Aug 25, 2013
Senior Craig Sanders (13) looks to get his first career start at defensive end
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - For senior Auburn defensive end, the wait has been long, longer than he expected when he flipped his commitment from Alabama and signed with Auburn in 2010.
Sanders will play for the 37th time in his Auburn career on Saturday against Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium, and he is on the verge of getting his first start.
"Man, I will be pumped," Sanders said after Sunday's practice. "I will be able to jump 10 feet in the air. It will be awesome. I'm ready."
Sanders was a do-everything star at Ariton High School, playing linebacker, tight end and running back. He rarely left the field. He committed early to Alabama, but changed his mind and enrolled at Auburn in January of 2010.
As a freshman, he was a crowd favorite as a special teams standout. He's continued to be a reliable special teams player, but he has been relegated to backup duty on defense. But with senior Dee Ford sidelined with a knee injury, he's been running with the first team in practice.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday that consistency has been Sanders' strength.
"Craig has been really consistent; not many missed assignments," Johnson said. "There's no question that all the additional repetitions helped him fundamentally. He's done pretty well."
Johnson said Sanders has taken most of the first-team reps at left end. With senior Ken Carter missing time with an injury, junior LaDarius Owens has made a big move at right end. Johnson singled out true freshman Elijah Daniels for praise. He said Daniels and fellow freshman Carl Lawson will play. Senior Nosa Eguae will also be available.
Sanders said it's important for Ford to return soon to his leadership position on Auburn's defensive line, even if it means his time as a starter is shot.
"I want Dee back as fast as he can get back," Sanders said, "because we need the rotation."
With passing guru Mike Leach on the other sideline, the Cougars will go to the air early and often. And that means rushing the passer. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner has made being prepared for doing that a priority.
"After every practice, Coach G has had us running just to get in shape," Sanders said. "I know they had a 105-play scrimmage recently and ran the ball five times. That's a lot of pass rushing. We have to be in shape for that."
Sanders said he is confident the Tigers will be ready and that Washington State will see a different kind of pass rush from him and from his fellow defensive linemen.
"My thing was using my hands when I was pass rushing," Sanders said. "With Coach G and Coach Brandon Wheeling, they've been helping me in one-on-one, flipping my hips and just coming off the ball. Since this spring, actually, it has improved greatly. I'm very satisfied with how it's improved."
And he is not alone.
"I think every d-lineman we have, their pass rush has changed," Sanders said. "Since Coach G, has been here he's brought more technique to all of us. Everybody is working the edge. Everybody is using their hands more. It's going to be way different this year.
"It's not going to be one or two guys. I think the whole d-line is going to show out, and it's going to be really great."
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: