Braden Smith has played against so much power and skill, he has difficulty listing the top players he’s faced as an Auburn football offensive lineman.
There’s humor in the senior’s experience. If he’s not taking on an SEC opponent on Saturday, he’s been forced to combat players like Carl Lawson and Montravious Adams in practice.
Smith has another teammate he has to combat in practice in Marlon Davidson, an underclassman on the Plains, who has managed to differentiate himself in a short time.
“His effort really stands out whenever you watch him play,” Smith said of the sophomore.
To illustrate, Smith lays out a hypothetical. Say Davidson gets beat on a play in the red zone. “I could see him chasing him all the way and stopping him at the 1-yard line,” Smith said at SEC Media Days.
“That’s the kind of effort I think of when I think of Marlon Davidson. He’s an effort guy. He works hard, really, really, really hard. He’s going to be a really good player. He was a good player last year, but imagine him in a couple of years. He’s going to be really scary.”
Auburn will need Davidson to terrify opposing offenses again in 2017, especially after the Tigers said goodbye to Lawson and Adams, who were selected in the early rounds of the NFL draft.
Fortunately for Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, Davidson has shown he can fill the void. He was the first true freshman to start on the defensive line for Auburn.
“From the moment he got on campus, he didn’t look like a true freshman,” Malzahn said at SEC Media Days. “He looked like a veteran just with the way he practiced, his work ethic, how tough he was. And he’s a handful. He’s got a chance to be an impact player. I can’t say enough good things about Marlon.”
The Tigers look to improve on last year’s progress under Kevin Steele. And the second-year defensive coordinator doesn’t worry about Davidson making strides.
“He’s easy to coach. Marlon’s a great young man,” Steele said this spring. “He’s easy to coach.”
That could be the key for Davidson this fall: He will continue to be coached. Steele said jokingly that as good as Davidson is, the real leader of the defensive line is position coach Rodney Garner. And that’s a good thing for the young star with unlimited potential.
The veteran coach known affectionately as “the closer” for his recruiting record has no intention of letting Davidson waste that promise.
“Well, Marlon, the thing we have to guard against is complacency,” Garner said at Auburn’s assistant coach media day this spring. “With any player, really. We have to always be realistic, and we always have to be conscientious of the man in the mirror,”
For Davidson, the plan includes high expectations and harsh critiques — both from himself and from Garner. It’s a process that will unfold on the field an in the meeting room.
And if the youngster follows the scheme, Garner believes Davidson “should be” one of Auburn’s best defenders.
“I just think if he continues to go out there and stay focused and take it day by day,” Garner said. “He will have a tremendous impact on this defense.”