Editor’s note: In advance of Auburn’s A-Day spring scrimmage, SEC Country is highlighting one storyline of note each day to help prepare fans for the culmination of spring practice. Wednesday’s entry, the first in this series, focuses on one what should be one of Auburn’s greatest strengths in 2016.
AUBURN, Ala. — How does one of the worst pass-rushing defenses in the SEC become one of the best?
Auburn fans hope to find out starting with Saturday’s A-Day spring game. The Tigers are healthy, strong and deep on the defensive line and expectations are extremely high for a unit that has either under-performed or been hindered by injuries over the last two seasons.
“Besides my freshman year, yes, this is the deepest we’ve ever been,” senior defensive tackle Montravius Adams said. “And this ain’t even everybody. We’ve still got three or four more guys coming in at tackle and end.”
Auburn ranked 13th in sacks (1.46 per game) in 2015 mostly due to defensive end Carl Lawson’s hip injury sidelining him for six games and limiting his abilities for the remainder of the season. He weighed an early jump into the NFL but decided instead to return to Auburn for his senior season. Adams did the same thing, providing first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele a solid foundation along the defensive line.
“We have a lot of bodies and we’re getting some more,” Lawson said. “I’m happy to be able to rotate and stay fresh like we did in 2013.”
Among those receiving solid reviews behind closed doors: Lawson, Adams, sophomore Jeffery Holland as an edge rusher and freshman Marlon Davidson. Davidson works inside on third-down passing situations.
The defensive line has been dominant at times, too, in 11-on-11 drills.
“They’ve been coming out for the most part and had a very dominant spring and we had some struggles [March 26] from a defensive standpoint — and not bad, we did a lot of good things — but we did some things we haven’t done so far this spring,” defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. “We gave up big plays. I think we gave up about five big plays with the ones and about three or four big plays with the [second team], so for those guys to see that you have to have that edge every single day, you’ve got to bring your A-game every single day, you must stay grounded.”
Scouting Auburn A-Day
Names to know: Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell, Devaroe Lawrence, Jeff Holland, Byron Cowart, Marlon Davidson
What to expect: Auburn coaches will likely not allow the defense to tackle the quarterback, but that shouldn’t stop Lawson (who’s playing in his first A-Day game, by the way), Holland and Cowart from sneaking into the backfield and getting a sack or two. The interior battles will be the most interesting to watch as Auburn’s offensive line is very strong at guard and center and arguably much weaker at the tackle spots. While Lawson and the edge rushers may have a big day, don’t be surprised if Adams and Davidson find it more difficult to penetrate the backfield through the interior of the line.
Final verdict: This defensive line is as deep as it has ever been in the Gus Malzahn era. The 2013 group had Dee Ford as the star and role players elsewhere, allowing for the stars to shine in crucial moments, but this group is different. Auburn legitimately has three to four All-SEC type players on the defensive line, so expectations should be sky high for this group to make a big jump into the top half of the conference in the fall. On paper, this is easily the best unit on the field for Auburn. If not, another disappointing season is on the horizon for Auburn in the SEC.