Auburn Football: Will DE Nosa Eguae Break out or Ride the Bench in 2012?
Corey Lemonier has his starting role all but guaranteed as the Tigers' blindside rusher, but veteran Nosa Eguae is inching dangerously close to losing his two-year starting role instead of having a true breakout year.
Auburn's new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is on a mission. He is out to change a defense that was worse than every other in the SEC, save for Ole Miss.
The defense brings back a lot of veterans highlighted by the likes of Corey Lemonier, Daren Bates and T'Sharvan Bell, but there will be a lot of names on the chopping block.
Eguae's name just might be at the top.
His story is a great one and I have been impressed with what he has done.
He finished his high school career as an afterthought in recruiting circles and was deemed a 2-star recruit by Scout.com.
Eguae was projected to play as a strong-side defensive end, and that's exactly where he ended up. He is too small to be a defensive tackle (258 lbs in 2011), even in a 4-3 setup. Scout clocked him running a sluggish 4.9 40-yard dash back when he weighed 240 lbs.
He made it past all that and after he redshirted in 2009, he found himself to be a starter early in 2010; just in time for the championship run.
He hung onto that role in 2011, but without Nick Fairley anchoring Auburn's defensive line Eguae struggled.
Eguae went from 3.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses in 2010 to no sacks in 2011. Without Fairley commanding double teams, Eguae found it harder to get behind the line of scrimmage.
Who will be the starting strongside defensive end?
He did get behind it plenty of times though. He didn't come up with any sacks but he did hurry the quarterback 12 times.
But a sack is a sack and Eguae couldn't get there all year; likely due to his poor speed.
To make matters worse for Eguae, he missed the spring practices after shoulder surgery, which provided a lot of opportunity for a couple of players to attempt to surmount the depth chart.
His primary competition could be Dee Ford, a fellow member of the 2009 class who was granted a medical redshirt in 2011 after a herniated disk in his spine.
Ford was the defensive MVP of the spring game and could be an ideal candidate to hold the line opposite of Lemonier.
He left high school rated as a 4-star defensive end by Scout who could also play linebacker. He was sorely undersized at only 205 lbs but he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash.
In 2011, he had bulked up to 245 lbs; more than enough muscle to play as a 4-3 defensive end.
Though he will be fierce competition for Eguae, he might be better served as Lemonier's backup as the weak-side pass-rusher with his speed.
If he were to play opposite of Lemonier, the two could create a defensive end combo that rivals that of LSU's Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
Eguae's other competition comes from true junior Craig Sanders, who was so talented that Gene Chizik did not redshirt him.
Sanders is a former 4-star recruit who is bigger, faster and more talented than Eguae and has nearly the same experience.
He comes in at 6'4" and 260 lbs and has the speed to match. Scout clocked him running a 4.6 40-yard.
With his speed and ability, Sanders is just too talented to keep on the bench as a backup.
He saw plenty of playing time in 2011, but not nearly as much as Eguae did.
What will happen to Nosa Eguae?
Every incumbent starter must always fight for his job each and every day. It is a fact that VanGorder will certainly stress.
With the fierce competition Eguae will face from highly-touted, talented players, his days as a starter at Auburn may very well be over in 2012.
The only thing he has on his competition is experience, but they aren't far behind.
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