It's almost time for football on The Plains of Auburn. Fall practice begins next week and Fan Day is scheduled for August 12th. As with any start of football season, questions abound about the upcoming season. At Auburn the question of who will be the signal caller in the opening game seems to be so common lately, its almost become a right of fall.
This year is no different, with Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier set to duel it out when practice begins next Tuesday. However, the bigger question for the Tigers this season may be how will the defense perform.
Last year the Tigers' offense was ranked 4th in the SEC in rushing whereas the defense was ranked 11th in the league both in scoring defense and total defense.
With that statistic its a wonder that the Tigers finished 8-5 and played in the Chik-fil-a Bowl. At the same time its not any wonder that Defensive Coordinator Ted Roof was replaced by new man Brian Van Gorder.
Most Tiger fans were excited about his hire back in January. After all Van Gorder has a proven track record as a successful DC everywhere he's been.
As the defensive coordinator at Western Illinois University, the Leathernecks finished the 2000 season ranked 12th in both passing defense and total defense while allowing just 17 points per game.
In 2001 he was hired as the DC for the Georgia Bulldogs. During his first year as Defensive Coordinator, his unit finished 17th in the nation in scoring defense and fifth in rushing defense. The 2002 Dogs wound up fourth nationally in scoring defense, and No.1 in the SEC.
In 2003, VanGorder was awarded the Frank Boyles "Assistant Coach of the Year" Award, which honors the nation's top assistant coach after his defense finished third nationally in scoring defense, fourth in total defense and sixth in passing defense.
In his final season in Athens, Van Gorder's squad finished eighth in total defense. He also had a total of six of his players taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft during his four years in the Classic City.
He was hired by Bobby Petrino to be the new DC of the Falcons in 2005 and when Petrino unrepentantly quit the Birds, Steve Spurrier offered him the DC position at South Carolina. Instead BVG went to work for the Jacksonville Jaguars for one year before joining Mike Smith as the Falcons DC in 2006.
He worked his magic with the Falcons for five years producing four pro bowlers and leaving Atlanta last year, after his defense finishing the regular season ranked second in the NFL in red zone defense, sixth in rushing defense (97.0 ypg), and 12th in total defense (333.6 ypg).
Known for retooling defenses, he has a lot to work with as the Tigers have a heap of new talent and return almost every heavy hitter from the 2011 season.
He has been quoted as saying he wants the Tigers to have, "Bigger, stronger defenses." He particularly likes bigger linebackers for the 4-3 defense. He should have three bigger guys available in 6'3" , 235 lbs. Chris Landrum, 6' 2", 230 lb. Cassanova Mckinzy, and 6' 3", 235 lbs Kris Frost, all of whom are raw talents but perfect specimens of big quick linebackers.
The starting rotation will probably be ...
(Likely depth chart after the jump)
Look for BVG to rotate heavily on the D-Line with Gabe Wright, Jeffrey Whitaker, Kenneth Carter, Angelo Blackson, and Jamar Travis. I look for the two interior starters to be Whitaker and Blackson.
The strength on the line will come from the corners with Nosa Eguae, Craig Sanders, Dee Ford, and All-SEC DE Corey Lemonier who finished second last year in the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. Look for Equae to team with Lemonier as the starters.
The Cornerback position should be looking good if T’Sharvan Bell recovers from knee surgery and locks down one spot along with Chris Davis. Back ups will probably be Jonathon Mincy, Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie; although newcomer Joshua Holsey might push for playing time.
Van Gorder has five players that have all seen playing time at safety. Demetruce McNeal and Ryan Smith have split starts in the past. However, most expect this season to be a breakout year for Erique Florence. If that is the case, Smith will be the first reserve followed by Ikeem Means and Trent Fisher .
From all accounts this group has been reinvigorated by a passionate and intense Van Gorder who believes in a high pressure defense. He said recently that "I like pressure. I'm built that way. I think pressure from defense changes the philosophy of offense. Anytime we can dictate more of that from the defensive side, that's a good thing."
That's a philosophy that sounds familiar to Auburn people. I don't expect the defense to be completely fixed in one year but the 2012 Auburn 'D' should be bigger and stronger. It should be on the way back to being the traditional tough defensive style the fans know and expect from the Orange and Blue ...
And that's a good thing!