This week on the SEC blog we're taking a look at the most important position group for each SEC team heading into 2015. Today we take a look at the Auburn Tigers.
Most important position: Pass-rushers
Why: “Pass-rushers” isn’t exactly a defined position. Technically, a defensive back could be a pass-rusher. But with Will Muschamp coming in and changing the defense, we don’t yet know who will be playing with their hand in the dirt or who will be playing standing up. All we know is that priority No. 1 for the new defensive coordinator should be getting to the quarterback.
Auburn failed to do that last year, and it cost Ellis Johnson his job. The Tigers gave up 400 yards passing to South Carolina. They allowed Texas A&M freshman Kyle Allen to throw for four touchdowns. And against Alabama, the secondary let Amari Cooper go off for 224 yards and three touchdowns receiving in the Iron Bowl.
Sure, the secondary was partially to blame. But the problem started up front.
“The bottom line is we couldn’t rush the quarterback,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “When that happens, then you’ve got to take chances. Our defensive backs got exposed on islands and all that. So I think it was kind of a snowball effect, and we just didn’t finish very strong defensively.”
There’s hope, though. Muschamp was in charge of a Florida defense last year that finished with 30 sacks and featured one of the SEC’s top sack artists in Dante Fowler Jr. Muschamp is expected to install a new, more aggressive defense at Auburn this season.
Then there’s the return of Carl Lawson, the former five-star recruit who had four sacks as a freshman but missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The sophomore defensive end will be 100 percent for fall camp and looks like a perfect fit for the Buck linebacker position in Muschamp’s new scheme. That just so happens to be the same position where Fowler wreaked havoc a year ago.
After Lawson, it remains up in the air. The defensive line struggled to generate any type of pressure last season, but tackle Montravius Adams has at least shown he’s capable in the past. The problem for Adams has been consistency. Auburn is also hoping to get defensive end Davonte Lambert back at some point this season. He was arguably the team’s best pass rusher last year before getting injured.
Linebacker featured the two team leaders in tackles for loss, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. It will be interesting to see how Muschamp uses those two, as well as Jeffery Holland, an incoming freshman with a knack for getting to the quarterback.
If Muschamp can find some pass-rushers from this group, Auburn has a legitimate shot at winning the SEC. If not, the team will have a hard time making it to Atlanta.