Editor’s Note: It’s a crucial year in Auburn. Gus Malzahn enters his fourth season in a bit of a rut, but he has proven he can quickly change the trajectory of the program when his team’s back is against the wall.
Auburn needs to find a quarterback, develop receivers and lean on a defense many expect to be much improved under coordinator Kevin Steele. Will all of the pieces come together in time for a successful season?
SEC Country takes a look at the 25 Most Important Tigers (and others) who will determine whether Auburn’s season is a success or failure.
8. Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator
Gus Malzahn’s No. 1 goal this upcoming season is to field a top-10 defense. Yes, you heard that correctly.
“It’s not offense. It’s not ‘this or that.’ It’s for us to play top 10 defense,” Malzahn said this spring, according to Auburn’s official website.
Kevin Steele, the former LSU and Clemson defensive coordinator, will be tasked with doing just that as the third defensive play caller in four years under Malzahn. Steele has coordinated defenses in five seasons and none have approached top-10 territory, though three have finished in the top 25.
The good news for Steele is he has a solid foundation to build upon following Will Muschamp’s departure to take over the South Carolina program in December. The defensive line is as deep as it has been in the last half decade and the secondary could be underrated. It also helps having potential first-round prospect Carl Lawson playing for you at defensive end.
Steele has plenty of work to do, and as he put it he has a short time to get the players up to speed, but he was impressed by what he witnessed in the spring. We’ll see if he can live up to those words starting with the season opener against Clemson, the program he once called home — and was run out of town after allowing West Virginia to score 70 points against his defense in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
“Auburn has a history of being a hard-nosed, physical defense for years and years,” Steele said upon his hiring at Auburn. “Ever since I was a young guy growing up in this state and had a high school coach as a father, I certainly know the history and the tradition of Auburn is hard-nosed defense and I am looking forward to being a part of that.”
Coming Thursday: The full Monty
- No. 25 — Josh Holsey, cornerback/safety
- No. 24 — Leonard Fournette, LSU running back
- No. 23 — Rudy Ford, safety
- No. 22 — Chandler Cox, H-Back
- No. 21 — Paul James III, defensive end
- No. 20 — Kamryn Pettway, H-Back
- No. 19 — Kirby Smart, Georgia coach
- No. 18 — Austin Golson, offensive tackle
- No. 17 — Marlon Davidson, defensive end
- No. 16 — Carlton Davis, cornerback
- No. 15 — T.J. Neal, linebacker
- No. 14 — Tre’ Williams, linebacker
- No. 13 — Nick Saban, Alabama coach
- No. 12 — Eli Stove, receiver
- No. 11 — Jason Smith, receiver
- No. 10 — Marcus Davis, receiver
- No. 9 — Kyle Davis