A Salty Defense! (Previewing Auburn’s Post-Spring Unit)
The pocket collapsed quickly when this line was on the prowl
(Photo by Acid Reign)
War Eagle, everybody! This morning, we’ll take a look at what we might expect to see out of the Auburn defense in 2017. Most years after A-Day, I’m optimistic, then a couple of injuries into the fall season, and Auburn seems to be giving up 30 or more points per game. Secretly, I was sort of expecting more of the same last season. Auburn had its injuries on the defense, but last year was different. One man would get nicked up, and someone else would step in and hold the line. Auburn did not give up 30 points in a game till the Iron Bowl.
Much ado has been made over the departure of Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams as well as all-purpose defensive back, Joshua Holsey. Folks, few, if any, defenders on the team played every snap. Auburn had a rotation at every level and used it. Auburn was fresh in the 4th quarter in most games, and that’s the reason Auburn had its best defense in a decade. The good news is that most of those players return, and they are a year bigger and stronger, if A-Day is any indication.
Defensive fortunes often rise or fall depending upon the play of the defensive tackles. If the tackles get pushed back, offenses can usually move the ball at will. If the linemen can hold their own and stuff running lanes, things get more dicey for the offenses they face. If the tackles are winning up front, the offense becomes very limited in what it can do to be successful.
I can say from watching A-Day that this year we will …
not have that “stand-out” defensive tackle that Montravius Adams was. The reason? There were a half-dozen or so really disruptive guys playing in the middle of the line. Dontavius Russell drew a double-team block every snap. Derrick Brown and Andrew Williams were a handful, and I think the starting battle is between these two. I didn’t notice Bryron Cowart much on A-Day, but by all accounts he made some noise in practice. Antwaun Jackson, Jr, Jaunt’avius Johnson and Tashawn Manning are productive options we saw as well.
Auburn has the pieces to replace the disruption of Carl Lawson at the end spot. What offenses have done the past two seasons to counter Lawson is mostly to slant line calls and plays to the other side of the field. That won’t work this season, as Auburn goes at least 2 deep with defensive ends that can disrupt a play. As a true freshman that started all year in 2016, sophomore Marlon Davidson looked like he had taken the next step on A-Day. He stuffed the run and was a big factor in collapsing pockets. On the other side, both Jeffery Holland and Paul James, III were a problem for the offense. Redshirt freshman Nick Coe also did good things behind Davidson. Tré Threat can back up both positions. This fall, incoming freshman Markaviest Bryant joins the crowd.
The biggest surprise on the Auburn team last season was inspired linebacker play. Auburn returns a lot of production, there. This spring, junior Deshaun Davis stood tall in the middle, along with senior Tré Williams. When Auburn needed to have 3 linebackers in the game, junior Darrell Williams was more than capable. Add experienced junior Montravious Atkinson, and Auburn has 4 big-time SEC-level guys that will usually be filling 2 spots on the defense. There is emerging depth behind those 3 guys. Sophomore Richard McBryde looked good on A-Day, as did incoming true freshman Kenny Britt. True freshman Tadarian Moultry joins the fray in fall camp.
In the secondary, the loss of Joshua Holsey to graduation is a concern, but if the absence of one guy causes the downfall of a unit, then that unit has deep problems. Auburn’s starting 5 looked really good on A-Day. Behind that, it was shaky at times. Corners Carlton Davis and Javaris Davis looked great. Both could and did get right in an receivers’ faces and shut them down on A-Day. Behind those two, it’s still up in the air. On the boundary side, the likeliest backup for Carlton Davis is John Broussard, Jr. Walk-on senior Michael Sherwood can play the position if needed. Jamel Dean is a wildcard here, as he’s still recovering from knee surgery. On the field side, redshirt freshman Marlon Character emerges as the top backup. True freshman Malcomb Askew enrolled early and played on A-Day. He may be called on early and often next fall.
At safety, starters are Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts, both seniors. Senior Nick Ruffin is a reliable backup for the starters, and he’ll likely have to be. Matthews tends towards hamstring issues or big collisions that knock him out of the game from time to time. Right now, the 4th safety is walk-on Michael Sherwood. The real worry in the secondary is that there isn’t a cast of incoming characters Auburn can pull from for depth. Auburn will more or less have to survive with the players listed above, no matter how many injuries mount up.
The surprise in the secondary has been the quality of the nickel backs. Sophomore Jeremiah Dinson has returned from a devastating hit against Texas A&M a year and a half ago and has seemingly locked down the starting job. Behind him is Daniel Thomas, who had a couple of interceptions in the Iron Bowl last year. All purpose walk-on Michael Sherwood has had some good moments at nickel as well.