Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Gene Chizik didn’t hesitate back in August when I asked him what he was most concerned about entering his first season at Auburn.
His answer: Depth.
The Tigers were at that time about 10 players under the 85 scholarship limit, and the lack of depth was especially glaring on the offensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary.
Six games into the season, it’s reaching the critical point at linebacker. The Tigers are down to essentially three scholarship linebackers. Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens and Adam Herring played pretty much the whole way last week in the 44-23 loss at Arkansas.
The Tigers would like to get true freshman Jonathan Evans more involved, but he just hasn’t shown that he’s ready at this point. They might not have any choice as they go forward, and Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof indicated that Evans may get more of a chance this week against Kentucky.
When you play 11 straight weeks without a bye like Auburn has to this season, this is when a lack of depth at any position really starts to rear its head.
The legs get heavier. The bumps and bruises mount, and even the best players need a blow from time to time in games.
And when you’re playing three linebackers the whole way in every game, you’re probably not going to be very good at stopping the run.
Sure enough, the Tigers are 10th in the SEC in rushing defense. They’re allowing 164.7 yards a game on the ground and have given up an SEC-high 11 rushing touchdowns.
Outside of Evans, there doesn’t appear to be much help on the way this season at linebacker. Junior college newcomer Eltoro Freeman has been on the shelf for what Auburn coaches termed “personal issues.” He didn’t make the trip last week against Arkansas and was benched against Tennessee the week before. Freeman played well during spring practice, but hasn’t been a factor during the season.
It’s been a great start for the Tigers (5-1, 2-1), but it looks like they’re going to have to hold on defensively over these next five games.