The Auburn Tigers come into the 2011 season ranked #19 in the first AP Coaches Poll released yesterday, despite being the defending National Champions. The reason behind this lack of preseason respect has been the much publicized lack of experience (which the Dweller discussed here) following the departure of several key players from last years championship run, due either to graduation or early entry into the NFL.
The defense alone lost such key players as Nick Fairley and Josh Bynes, two big reasons that the Tigers won the National Championship last year. The 2011 Tigers need someone to step up and take on a leadership role on defense this year and that player needs to be Neiko Thorpe.
Thorpe has played since he was a freshman, having played both at corner and at safety for the Tigers. In 2010, Thorpe recorded 64 total tackles with 0 interceptions or forced fumbles. He saw drops in all three of those categories from his 2009 season when he recorded 84 total tackles, 1 forced fumble and 2 interceptions.
Thorpe is expected to move back to his natural position at safety in 2011, which hopefully for the Tigers will mean an improvement in production, as well. The 2010 Tigers had issues in the defensive backfield and in order for that to improve, they need Thorpe to not only play well but to provide leadership to what is a relatively young and inexperienced defensive unit.