Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier is the Tiger’s most highly-touted defensive player going into the 2012 season. In addition to his selection for the preseason All-SEC First-Team, Lemonier is on the watch lists for both the Lombardi Award—for the nation’s best lineman—and the Nagurski Trophy—awarded to the best defensive player in the country.
Given the preseason accolades, it was a little surprising to hear Auburn coach Gene Chizik speak so candidly at SEC Media Days about Lemonier’s need to improve a major element of his game:
“I think he’s got the art of pass-rushing down . . .What we’ve done in the spring is we’ve tried to work with Corey in great depth of understanding the importance of the run game. . . .There’s no question that Corey in the run game, he has some room for improvement, he knows that, we know that.” (via Joel Erickson of War Eagle Extra)
Chizik’s public critique of Lemonier’s run defense raises at least a couple of questions. Firstly, why is it that a defensive end who is a successful pass-rusher (Lemonier accumulated 9.5 sacks in 2011) would not also excel against the run? Secondly, how does a defensive end improve his run defense?
The difference between rushing the passer and guarding against the run for a defensive end is simple enough. In a passing situation, the pass-rusher has an advantage over the offensive lineman in that the defender knows exactly how he is going to attempt to get to the quarterback; the offensive lineman, in this case, is the one who must react.
On a run play, however, the offensive lineman knows which way the run is going. In this case, the defensive end has to thwart the blocking scheme of the offensive line; to do so requires a different skill set than that needed to sack the quarterback.
How can a defensive end improve his play against the run? To answer this question, we can look for an example of a defensive end who had success in this area.
We find one in NFL great Reggie White. Jason Whitlock of ESPN provides assessment of how White played the position: “Great defensive ends are generally 260-pounders who get up field, rush the quarterback and survive on running plays. White thrived against the run. He couldn't be moved. He had a natural strength that couldn't be defined by weight-room numbers.”
To be more like Reggie White, therefore, Lemonier needs to get bigger and stronger—thereby improving his ability to deal with offensive linemen in a situation where the blocker has the advantage.
That is exactly what he told reporters at SEC Media days that he has been doing: “I’ve been gaining weight . . . we always talk about gaining weight and getting physically stronger.” (via Matt Scalici of al.com)
When asked how much he now weighs, Lemonier said he is up to 250 pounds—he played at 230 pounds last season.
Lemonier attributes his weight gain to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches; he said, “I wake up; I eat that.” When asked if he eats PB&J every morning, Lemonier responded, “every single night and morning.”
Hopefully, Lemonier’s sandwich regimen will contribute to improving his run defense. He’s got about six more weeks to continue getting bigger and stronger and to work on his technique for shedding blockers.
Auburn fans are looking for big improvements over last season on the defensive side of the ball, and they hope those improvements will be evident from week one when the Tigers face Clemson in Atlanta. If Lemonier can bring his run defense up to the level of his pass rush, he will make a significant contribution to the needed improvements.