Friday, March 5, 2010

Ten to Remember: No. 3

Spring ball is little more than a month away. With so many players returning from last year’s team, the faces and names will largely remain the same. Here is a look at the 10 under-the-radar players fans should know/remember going into spring practice.

No. 10
LB Jessel Curry

No. 9
RB Dontae Aycock

No. 8
DE Craig Sanders

No. 7
QBs Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley

No. 6
TE Philip Lutzenkirchen

No. 5
DE Nosa Eguae

No. 4
S Mike McNeil & Aairon Savage

No. 3
DT Nick Fairley

Auburn fans should already have an idea of Fairley’s capability. The top reserve defensive tackle last year had 28 tackles including 3.5 for loss. He also showed a pass-rush ability that topped starting tackle Jake Ricks – the two had the same number of sacks, 1.5, and Fairley had more quarterback hurries, seven to six, despite Ricks playing significantly more.

What is yet to be seen is how good the former junior-college player can be as a full-time starter. If Auburn stays in a 4-3 defense – which right now is an if – Fairley is the strongest candidate to assume Ricks’ starting spot next to Mike Blanc.

However, Daren Bates’ apparent move from safety to linebacker has some wondering if Auburn is contemplating a switch to a 3-4 defense. The Tigers already have Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens returning as seniors and Eltoro Freeman improved dramatically toward the end of the season. If the Tigers do stay in the 4-3, Freeman and Bates would compete for playing time – a curious decision considering both showed the potential during their first seasons at Auburn to be very good players at the SEC level last season.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said during an interview with The Star this week that he would not comment on Bates’ status or position, referring to it as “a (Gene) Chizik question).”

Fairley is a strong enough presence that he could man the nose position if called upon. His size – 6-foot-5, 293 pounds – doesn’t put him in the Terrence Cody class of mammoth-sized human beings, but it certainly isn’t bad either.

If Auburn does move to a 3-4, Fairley and Blanc would likely split the role.

Regardless of what defense Auburn aligns itself with this season, the unit must find ways to improve its run defense. That has been the constant, nagging question Roof seeks to answer first and foremost this season. Whether Auburn is in a 4-3 or a 3-4, that starts up front.

Someone, Blanc or Fairley, must do a better job dominating the line of scrimmage to improve the rush defense. That, more than anything, might determine how good Auburn’s defense can be in 2010.

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