August 1, 2008

AuburnSports.com's Forecast: The Defense

With preseason practice set to kickoff in just one day, AuburnSports.com takes you inside two-a-days with an in-depth look at what to expect on defense. Check below as Bryan Matthews and Jeffrey Lee choose their winner of the weakside linebacker battle, pick an MVP, breakout performer, freshman to watch and much more.

Biggest battle: Will linebacker

Jeffrey's pick:Chris Evans
After seeing limited playing time as a sophomore, Evans burst onto the scene last season as a junior tallying 64 tackles, more than half of which were solo stops. Despite coming out of spring second on the depth chart behind Johnson, Evans was voted the team's Most Improved Linebacker by the Auburn coaches. Evans played in all 13 games last year, starting nine of them, and should continue with that trend this fall as a senior.

Bryan's pick:Merrill Johnson
When healthy, Johnson has been the more productive player. Unfortunately, because he plays at such a high tempo and isn't the biggest linebacker, Johnson tends to get banged up a lot through the course of the season. Like quarterback, I expect both players to get a lot of snaps but I'll go with Johnson as the starter, at least for the opener.

MVP

Jeffrey's pick:DT Sen'Derrick Marks
There won't be a more talented player on Auburn's defense this year than Marks. The former Vigor standout has already been named to the Outland Trophy and Narguski Award watch lists after recording 43 tackles, nine tackles-for-loss and two sacks from the defensive end spot a year ago. Marks will move back inside to his natural position, defensive tackle, this year and should be one of the best in the nation. Marks has started every game the last two seasons at Auburn, and the Tigers will be fortunate in 2009 if Marks isn't playing on Sundays.

Also considered: LB Tray Blackmon, DE Antonio Coleman and CB Jerraud Powers.

Bryan's pick:DE Antonio Coleman
Coleman didn't start the first five games last year and still finished with the team lead in tackles-for-loss and sacks. Coleman is equally good against the pass and run, and is one of the toughest players on the team. He'll face more double-teams this year but I wouldn't look for a drop in his production. He's just too good.

Also considered: DT Sen'Derrick Marks and CB Jerraud Powers.

Breakout performer

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