Here is how I project the defence to look (right now) for Utah State on the 3rd September.
S: Neiko Thorpe/DeMetruce McNeal
CB: Chris Davis/T'Sharvan Bell
OLB: Eltoro Freeman/MLB: Jake Holland/OLB: Daren Bates
DE: Corey Lemonier/Nosa Eguae
DT: Jeffrey Whittaker/Kenneth Carter
Of course there will be other players who will be rotated in and out over the course of the season as well, but above is my personal projected defence.
Auburn loses a lot of experience on defence, but some areas I believe we will be upgraded in talent. Defensive End will be stronger this year from my point of view. I believe Corey Lemonier is poised for a break out year and Nosa Eguae could grow into a pretty solid DE himself. I do however think (right now) that the inside spots are worrying. I don't doubt that Carter and J-Whit are talented but it is an important position which we can't afford to dwell on. If Auburn is going to snag some big wins this year, we can't afford to have a soft inside, otherwise teams with strong rushing offences (Bama, Arkansas, USC) will carve us up like a warm christmas ham. I think this is a position where we may start out soft on, but over the course of the year I hope Pelton can make the inside as strong as it can be.
Linebacker is another position that is unproven. Holland played a bit last year, and when I watched him I was quite impressed. He seems to be a player that is strong on coverage, but I still have no idea how he will play against the run. Guess we will have to wait and see won't we?
Daren Bates is one of the few remaining starters on defence. His move to the outside last year I believe was a good one for the long term. Eltoro Freeman is another Linebacker who I believe has tremendous potential. He is a pure headhunter and is arguably the scariest looking player on defence. His mama didn't call him "The Bull" for nothing.
Then we have the cornerbacks, which is a position that I think we may be better at this year. Chris Davis played a bit last year so he has some experience under his belt, and T'Sharvan Bell is a player who I think has potential to be a terrific Corner. He improved a lot over the course of last season and it showed as he made some great plays near the end of last year, including his INT against Stephen Garcia in the SEC Championship Game which he returned for a touch down. Auburn does have other Corners who will challenge for playing time, including true freshman Jonathan Rose and Jonathan Mincy (Who had a great spring game).
Finally, we have the Safety position which will be another area to watch for this season. In the Spring, Neiko Thorpe moved to Safety after playing at Corner the last three years, and I believe that it may be a good move for him. He is one of the very few seniors on defence this season and he will have to step up and provide a leadership role if the defence is going to gel as a unit over the course of the year. His Corner play last year was none to impressive last season, so if he can step up and play a significant role on defence this year then I believe this defence (specifically the secondary) can get better sooner rather than later. DeMetruce "Meat" McNeal is another Safety that got a lot of playing time last year. He made some good plays as well, including a pass breakup against AJ Green and a leg tackle on Oregon's Lavasier Tunei, which ended up being a huge play in that game.
From the starters I projected earlier, only two of them are seniors (Thorpe and Freeman) so the reality is that Auburn will field a very young defence. Our first 5 games are going to be tough, as we have to play Clemson and South Carolina on the road, as well as a home game to Mississippi State. However, we will be playing two easier opponents in Florida Atlantic and Utah State, which will be games where Auburn will need to rotate in masses and get younger guys more in-game experience.
There will be growing pains this year, and there will be times where the defence will make some dumb mistakes, but I believe over the course of the season the unit will get stronger and stronger and will eventually become a strong core of young players.
Of the projected starters, two are seniors, two are juniors and seven are sophomores. Outstanding when you think about it?
Auburn will likely return the majority of the defence in 2012 and could make another championship run then. But I digress, since it isn't 2012 just yet.
Auburn may lose some experienced, talented players, but the upgrade in talent is going to be huge for the long term.