Saturday, August 9, 2008
Previewing Auburn's 2008 Season (Defense and Special Teams)
Football season. it's almost here. you can smell it? oh wait, no that's just regular vomit from the Athens townies. student puke is still a few weeks away. but regardless the anticipation for August 30th has built to the point where i can't even stand talking about it anymore. just let me see some football. and not any of this NFL preseason nonsense. i want some real college football. every game counts. Saturdays in the south. SEC speed. rivalry. pageantry. and of course the crushing of my hopes. i've already highlighted Auburn's three biggest rivals and each of their prospects for the 2008 season, and now it's time to tackle my Tigers. and give a recycled (it's all about being green. so no new content. The Earth is First!) version of their chances for this upcoming season in the least biased way possible.
Defensive Line- The Defensive front has been the focal point of the Auburn defense during the past several seasons with big play makers such as Stanley McClover and Quentin Groves causing havoc for opposing QBs. and 2008 looks to be no different. the defensive ends this year should carry on the tradition of being sack happy monsters and the big boys in the middle should be able to stuff the run (unless they're playing Georgia in a fucking Black Out Game...GODDAMNIT!!!). pre-season All American Sen'Derrick Marks leads the line as the playmaker in the middle. Auburn fans are hoping he has the type of year that Glenn Dorsey had last season for LSU, minus the knee injury (sorry 'bout that). joining Marks in the middle will be Jake Ricks, Mike Blanc, and Zach Clayton, none have been a starter...but all show strong potential. on the ends we have Antonio Coleman (pre-season All SEC) who led the team with 8.5 sacks last year as a part time starter. on the other side Michael Goggans (a converted tight end) looks to have a breakout year. Sophomore Antoine Carter and JC transfer Raven Gray (a five star recruit!!) also will likely be in the defensive end rotation and getting plenty of playing time. redshirt freshman AJ Green and true freshman Cameron Henderson (4 star recruit) may see some action as well. it's by far one of...if not THE, deepest positions of strength for Auburn. i don't expect any drop off from last season.
fantasy scenario: the Tigers front four destroys opponents and don't allow a single rushing touchdown all season. Auburn's leads the SEC in sacks and hold every running back they face to less than 100 yards. Marks and Coleman both land on several All American teams. Goggans proves to be another in the line of devastating pass rushers and opposing coordinators see nightmares of Navy and Burnt Orange linemen tearing their QBs into pieces.
realistic scenario: the defensive line pretty much holds serve with those that have come before it, getting lots of sacks and plays in the backfield and keeping the Auburn defense as one of the top 10 in the nation.
Linebackers- like the line, the linebackers are deep and very talented as well. former five star recruit, Tray Blackmon is entering his third season with the Tigers. the hopes are that he can get past the injuries and off the field problems that have held him back from being a dominate force. i (and the entire Tiger nation) think this is gonna be his breakout season. backing him up in the middle is another highly thought of recruit named Josh Bynes. Seniors Merril Johnson, Courtney Harden, and Chris Evans will all spend time in the linebacker rotation. each of them has been a starter in the past and have played on the outside and in the middle. Sophomore Craig Stevens (4 star recruit) will find himself as the other starting linebacker. don't be surprised to see freshmen Spencer Pybus, Adam Herring, and De'Shaun Barnes getting some playing time as well. promising linebacker Bo Harris decided to transfer, but there's enought depth at the position that it shouldn't matter.
fantasy scenario: no one can run past the Tigers front line, but the lucky few who do escape the big boys will be getting blown up by a very fast and angry linebacking corp. Tray Blackmon finally shows the nation why he was the number 1 linebacker recruit in the nation and has an All American campaign and then decides to come back for one more year at Auburn.
realistic scenario: as long as the linebackers can stay away from the injury bug that seemed to hit them all last year, then the depth and speed of this position should cause nightmares for running backs in the SEC. i expect this to be the best group the Tigers have in a while.
Defensive Backs- if there was a weakness on this defense it would be the lack of depth in the defensive backs. Jerraud Powers is unquestionably the best player of the group. he's a solid All-SEC player and a likely 2nd round pick. he made big plays and will be looked at as the leader in this group. sophomores Michael McNeil and Zac Etheridge are the starting safeties. both players have a lot of potential and started games last season. McNeil has the biggest upside of the two. Aarion Savage was set to be the other starting cornerback before blowing his knee out. Walter McFadden will be asked to fill that void, he could end up being the week link in what looked like a solid starting 4. redshirt freshman Michael Slade will be asked to back up both safeties and true freshmen D'Antoine Hood and Harry Adams are both expected to see time at corner. freshman QB, DeRon Furr was expected to contribute at safety but left the team after getting jumped at practice by some of the other defensive backs.
fantasy scenario: no one else gets injured and the supposed weakness of the defensive backfield becomes a strength. Powers is an All SEC performer and a Jim Thorpe finalist. the freshmen step into the void left by Savage and become impact players. McNeil and Etheridge wreak havoc on anyone who dares to go over the middle.
realistic scenario: the DBs are a bit of a weak link and teams who can sling it will try and exploit the young safeties and throw away at McFadden in an effort to avoid Powers. the DBs will end up costing the Tigers a loss at some point in the season.
Kickers- Wes Byrum had 2 game winning field goals against Florida and Arkansas and was mostly accurate as a true freshman. punter Ryan Shoemaker is first team All SEC.
fantasy/realistic scenario: i don't really have any real fantasies about kickers. Byrum already has shown he's money in the big moments. and Shoemaker is an ALL-SEC punter. fuck it! we're Golden!
kick & punt returners- Brad Lester, Tristan Davis, Robert Dunn, Mario Fannin, and Chris Slaughter will all probably do some punt and kick returns. Davis is speedster who led the SEC in return average a few seasons ago. Fannin is a playmaker for sure and we'd all like to see him do damage on punt returns.
fantasy scenario: Tristan Davis returns back to his 2006 form on kick returns and Mario Fannin has Auburn fans with visions of Reggie Bush with his combination of receiving, rushing, and punt returns.
realistic scenario: the returns make some plays, but are nothing special and no real game breaker emerges.
In Summation: The Defense is the kind that can win you a championship. the special teams is consistent and reliable. There aren't a lot of questions in the fans' minds. we know our Tigers will be a dominate force on defense, even if we are bringing in a new coordinator. there's some star power with Marks, Coleman, Powers, and Blackmon. as long as Auburn can remember how to tackle when they play the Bulldogs and not give up big passing plays like they did to Georgia and LSU then i expect we'll be winning a lot of games. also let's hope Paul Rhodes can do with Auburn's D what he did last season with Pitt when the Tigers travel to West Virginia in October.