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March 23, 2010

Spring Position Preview: Defense

Ted Roof wanted a physical defense. He wanted opposing players to wake up sore on Sunday morning, knowing they played Auburn the night before.

But multiple injuries both before and during the '09 season forced him to play it safe in practice. Exhausted players without experienced backups had to play longer than they were used to.

But help came through at the beginning of the semester when linebacker Jessel Curry and defensive end Craig Sanders enrolled in classes.

Spring practice kicks off tomorrow, and all but four starters from last year's defense will return.

Defensive line
Several true freshmen saw playing time on last year's thin defensive line. And with Antonio Coleman and Jake Ricks hoping to be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, an end and tackle position have opened up.

Nosa Eguae could take over where Coleman left off. He received a medical redshirt last year because of a right foot injury, but is expected to go full speed this spring. However, he will have to work for the starting nod as Dee Ford, Coleman's true freshman backup, is also coming back.

On the right side, starter Antoine Carter and backup Michael Goggans enter their senior seasons.
Sanders has reportedly been intensely focused on Auburn football since he arrived on campus in January. The December high school graduate could see time at either end position.

At right tackle, Derrick Lykes will return after earning valuable playing time as a true freshman backing up Ricks. Left tackle will see the return of senior Mike Blanc and sophomore Nick Fairley. The two spit playing time at the position last year, with Fairley starting the first and final games of the Tigers' season.

Jamar Travis was initially supposed to redshirt his true freshman season, but depth issues at tackle forced Gene Chizik to lift it for the Sept. 26 Ball State game. He played in every game thereafter.

Linebackers
Sophomore Daren Bates has been learning the strongside linebacker position after starting every game last year at free safety. But he's not the only one moving. Eltoro Freeman will make the switch from weak to strong side. Bates would be Freeman's backup, but is unlikely to go through spring practice as he recovers from an injury. Curry has been at Auburn since January and should contribute where Bates cannot this spring.

Senior Craig Stevens, last year's strongside linebacker, will move to the weak side. Josh Bynes will remain in the middle.

Harris Gaston signed with Auburn in '08, but a broken wrist caused him to redshirt. He is also not expected to go through spring practice as he continues to recover. Gaston would have been Bynes' backup in the middle. Walk-on Wade Christopher may be backing up Bynes instead.

Defensive backs
Strong safety Zac Etheridge's season-ending neck injury has kept him in a neck brace since the incident on Oct. 31.

The head-to-shoulder collision with Coleman during the Ole Miss game thankfully didn't result in permanent damage. He is currently wearing a soft brace.

Bates' move to linebacker is likely to make room at safety for a duo coming off injuries. Mike McNeil's broken fibula that sidelined him for 2009 is no longer an issue and he will participate in spring practice. Aairon Savage, who hasn't played a down since the 2007 Iron Bowl, will be back after being granted a sixth year of eligibility. Savage suffered two season-ending injuries: an ACL tear in 2008 followed by an Achilles injury in 2009.

T'Sharvan Bell made an impression late in his redshirt freshman season as he made two picks in the Outback Bowl. He served as Bates' backup at free safety.

Backup safety Mike Slade will also be in the mix as he enters his junior season.

With Walter McFadden lost to graduation, the left cornerback slot is open.

Demond Washington initially was Auburn's nickel back and McFadden's backup, but moved to safety after Etheridge's injury. He will be a senior this fall. With Savage and McNeil at safety, Washington will likely return to his original position.

Neiko Thorpe, last year's starting right cornerback, was backed up by D'Antoine Hood. Both will be juniors this year. Thorpe recorded 84 total tackles with two interceptions in '09.



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