Scouting report: Defensive line
Hey everyone. Thanks a lot for visiting the blog during the past few weeks and sending along the (generally) nice words about my work here. Before I was a sports writer, I always wished sports writers would do breakdowns like this on my then-favorite Green Bay Packers. So here I am trying to satisfy you die-hards with some pretty detailed breakdowns.
I must note, however, that Auburn doesn't let us watch practice during most of the fall. It's difficult to assess a guy like, say, DE Bryant Miller when I can't see him practice or scrimmage. I have to rely on what the coaches tell me. I usually can read between the lines and understand which young players have a chance and which ones aren't panning out.
So here you go.
ON THE RANKINGS:
I like grading on a scale of 1 to 5.
5 is best.
3 is SEC average.
1 is a long-term project or someone who could play in NAIA right now.
I post two grades for each player: current score (college peak score)
2006 overview: A decent season for a group that had a talent imbalance. DE Quentin Groves come into the season with some hype and added to that with an outstanding season. He and Sen'Derrick Marks were bright spots. Some Auburn fans I know mistakenly believed the defensive front was a team strength last season. It wasn't. Meltdowns in losses to Arkansas and Georgia were bloodlettings – those two teams combined to rush for 506 yards and five touchdowns – that seemed to highlight the imbalance.
What do I mean by that?
Groves and Marks are outstanding players. Behind them, though, the level of play dropped considerably. NT Josh Thompson is incredibly strong, but rarely made unusual plays. He was steady. Same goes for his backup, Tez Doolittle. DT Pat Sims started off well but seemed to disappear for long stretches.
DE Marquies Gunn didn't have the tour-de-force season many expected.
It's difficult to bemoan any particular unit on an 11-2 team, yet I thought the defensive front underachieved as a whole. I thought it should have performed better.
2006 depth chart:
STARTER – Quentin Groves, Jr. 4.5
BACKUP– Antonio Coleman, RFr. 2.5
STARTER – Josh Thompson, Jr. 3.0
BACKUP 1– Tez Doolittle, Jr. 2.75
REDSHIRT – Greg Smith, Jr. 1.0
STARTER – Sen'Derrick Marks, RFr. 3.5
BACKUP 1 – Pat Sims, Soph. 3.25
BACKUP 2 – Jermarcus (Jake) Ricks, Fr. 2.5
STARTER – Marquies Gunn, Sr. 3.25
BACKUP – Chris Browder, Sr. 3.0
My projected 2007 depth chart
STARTER – Quentin Groves 4.5 (5.0)
BACKUP 1 – Antonio Coleman 2.75 (3.5)
BACKUP 2 – Bryant Miller 2.0 (4.0)
STARTER – Josh Thompson 3.0 (3.0)
BACKUP 1– Tez Doolittle 3.0 (3.25)
BACKUP 2 – Greg Smith 1.5 (2.5)
STARTER – Pat Sims 3.5 (4.25)
BACKUP 1 – Mike Blanc 2.5 (3.75)
BACKUP 2 – Jermarcus (Jake) Ricks 2.5 (4.0)
BACKUP 3 – Zach Clayton 2.0 (3.5)
STARTER – Sen'Derrick Marks 3.75 (5.0)
BACKUP 1 – Michael Goggans 2.0 (4.0)
BACKUP 2 – Octavius Balkcom 2.5 (2.5)
Significant developments: Sen'Derrick Marks was moved to tackle after spring drills ended, which was a surprise to everyone. Even Marks. The thought is that Marks has the quick feet to make him valuable opposite Quentin Groves. Auburn can't afford to have Groves double-teamed every play, so the coaches are hoping Marks becomes an attraction. I'm not sure how this will work. It's a new position and a new approach to the game. I'm sold on Marks' talent and ability to improve his weaknesses, but I'm not sure he has enough burst to provide an every-down threat on the outside.
Marks' move to end gives Pat Sims a chance to start. He's been uneven throughout his career, but Auburn clearly believes Sims can handle the increased exposure inside. Sims' play could be the most significant development along the line this year. If he falters, Auburn will be forced to move Marks back to tackle and use someone with no experience on the outside.
Interior run defense isn't something Auburn can concede.
Also, I want to say something about DT Greg Smith here. He redshirted last year after arriving at least 50 pounds over the limit. He was out of shape. He wasn't ready to play football. I know he was a JUCO All-American and allegedly a superstar recruit, but I haven't seen one indication that Auburn likes Smith much at all.
The franchise player: Quentin Groves would be the franchise player on nearly every college team. He's a massive asset to the Tigers in a variety of ways. His presence alone warrants surplus attention from the offensive players and coaches. Groves is so quick and so in command of his body that he disrupts a lot of different things. There are several players in college ball who have Groves' physical gifts, but I haven't seen one who can apply those gifts like Groves.
He's also the main element of the team's identity. Groves talks with players from both sides of the ball – the only watch list he won't make is for the Leo Carson Award, given annually to the Auburn player who alienates the largest number of teammates – and has max credibility among his teammates. Groves also elected to play his senior season and postpone his professional career, which will make this team significantly better.
All in all, he's among the most valuable players in school history.
The next generation: It has to be Pat Sims. He's not exactly young – Sims is a 22-year-old junior – but the Florida native is going to be a major piece of the Tigers' defense for the first time. He has ample strength and speed. He has learned how to shed blocks and make plays.
The issue is Sims' consistency. He tends to operate at a high level for a few plays, then disappear for a time. His position coach, Don Dunn, has made this point to Sims frequently. Auburn's hope is that Sims will improve his production and emerge as a playmaker inside.
Coaches also speak highly of Mike Blanc, the freshman backup noseguard, though the praise is for effort more than talent. Blanc is a good bull-rush guy right now. He'll need to diversify his attack if he wants to be successful against SEC linemen. If Blanc can make that adjustment, he could be a surprise this season.