Many football coaches will tell you that defense wins games while offense scores points. But before we talk about the future of the Tigers offensive unit, let’s talk about their defense.
In 2016 Auburn lost Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams, Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford — to the next level. But in 2017 the team returns plenty of starters, including a completely intact linebacking corps and several difference-makers in the secondary.
Let’s take a detailed walk through the projected defensive and special teams depth chart for 2017.
Judging by the 2016 depth chart, practice observations from watching YouTube, reading news reports and what those in the program have said over the last few weeks, here are the best predictions at the pecking order on players who will make an impact in 2017
Coming off a strong season as a starter and true freshman Marlon Davidson by all predictions
will lead the defensive line this fall for the Tigers. Davidson will be the top returning lineman following the departures of Montravius Adams and Lawson, and the Tigers will need him to become a more consistent pass rusher in his sophomore campaign
Junior, Byron Cowart, a Seffner, Florida native will be competing for more playing time in fall camp after two underwhelming seasons following his signing as one of the top recruits in the country. Cowart couldn’t stay on the field consistently in 2016, and a late-season emergency appendectomy hurt some of his progress.
Another Florida native who transfer into Auburn as junior college transfer, Paul James III can play either traditional defensive end or Buck, and he’s eligible for a medical redshirt after his knee injury early in the season. If he can get back to full speed, James has a chance to be a player on the line who makes an impact for the team.
In Tigerland, it’s next man up on the Plains at nose tackle following Montravinus Adams’ exit. After playing impressively from time to time as a true freshman, fellow former 5-star recruit Derrick Brown looks like t he will fill the spot at nose tackle. He brings plenty of size with his 6’5″ frame tipping the scales at 316ibs and athleticism to the position, much like Brown did, and many teammates tap him to be a future star.
Auburn has two players behind Brown to keep an eye on in Antwuan Jackson who stands 6’2″ and weights in at 303 lbs. and Jaunta’vius Johnson a 324-pound sophomore from Lincoln, Ala. that brings tremendous size and skill. Jackson redshirted in the 2016 season, and Johnson could get a medical redshirt after suffering an offseason injury in his redshirt freshman year. They both need to step up and provide the depth the Tigers relied upon down the middle in 2016.
Reviewing possible starters in this spot it’s straightforward as well. Dontavius Russell returns after his second consecutive season starting the defensive tackle position for Auburn. He’s an underrated talent in the lineup front, taking on blocks to open up things for Tiger’s edge rushers and linebackers. His experience will be very important in 2017.
Andrew Williams backed up Russell in 2016, and while he could compete for a starting job at nose tackle, he looks more like a traditional tackle for the upcoming season. The defensive lone signee on the defensive line, for now, Alec Jackson, has the versatility to play both inside and outside in SEC and fits right here in a spot that lost several seniors in 2016.
A talented pass rusher with plenty of tools, junior Jeff Holland is the early choice in the race to replace Carl Lawson as Buck defensive end — and, by definition, top pass rusher — in 2017. Holland was referred to as a “fifth starter” on the defensive line for defensive coordinator Kevin Steele for Auburn’s third-down Rabbits package. While he didn’t have the sack totals of someone like Lawson, he often got in the face of the opposing quarterback.
Nick Coe took a redshirt in 2016, but he could be in line for a tremendous 2017 season. The 6-foot-6 former high school wrestling champion turned heads during Sugar Bowl practices and has a natural skill set to be a demolishing pass rusher.
James can play Buck, and Tigers are in search of more talent on the recruiting trail for more ends to add to its roster. Auburn could also convert one of its several outside linebackers to Bucks this preseason.
The 2016 campaign saw the Tigers executed one of its best years at linebackers since the days of Tommy Tuberville. And the good news for Auburn is that all but one of their players there — senior reserve T.J. Neal — return for 2017.
The starters and backups should see no changes from the end of 2016. Deshaun Davis will control things at middle linebacker, with Tre’ Williams taking a lot of the reps in two-linebacker formations as the weak-side starter. Darrell Williams, who has the ability to play all three spots, starts on the strong-side.
All backups there, including Richard McBryde, who should a strong season off the bench in 2017. When it comes to filling out Auburn’s current class of linebackers, look for K.J. Britt to play in the middle with Tadarian Moultry and Chandler Wooten to line up on the outside. However, all three have the ability to play spot in this unit, which should make them even stronger in 2017
There is a laundry list of names and face to sort out at cornerback in 2017
.Josh Holsey was the 235th overall selection in the seventh round taken by the Washington Redskins. He was the fourth Auburn player taken in the recent NFL draft gone after his strong senior campaign, but the Tigers already have a ready-made replacement there in Javaris Davis, who could open the season as a starter opposite Carlton Davis and field cornerback
Jamel Dean role was uncertain during the offseason but it looks like the Ohio State transfer, would be the starter opposite Carlton Davis. But he went down with a knee injury in fall camp and missed all of his redshirt freshman seasons. Auburn is still high on him, though, and he could make a move to the top of the depth chart.
John Broussard Jr. captured a role as a true freshman, and Jeremiah Dinson should finally be back after recovering from a devastating shoulder and knee injuries he suffered against Texas A&M in 2015. Jayvaughn Myers will look to crack the starting lineup after a redshirt season. The team currently has two commitments who most likely will play corner in the versatile Malcolm Askew an early enrollee who is a talented athlete and the underrated Trayvon Leonard, an Instinctive defensive back.
As the team goes through preseason camp on the Plains the nickel position is wide-open after Rudy Ford ‘s departure. Daniel Thomas, who collected two interceptions in the Iron Bowl and started in place of Ford in the Sugar Bowl, is the projected starter there. He had a surprising true freshman year, and it’s clear the coaching staff trusts him.
Montavius Atkinson, a safety-converted-linebacker, could also play nickel in 2017 for Tiger nation. He’s practiced there, and his strong-side linebacker spot is usually the one that is sacrificed when the Tigers jumps into nickel packages. He has the coverage and run-stopping abilities to play there.
True freshman Jordyn Peters could be someone to keep an eye on at nickel because of his all-around skill set. Don’t be surprised if Malzen moves a safety or a backup corner — someone like a Tray Matthews, Stephen Roberts or Nick Ruffin — to play nickel this season.
Like linebacker, safety looks secure for Auburn after a strong season for the most part in 2016. Tray Matthews will return for his senior year. His leadership and tackling ability will be important for the defense.
Nick Ruffin and Stephen Roberts will continue to battle it out for the starting free safety spot after sharing the role in 2016. This depth chart could change depending on what Auburn tries at nickel. Markell Boston looks secure as Matthews’ backup at strong safety, and Marlon Character Jr. should be in line for some snaps as a redshirt freshman. Carlito Gonzalez has the look of a strong safety out of high school.
Over the years Auburn has had a good defensive unit. When comes to defense this year’s team is more of a reload of talent than a rebuilding year. Look for the defense to play well as the season opens at home against Georgia Southern University on Saturday, September 2nd. This defensive unit could carry the team into the playoffs provided the players stay healthy through out the season.