Consistency will be his key, but while he wasn't an elite prospect, he has the look and the ability to become terrific over the next four years.

Senior Mike Blanc isn't flashy and he isn't going to make any all-star teams, but he's a tough, strong interior presence who came up with 44 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He's a hard worker and moves extremely well for a 6-4, 289-pounder, and while he's not necessarily an anchor, he's a good veteran who will be a key part of the puzzle. He's far better suited to be a one-gap tackle, but he can play on the nose if needed.

Projected Top Reserves: Consider Michael Goggans a starter on the end, and he could take the job back this summer. He started over the first half of last year after starting every game as a sophomore making 23 tackles, but he didn't do nearly enough to get into the backfield making just one sack (with just two in 37 career games and 18 starts) and 2.5 tackles for loss. He was still a part of the mix and was a key backup. While he had a great offseason, he was terrific last spring as well and it didn't translate. At 6-3 and 261 pounds and with tremendous athleticism (he was a top tight end recruit), the tools are there, but now the senior has to come through with a consistent final year.

Senior Zach Clayton was never right last year suffering an ankle injury that wouldn't go away, but he's back to healthy and appears ready to become the factor on the inside he was expected to become in 2009. At 6-3 and 293 pounds he has nice size and the versatility to play on either tackle spot after making seven tackles and a tackle for loss in six games, and now he'll push Mike Blanc for time.

Sophomore Dee Ford saw time in every game as a true freshman and he showed off why he has the potential to be one of the team's stronger pass rushers. The 6-4, 240-pounder has a nice frame and is extremely active both as a pass rusher and a run stopper with good lateral movement. He made 12 tackles with a sack and an interception, but he was in the quarterback's face often throughout the year. Don't be shocked if he starts.

Watch Out For … the end rotation. Is Goggans going to start? How about Ford? It doesn't matter much with all four top end prospects pushing for starting time, and the twos will get almost as much action as the ones.
Strength: Depth. Now that Clayton is healthy, the tackle situation is strong even after losing Jake Ricks, while there will be a terrific rotation on the outside. Fresh bodies aren't going to be a problem.
Weakness: Getting physical. The run defense didn't exactly get gouged last year, but it was consistently mediocre giving up over 200 yards to teams like Arkansas and Kentucky. While things improved over the final month of the year, holding Alabama to 73 yards rushing, on the season the Auburn run defense allowed 25 scores. The line has to beat more people up.
Outlook: There's a nice mix of size, athleticism, and experience, and while there isn't much star power with Antonio Coleman gone, the Tiger defensive front has a good rotation and should be more active at all four spots. The chances will be there for someone to step up and become a star on the end, while the tackles should be just good enough to hold up against the better running teams.
Unit Rating: 7


Projected Starters: Senior Josh Bynes took over the full-time job and never let it go with a team-leading 104 stops with a sack, an interception, six tackles for loss and seven broken up passes. The 6-2, 239-pounder doesn't miss an open field stop and he's the physical presence in the middle of the corps putting up big numbers when things are funneled his way. With great range, he can get to the ball, too, but he's not a big playmaker in the backfield; he uses his athleticism more in pass coverage.

6-3, 224-pound senior Craig Stevens has been a great running mate and made some noise of his own last season finishing second on the team with 95 tackles with 2.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. While not as physical as Josh Bynes, he's tough on the outside and is allowed to be aggressive and disruptive to make big plays. He can play either outside spot, and while he spent most of his time last year on the strongside, he'll get a look on the weakside early this fall.

Its hardly a lock that junior Eltoro Freeman will take back the starting spot he owned on the outside for most of last season, but he'll see more than his share of time. The 5-11, 225-pound former JUCO transfer is a big time athlete who makes up for his average size with excellent quickness. Physical, he's not bad at fighting off blockers and helping to blow up plays, and now he has stay healthy after getting banged around throughout last season. He saw time in ten games making 41 tackles with a sack, but he can do far more on the outside.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Daren Bates is a safety … at least that's how he looks at 5-11 and 203 pounds. But after stating every game as a true freshman and finishing fourth on the team with 70 tackles with an interception and three broken up passes, the coaching staff is tinkering around with the idea of putting him at linebacker. He could quickly move back to safety if injuries strike, but he has proven to be tough enough and physical enough to handle himself as an outside linebacker, even if he's part of a rotation.

