Auburn Football: Tigers Have Dominating Pass-Rushing Attack on the Horizon
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Auburn coach Gene Chizik is on a mission to turn the defense around. Now that he has secured a great defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder, the next step is to create a powerful pass-rushing attack.
The Tigers ranked ninth in the SEC in 2011 with only 22 sacks and getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks was a constant problem for the team all year.
The only meaningful pressure they could create was due to the play of star defensive end Corey Lemonier.
Lemonier is a blue chip 4-3 defensive end at 6'4", 240 lbs. His combination of strength and speed is incredible, with a lot of emphasis on speed.
He got to the quarter 9.5 times in 2011 and hurried the target on 15 occasions. His scariest stat was his five forced fumbles.
As good as Lemonier is, he may not be the best defensive end on his team in 2012, though he will get the biggest stats as the blindside pass-rusher.
Dee Ford, a promising prospect who should have broke out 2011, saw his season get cut short by a back injury.
Ford was to be Lemonier's backup that season, but 2012 may be a different story.
Two-year starter Nosa Eguae could be on his way back to the bench after a season of low production in 2011.
Though Ford would be more valuable as a blindside pass-rusher the Tigers already have Lemonier there. Moving Ford to left defensive end would be a shrewd move by Chizik and VanGorder.
Who will rack up more sacks in 2012?
This move would create a deadly pincer attack that could easily challenge LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery as the best pass-rushing combination in the nation.
Both of these players will be juniors in 2012, but only time will tell if they stick around longer.
Lemonier is on a clear three-and-out path to the NFL, but there was a severe defensive end recruiting gap for the Tigers in 2011 and 2012.
There are some promising names that signed in 2010 with Lemonier, but the lack of added depth since then may convince him to stick around to secure a top-five NFL draft status and help his team.
Ford, after missing last season, doesn't have a significant record to run on and will almost certainly return for his senior year unless he goes on a tear and racks up well over double-digit sacks.
I predict the odds of having both of these players in 2013 to be about 50/50.
Even if only one sticks around, there will be enough depth to pose a threat to opposing quarterbacks and Ford could make a switch back to right defensive end with ease.
The class of 2013 is where it gets really interesting (or scary, if you are an opposing team).
Two outstanding defensive end recruits have given their verbal commitments to Auburn and they certainly recognize the defensive end depth issues that will occur soon.
Carl Lawson (6'2", 253 lbs, weakside end) and Dee Liner (6'2", 274 lbs strongside end) are both 5-star defensive ends and are the No. 1 and No. 3 prospects at their position (via Rivals), respectively. Robert Nkemdiche is considered a strongside defensive end by Rivals.
If they are smart they will enroll early in January 2013. If they do so, they could hit the field with heavy playing time right from the get-go.
All these two require to excel at the collegiate level is a bit of practice. They also have the potential to be just as good as LSU's current DE combo, if not better.
Liner's size, however, could dictate a move from strongside defensive end to defensive tackle. Even from that position he could make a huge impact in the backfield, just as Nick Fairley did in 2010.
What does it all mean?
Gene Chizik's goal of improving the Tigers pass-rush is in full stride.
Auburn will be getting to the quarterback plenty in the near future, and could certainly lead the SEC in sacks and tackles for losses.
Opposing fans can (and likely will) scoff at that idea, but the results on the field will be the same.
Auburn's defensive line is going to get scary-nasty and fast.
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