DESTIN, Florida — Will Muschamp feels good about what he left behind at Auburn.
The defensive coordinator got a second shot at being a head coach in the SEC in December, but the South Carolina coach certainly still seemed invested in his short one-year stint as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
He mentioned 17 Auburn players by name when discussing the defense’s prospects for the 2016 season under coordinator Kevin Steele. The key is the defensive line, Muschamp quickly pointed out, starting with potential All-SEC selection Carl Lawson at defensive end.
“Keeping Carl healthy is critical,” said Muschamp, “but you’ve got Montravius (Adams) and Dontavius (Russell) and Devaroe (Lawrence), and Maurice Swain played well for us. (Defensive end) Byron (Cowart) and (linebacker) Jeff (Holland), another year certainly is going to help, and obviously they signed some guys coming in. I think the maturity of that first group I mentioned is something that can make a difference for you.”
Auburn showed noticeable improvement late in the 2015 season, when Lawson returned from a hip injury. The Tigers held the uptempo offenses of Texas A&M and Memphis to one combined touchdown. Memphis failed to score an offensive touchdown in the Birmingham Bowl.
Losing defensive backs Josh Holsey and T.J. Davis early last season hurt the Tigers in the secondary, Muschamp said. Holsey provided flexibility as a player who could play multiple positions, but his knee injury sidelined him after Week 2.
“Keeping (safety) Tray (Matthews) is going to be critical for them,” Muschamp added.
For a moment, Muschamp sounded like he was back on the Plains dissecting film. He even mentioned “we” instead of “they” in his comments.
“We just have to get some more linebackers involved,” he said. “Tre’ (Williams) and those guys. I think Darrell (Williams) and those guys are certainly capable. I think they’ll be improved, sure.”
Muschamp has also reached out to Steele since the former LSU and Alabama defensive coordinator arrived at Auburn on Jan. 1.
“I’m pulling for those guys to be successful,” Muschamp said. “I want those guys to win and be successful. Kevin will do a good job and (defensive line coach) Rodney (Garner) and (linebackers coach) Travis (Williams) and those guys, they’ll do a really good job.”