The opening is there for someone to step up and fill a void at backup linebacker, and true freshman Jessel Curry might get the job done. At 6-1 and 209 pounds he's hardly build like a tough defender, but he's a tackling machine with the quickness and raw speed to get around and through the trash to the ball. He enrolled early and was great this offseason, and he'll get very shot to show what he can do.

At 5-11 and 230 pounds, sophomore Jonathan Evans has the size and the tackling ability to become a statistical star whenever he gets on the field. While he didn't do anything to get into the backfield in his true freshman season, he made 28 tackles as a key reserve while getting the start against Northwestern. He's a big hitter who'll be a starter next year.

Watch Out For … Bates. He has to be on the field somewhere, and with the safety position suddenly looking deep, he should shine as a sort of hybrid safety/outside linebacker. However, he has to prove he can hold up at his size. Already with a shoulder problem that required offseason surgery, he's going to get banged around.
Strength: The starters. Stevens has started every game over the last two seasons and Bynes was a rock last year. Throw in the experience of Freeman and Bates and four excellent starters with a ton of experience are back. The starters know what they're doing.
Weakness: Depth. The starters wore down as games went on with little behind them to help in a rotation. The coaching staff is trying to remedy the problem by moving Bates and hoping for some newcomers to play significant roles, but if the second teamers don't shine, the first teamers are going to look like they're running in mud by the end of the year.
Outlook: The potential is there for this to be one of the team's biggest strengths if Bynes and Stevens are Bynes and Stevens again, Freeman and Bates shine in the third slot, and some other options emerge to keep everyone fresh. This is a very active, smart group that isn't the beefed up group of safeties of past Auburn linebacking corps (at least outside of Bates). This is an aggressive unit that should be a major plus.
Unit Rating: 8


Projected Starters: In an interesting secondary situation with several unknowns, the one player who should be set and ready to fly is junior Neiko Thorpe at one corner. The 6-2, 192-pound veteran started every game last year and was terrific against the run finishing third on the team with 84 stops, but inconsistent when the ball was in the air making two picks with nine broken up passes. With the corner situation a bit thin after D'Antoine Hood decided to leave the team, Thorpe will have to be even more of a rock and he'll have to be more of a ball hawker against No. 1 targets.

Senior Demond Washington will have to battle to hold on to his starting corner job, but he's a hard worker, the coaching staff likes what he brings, and he appears to have improved after a strong offseason. The former JUCO transfer is only 5-9 and 182 pounds, but he moves well with elite cutting ability and is physical for his size getting two starts late in the year at strong safety. Being used in a variety of ways in the secondary, he made 36 tackles with four broken up passes, but he made his biggest mark as a kickoff returner setting the school record with a 31.1 yard average.

The hope and the plan is for junior Mike McNeil to be back to form after missing all of last year with a broken leg. The 6-2, 208-pounder made 65 tackles two years ago as the team's second-leading tackler, and the hope was for him to become a quarterback of the secondary at one of the safety spots before getting hurt in spring ball. With more than a year to recover, he'll be back in the mix, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air.

Senior Aairon Savage was on the verge of becoming an SEC star. The 5-11, 200-pounder was an all-star as freshman making 53 tackles with two sacks, and he was having a nice sophomore campaign before getting hurt with an ankle injury that kept him on the bench for half the year. Expected to be back and ready to roll in 2008, he suffered a horrendous knee injury just before the start of the year that cost him the last two seasons, but now the hope is that he's finally going to be back and ready to start again. After starting out his career as a corner, he moved to safety where he'll try to play again this year, and with his fight and high character, he could be one of the feel-good stories of the 2010 SEC season.

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore T'Sharvan Bell might be the best athlete on the Auburn defense. The 6-0, 179-pound corner with tremendous quickness and good smarts at the corner. He only made nine tackles in his limited action, but he came up with three interceptions, the most of any returning player, with two picks coming in the bowl win over Northwestern. While he's not going to start, he's going to push for time and will be the first man off the bench at both corner spots.

