Defensive Superlatives?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Defensive Superlatives?

It’s going to be tough for any offense to run the ball, with 10 defenders in the box.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! It is time now for a post-spring look at the Auburn defense. It is hard not to be excited about this year’s prospects, after a dominant A-Day performance. The top two units started A-Day holding the respective offenses to 0 first downs in 10 drives, and the passers connected on just 4 of 13 attempts for 4 yards. While offensive numbers improved in the second half, it was against walk-ons and scout team members.

     The starting defense was astonishingly stingy. The starters held the opposing offense to minus 5 yards, total, in the first half of A-Day. There was nowhere to run for backs, and no time to throw for the quarterbacks. Some folks may like a high-scoring A-Day. To me, a lot of points surely will mean defensive struggles in the fall. With a brutal schedule ahead this year, I do not mind seeing the defense winning battles in the spring, well into the depth chart.

     To build a defense, I’ve heard that the place to start is to have a couple of good cornerbacks, and a disruptive defensive tackle. That’s where it all starts, it is said. For the past couple of seasons, that disruptive guy has been rising senior Dontavius Russell. It doesn’t necessarily show in the statistics, but more often than not, opposing offenses seem to feel the need to either double team Russell, or get the ball to the edge. Unfortunately for those offenses, there are more ridiculously good players on the Auburn line, than just Russell.

     Lining up next to Dontavius Russell last season was sophomore Derrick Brown, who had a tremendous year. As a junior this season, Brown and Russell give Auburn the best tackle tandem in the SEC. And it does not stop there. The depth is good, too, with Andrew Williams, Tyrone Truesdale, and Alec Jackson able to fill in here and there with little drop-off.

     At strong side end, junior Marlon Davidson finally looked healthy on A-Day, and he’s a terror when he’s not playing hobbled. With Nick Coe coming off the bench, Auburn is really solid across the front. At buck end, T. D. Moultry and Big Kat Bryant are also making some noise.

     As I’ve written post-game reviews the past couple of seasons, it’s pretty telling how many times I pointed out that the defensive line contributed 20 to 30 total tackles. Typically, a college defensive line might post 10-15 tackles in a game. If the line is producing double the normal average, most likely things are not progressing well for the offense!

     Auburn returns 3 seniors in the linebacking corps that have tons of experience. Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montavious Atkinson can all fly, wrap up and make tackles in the open field. They know how to play with leverage, and string speedy SEC backs out. Using the sideline as an extra defender, all of these guys are really hard to turn the corner on.

     What was encouraging this past A-Day was that we saw similar play from others, such as K. J. Britt, Chandler Wooten, and Richard McBryde. This might be the deepest front seven Auburn has ever had.

     I mentioned good cornerbacks as a cornerstone for a defense, earlier. Auburn will start veterans Javaris Davis and Jamel Dean this fall. Both of those guys are shifty and fast, and can play the ball in the air. We were concerned about depth earlier this year, but I felt like guys down the depth chart played well on A-Day, as well. I saw good things from John Broussard Jr, Jamien Sherwood, Christian Tutt and Smoke Monday. Jordyn Peters is another veteran corner that was limited this spring, but saw action and made plays last fall.

     Auburn lost 3 of its top 4 safeties to graduation, this year. I was interested to see how this year’s crew looked. The answer was that there was nothing allowed over the top in the game, and I was particularly impressed at the closing speed of this group, and their ability to roll down on running plays, and make the tackle. Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson lead this group, and have experience.

     I will go ahead and include special teams in this review, as well. On A-Day, Auburn does not have live punts, or any kickoffs. About all that can really be judged is leg strength and accuracy. The real concern coming out of last season was coverage on both punts and kickoffs. Auburn suffered several back-breaking returns last season, including a punt return that directly led to a loss against LSU.

     The punting duel between Aiden Marshall and Ian Shannon remains up in the air. Usually the punters are the first ones out on the field for warmups, and this is where an observer can really focus and count yards on punts. The coaches made it hard, this year. All warmup punts were into a pretty stiff wind, and rarely carried more than 35 yards. During the A-Day game, the wind-aided punts were pretty good.

     From what I could see on A-Day, Auburn will be just fine again at placekicking. Redshirt freshman Anders Carlson stepped in with a near-flawless performance, missing only 1 kick in warmups, and none during the A-Day game. That he did this in bad weather and often against the wind makes it even more impressive.

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