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July 19, 2008Auburn enters the start of fall practice with several questions at the defensive end position.
Gone to the NFL is Quentin Groves, who ended his career tied for the all-time sack record, while preseason All-American Sen'Derrick Marks has been moved back inside to defensive tackle.
Fortunately for AU defensive ends coach Terry Price, he returns junior Antonio Coleman.
"We lost a good player in Quentin Groves last year and moving Sen'Derrick from strongside end to tackle hurts but hopefully Antonio Coleman can provide some leadership along with the rest of the group," said Price.
"We've got some experience coming back and some questions coming back so we have a mix of everything working this year."
Coleman was a workhorse for the Tigers last season, stepping into the starting lineup in week six and finishing with 38 tackles and a team-high 18.5 tackles-for-loss and 8.5 sacks.
Coleman missed the last half of spring drills with a neck injury but is back to full speed and ready to go this fall.
"What's made (Coleman) successful are a couple of things: No. 1, he's a tough, physical football player you have to have at that position. No. 2, he has very quick feet, understands pad level and leverage, and usually plays with a very high motor," said Price.
"All those things together add up to him being a very productive player for us."
Coleman will begin fall as the starting weakside end. His backup will be sophomore Antoine Carter, giving the Tigers a strong one-two punch at the position.
Carter, who is up to 254 pounds, played in 13 games as a true freshman last season, compiling 16 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
"He's gotten a little bigger, which gives him a chance to be a little more physical against the run," said Price. "He's worked hard and is a young man that improves every day.
"He's still got a lot of work to do and is not a finished product by any means but he has a chance to be a good rusher for us. He just needs to refine everything he does and improve his overall game."
There are more questions at the strongside end position but sophomore Michael Goggans stepped up in the spring and enters fall as the starter.
"I can't say (Goggans) has established himself as the starter yet but he went out there and made a big jump from his freshman to his sophomore year," said Price. "He did some good things that really caught our eye and he'll start off with the first group when we start two-a-days and have a chance to be our starter.
"He's always been a real physical guy but he improved his run technique and understood how things have to be done."
The question marks really start behind Goggans where Price will have to look to redshirt freshman A.J. Greene, JUCO transfer Raven Gray, or a handful of true freshmen to fill out the depth chart.
"A.J. Greene is still a young guy that has a lot of work to do," said Price. "Two-a-days will kind of tell the tale as far as where he sits on the depth chart. He's got to come in there and compete with the rest of the guys."
Rated a five-star by Rival.com out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Gray certainly has the potential to be an impact player for the Tigers but he missed all of spring rehabbing a knee injury and his status for the start of fall drills is still up in the air.
"It's hard for me to comment on him until I see him out there. I haven't seen him in pads yet," said Price.
Price said he wasn't sure where all the true freshmen would line up but Cameron Henderson projects as a weakside end while Jomarcus Savage, Derrick Lykes and Andre Wadley should all get early looks at the strongside position.
Wadley, however, may not be cleared for the start of fall after being hospitalized for approximately a week this summer due to a heat-related illness.
Price said any of the newcomers could step up and earn a spot in the playing rotation.
"Carter came here last year and earned a spot because he had a really good two-a-days," said Price. "All these guys are going to have the same opportunity he did. It's on them.
"We don't tell guys they're going to redshirt and we don't tell them they're going to play. They determine whether they're going to play or not by how they perform in two-a-days."
Auburn's veterans and freshmen will officially report Aug. 1 with the first practice scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 2.
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