Can Zac Etheridge make it back? He seems to think so, but it's asking way too much for the one-time starter at strong safety to return this year after suffering a frightening, season-ending neck injury against Ole Miss. He made 65 tackles as a freshman and 75 as a sophomore, and he was on his way to a terrific season making 52 tackles in nine games before the injury.

Junior Mike Slade has to be ready in case Savage isn't healthy and back to form. The 6-3, 190-pounder is built more like a tall corner, but he's a decent safety prospect who made 13 tackles with a broken up pass in his limited time. He has had injury issues of his own, but when he's right he has a great combination of smarts, size, and speed to fill in at either safety spot.

Along with seemingly everyone else at safety, junior Drew Cole was hurt missing most of the year with a foot injury. Fast enough to be considered at corner, he moved over to safety early on and made three tackles last year. Mostly a special teamer so far, the spotlight will be on with so many concerns in the secondary.

Watch Out For … the depth chart written in pencil. Who's healthy this week? Who's the fourth-best corner option? Who's ready to play at safety? It could be a guess each week to figure out the starting lineup.
Strength: Experience … potentially. The only positive with all the injury issues was the experience gained by several untested players. Daren Bates, who'll get a look at linebacker, could quickly move back to safety to solve several potential problems, and the hope will be for McNeil and Savage to be back and healthy.
Weakness: Injuries. It would be comical if it wasn't so disappointingly sad. From Etheridge to McNeill to Savage, and to a lesser extent Slade and Cole, the secondary can't count on anyone to last through the season.
Outlook: Because of all the injuries and all the juggling of lineups, Auburn's secondary can be forgiven for a mediocre year. Corner depth is a big issue, safety health is a bigger problem, and finding some semblance of consistency will be an ongoing fight. If everyone is close to 100%, the pass defense should be great … but that's a giant if.
Unit Rating: 7

Special Teams

Projected Starters: In a league of great kickers, senior Wes Byrum was among the best and didn't get much recognition for it. After hitting 28-of-42 field goals in his first two years, he nailed 15-of-16 shots last season including a 49-yarder against Louisiana Tech. His only miss came from 46 yards away against Kentucky, and then he nailed his last seven attempts. He doesn't have a cannon for a leg, but it's good enough to be used on a regular basis from inside 50 yards.

Senior Ryan Shoemaker was fantastic as a freshman earning all-star honors averaging 42.4 yards per punt, but lost something off his fastball, became erratic, and didn't even play last year. Now a senior, he has to show off his solid leg and he has to make up for the loss of Clinton Durst, who didn't blast away but put 21 inside the 20 and forced 25 fair catches.

Defensive back Demond Washington came up with a great year setting the Auburn single-season record averaging 31.1 yards per kickoff return with a touchdown. Running back Mario Fannin wasn't bad, averaging 21.2 yards per try, and Onterrio McCalebb averaged 24.7 yards per pop. Between the three, the kickoff return game will be more than fine, while receiver Quindarius Carr will get the first look at taking over for Philip Pierre-Louis, who averaged 4.5 yards per try, as the main punt returner.

Watch Out For … Shoemaker. The Auburn punting game has been excellent over the last few seasons, and while the net stats might not have looked pretty, finishing 64th in the nation, but that was because so many kicks were put inside the 20. Shoemaker has done it before, and he needs to be decent.
Strength: Byrum, along with the kickoff return game. Considering Auburn played five games decided by seven points or fewer, the more Byrum can do, the better. If he can build on his terrific 2009, the Tigers will win at least two games because of him. With three great options, the return game will be among the best in the SEC.
Weakness: Punt returns. The Tigers should've been better last year, but they couldn't find anyone to consistently make anything happen for the punt return game. Four players combined to average 4.5 yards per shot and no one came up with anything big. It won't take much for Carr to do more.
Outlook: The special teams were among the best in the nation in 2008 and were a mixed back last year, and now the potential is there to be excellent if Shoemaker can produce and if the punt return game improves. The coverage teams could stand to be stronger, but if everything else works, Auburn should have an advantage in most games.
Unit Rating: 7.5

- 2010 Auburn Preview | 2010 Auburn Offense
- 2010 Auburn Defense | 2010 Auburn Depth Chart
- Auburn Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006