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.
3. Carl Lawson, defensive end
The time is now for Carl Lawson to prove he is a first-round prospect. Auburn’s defensive end has suffered setback after setback during his career since arriving on campus, but it’s that promising freshman season in 2013 — and flashes of dominance when healthy — that makes many believe he is set for a huge season in 2016.
You can break down all of the film you want, but one only needs to look at the first half of the season opener in 2015 to see how much better Auburn’s defense performs with a healthy Lawson on the field. It was in that game Lawson forced an interception on the first play. It was also that game in which he injured his hip and was never the same again as he finished the season with only seven games played.
Lawson later admitted he was never 100 percent once he returned to the field from the hip injury, but now that he’s healthy the hype should be warranted.
He’s extremely hungry and is one of the best students in the meeting room. The setback last season and missing the entire 2014 season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament will only motivate him more going into the fall. His career total of 5 sacks should easily be doubled this season if he plays an entire season at 100 percent. Sports on Earth rated him the nation’s fourth-best defensive end — behind three SEC players.
Coming Thursday: The seat is warm
- 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, receiver
- No. 8 — Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator
- No. 7 — Montravius Adams, defensive tackle
- No. 6 — Xavier Dampeer, center
- No. 5 — Jovon Robinson, running back
- No. 4 — Nate Craig-Myers, receiver