January 9, 2008

With Sims gone, AU must rebuild at DT

Through nine seasons at Auburn, defensive tackles coach Don Dunn has become accustomed to piecing together a defensive line and dealing with a lack of depth and/or experience.

That's what made the 2007 season so much fun - and so unusual. Led by senior Josh Thompson and junior Pat Sims, Dunn was able to roll out a talented, experienced and deep defensive line each week.

Thompson, who led the team with 67 tackles, along with Sims started all 13 games for the Tigers. Backups Jake Ricks, Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton played in nearly every game, giving Dunn a true 5-man rotation.

But with Thompson out of eligibility and Sims declaring early for the NFL Draft, Dunn must go back to the drawing board to rebuild his interior d-line.

"They were two great ones," Dunn said of Thompson and Sims. "Josh led the team in tackles. I've never had a d-lineman do that, especially a noseguard that didn't play on third down. We're going to miss them both.

"But we're going to coach the heck out of the ones that are still here and I've got three good ones. I can't say enough about them. They're great kids and fun to coach."

All three of Dunn's returning d-tackles battled ankle injuries through the season but Ricks was close to 100 percent by the bowl game.

"He played a lot in the bowl game," said Dunn. "When Pat got hurt I put him in more on third down and played Jake on first and second down and it worked out for us.

"He is not the athletic guy that Pat Sims is and doesn't have the great hip flexibility, but Ricks is going to be a heck of a football player. He's smart, he's strong. Jake is more of a power guy. You're going to see him do more bull rushes. He's tall and he batted a ball down in the bowl game."

Clayton has always been a 100 percent effort player and has now become more fundamentally sound.

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