There is little doubt amongst Tigers starters that Auburn’s starting front seven will hold its own against the best offenses in the SEC this year.
The inevitable question is what happens when the group encounters injuries. The short answer: It can’t afford many. One injury to any position likely means an unproven newcomer will have to step up into either a starting or backup role.
That means Auburn fans should already be familiar with the names Eltoro Freeman, Nick Fairley and Nosa Eguae. They should also be ready to learn other names quickly.
OPENING DAY DE CONTENDERS:
Antonio Coleman, Sr.
Michael Goggans, Jr.
Antoine Carter, Jr.
Cam Henderson, RFr.
Nick Fairley, So.
OPENING DAY DT CONTENDERS:
Jake Ricks, Sr.
Mike Blanc, Sr.
Zach Clayton, Sr.
Derrick Lykes, RFr.
Nosa Eguae, Fr.
Jamar Travis, Fr.
OPENING DAY LB CONTENDERS:
Craig Stevens, Sr.
Ashton Richardson, So.
Josh Bynes, Jr.
Wade Christopher, Jr.
Adam Herring, Jr.
Eltoro Freeman, So.
Spencer Pybus, So.
DL – Terrance Coleman, Fr.
DL – Josh Jackson, Fr.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Antonio Coleman is the star of the defensive line, but whoever plays opposite him – either Michael Goggans or Antoine Carter – has the potential to be a strong counterpart. Goggans certainly played well at times last year. That is one of the best position battles this fall and it is largely flying under the radar.
Coleman expects Fairley and Eguae to play immediately. Both could potentially play both inside and outside along the line.
Cam Henderson remains an unknown after missing part of spring and allegedly getting into some trouble this summer.
Along the interior, Mike Blanc and Jake Ricks – both of who had opportunities to seize starting spots last year – will likely start. They don’t have a choice but step up this year.
Zach Clayton is a good pass rusher but needs more consistency against the run if he hopes to become a starter. Derrick Lykes impressed at times during the spring. He’ll need to provide depth at one of several positions the Tigers have none.
The qualifying statuses of Terrance Coleman and Josh Jackson will be important from a depth standpoint.
Linebacker is of particular concern for the Tigers this year. Especially after Marcus Jemison’s dismissal from the team, Auburn has virtually no depth. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof coaches linebackers as well. He said all four players battling for starting spots – Freeman, Craig Stevens, Spencer Pybus and Josh Bynes – must learn every position.
Bynes and Stevens are certain starters at middle and strong-side linebacker, respectively. Freeman leads Pybus for the weak-side position as fall camp begins.
Adam Herring sat out the entire spring and Da’Shaun Barnes has been given a medical redshirt. That means a pair of walk-ons – Wade Christopher and Ashton Richardson – open camp on the two-deep. Both might be able to contribute some, but that’s a pretty strong indicator of how much depth is a concern at linebacker.
Freshmen Dee Ford, Harris Gaston and Jonathan Evans could all easily see the field this year. At least two will almost certainly be forced into action. It’s too early to tell which spot they will play.
Ford could also see time at defensive end.
KEEP IN MIND:
Roof on why his teams often rank toward the top of tackles for loss categories: “I think if you’re going to preach aggressiveness and you’re going to preach playing behind the chains, then you’ve got to coach like that. There’s an old adage, ‘You get what you demand,’ but as a coach I think a lot of times you also get what you reward. That’s certainly, the way football is now, a big deal and it always has been – to try to get people behind the chains and try to make them a little bit more predictable where they can’t keep you off-balance.
“It’s just been a product of having good players and that’s what we teach, that’s what we hang our hats on is being aggressive. In order for your players to play aggressive, I think you’ve got to call an aggressive game as a defensive coordinator.”
Translation: Expect a blitzing defense.
Roof on the Pybus/Freeman competition: “Accountability. When we call something, it’s going to be executed and they’re going to make the plays they’re in position to make. All those guys are high-effort guys. Just to make the plays they’re in position to make – that’s what I’m looking for.”
Roof on the backup MLB spot: “That’s another competition. Wade Christopher. Spencer and Eltoro will both have to learn that spot to be able to play there. Craig Stevens is going to have to know what to do inside there too to give us flexibility to put our best group out there.”
Roof on Stevens: “He is an accountable football player. Very rarely is he out of position. Very rarely does he make a mental mistake. Physically, he’s got the tools to make the plays he’s in position to make. What he was doing this spring was making great effort plays – chasing things down. Not to say that he doesn’t make mistakes, because we all make mistakes, but he knows his responsibilities inside and out and understands where he fits and what’s going on around him. He’s just so accountable. As a coach, that’s what you want to know. You don’t want to make a call and Johnny’s supposed to go to the right and he goes to the left and there’s a big gash.”
Roof on Bynes: “I was very pleased with him this spring as far as that goes. He’s another guy that football makes a lot of good sense to. You can tell him something and he gets it. He’s very aware as a football player. One of the challenges we have to work on with him is to become more physical. That’s something he’s got to continue to work on. I was pleased with his spring, but he’s just got to get more physical. As far as a student of the game, he’s really an aware football player.”
Coleman on Fairley: “Nick Fairley’s doing awesome. He’s big, strong. He kind of reminds me of Sen’Derrick. I look for a lot of things out of him. He’s big and he’s athletic and he could move. I played football and basketball with him in high school so I know he’s athletic.”
Coleman on depth situation: “I expected Nick to come in and play anyway. Nosa, I also expect him to come in and play. Obviously with our depth problems, most of the guys we have are going to have to play right away. You just have to get out there and work hard and get those guys going in the right direction.
“I talked to coach Rocker and he said we’re going to have to battle through injuries and play. That’s what he told me when he first got here. Obviously our first 11, we can play with anybody in the country but our problem is we don’t have any backups that can just step in and we don’t miss a beat. That’s what we’re trying to get corrected this year. Hopefully we can do that.”