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Auburn Position Previews: Defensive Tackles

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Starting today and going through next week, I'm going to put up my personal thoughts on where we stand at various positions. I know most outlets have already covered this over the summer, but we're going through with a bit clearer eyes now that fall practice has started.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Key Losses:

Nosa Equae, Kenneth Carter

Key Returnees:

Jeffrey Whitaker (Sr), Angelo Blackson (Sr), Gabe Wright (Sr), Montravius Adams (So), Ben Bradley (Sr)

Newcomers:

Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence

Causes for optimism:

Jeffrey Whitaker was a team leader last year even though he never saw the field due to injury. If he can be the same this year on the field, he could provide a solid anchor to this defensive line. Gabe Wright has lost a lot of weight and is primed for a great senior season. He may see a lot of action at Defensive End along with Defensive Tackle. Montravius Adams had a fantastic freshman campaign in 2013, and if he can improve on that experience with more playing time this fall, he may have the opportunity to really earn the nickname "Sacktravius" that many started hanging on him last season. The incoming freshmen will have a chance to compete for playing time given how much Auburn rotates defensive linemen. It would be nice to see Dontavius Russell step up and for us to have the "Sacktravius Duo," but I think he is more likely to contribute in 2015 than he is this season.

Causes for concern:

Auburn was gashed for a good many rushing yards last year, so we have to hope this unit has improved and can create a nice wall to keep rushers from getting through. This unit only accounted for 3.5 of Auburn's 32 sacks last season, as well. This is especially troubling when you realize how little Auburn blitzed. 1/3 of Auburn's sack total from last year was from Dee Ford alone. If Auburn is going to be successful at stopping other teams on defense, it will need better production from the tackles.

The other major concern is that outside of two other players - JaBrian Niles (Jr) and Brian Walsh (Jr) - those listed above make up the entirety of this unit. Sure, that's a lot of people for only two positions on the line, but remember that we prefer to rotate a lot of linemen in order to keep them fresh. I think Auburn will be ok this year, but there are very few underclassmen listed. I believe Auburn will have to pull in some quality JUCOs to provide depth at this position over the next few years.

Conclusions/Predictions:

I do think the defensive tackles will be much improved this season. It may just be my homer optimism, but I think having more time under Rodney Garner and Ellis Johnson's system will play a huge part in their improvement. But the biggest thing is the extra time under Ryan Russell's strength and conditioning program and the strength and quickness they have developed. The measure of success for me will be cutting the rushing yards allowed down from 162 yards/game to closer to 100 at most and increasing the number of sacks. I'm not going to put a number on sacks, but I would like to see it increase from 10% of Auburn's sack total to at least 25%.

Next up: Defensive Ends