Pat Sims. Sen’Derrick Marks. Nick Fairley. Dee Ford.

Auburn has produced a number of high-round draft picks at defensive line in the last seven years, and the position hardly was a concern entering spring practice last season.

Then Carl Lawson tore his ACL late in spring practice and never recovered in time to play in 2014. Without its go-to pass rusher, the player the Tigers tabbed to ascend into Ford’s role, the defense collapsed.

The team couldn’t get any pressure on opposing quarterbacks (Auburn ranked second-to-last with 10 sacks in SEC play) and didn’t hold the point of attack particularly well either. Defensive end DaVonte Lambert, who was leading the team with 3.5 sacks, also tore his ACL against Samford near the end of the season. There were other holes on the defense, but it all originated with a lack of pressure up front.

It cost defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson his job and prevented Auburn from contending in the SEC West.

Funny how fast things can change. The Tigers could have one of the best defensive lines in the SEC in 2015, and not just because the team hired former Florida coach and standout defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. ESPN ranked the group fifth in the SEC entering spring practice, and it’s hardly a knock to be behind Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee this year.

Gabe Wright, the team’s best interior defensive lineman last season, is gone. But Lawson and Lambert should return to health, giving the team an above-average pair of pass-rushing defensive ends.

That’s assuming Muschamp keeps Lambert at end. He’s sitting out this spring, still recovering, but Auburn plans to work his 6-foot-2, 293-pound frame at defensive tackle as well, giving the team some athletic, versatile players that could generate some pass rush from the interior.

Speaking of interior, Montravius Adams, a former five-star recruit, seems ready to become the team’s next standout defensive tackle. In addition to making eight tackles for loss, he tied Elijah Daniel for the team lead with a whopping 17 quarterback hurries. Auburn has very little experience at the position behind Adams — one of the reasons it makes more sense to shift Lambert some in 2015 — but he’s a cornerstone piece.

“I went in and there were six of us last year and I came back this year and five of them are gone,” Adams said, according to “I’m the only one in there who played. I’m supposed to be the leader of the group. There’s a lot of pressure, but I think I can deal with it.”

If Auburn’s defensive ends perform better as expected, Adams may not face as much pressure in the form of double teams, which came at him constantly during the second half of last season.

Dontavius Russell, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season due to the Tigers’ surplus of veteran defensive tackles, is up to 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds. More of a run-stuffer at this point, he may get a chance to start next to Adams. The team has cross-trained four-star defensive end Andrew Williams, also a redshirt freshman, at defensive tackle. A pair of junior-college transfers, Maurice Swain and Devaroe Lawrence, will compete for time as well.

“I think when you get into nickel situations, which in our league you’re into a lot now, you’ve got to be able to match up with some of the guards in our league that aren’t as good as the tackles,” Muschamp said, according to “When you’re able to match up a better athlete inside and create some one-on-ones, it’s harder to chip inside.”

The team’s top-end talent at defensive tackle should be as good or better than last season, when the Tigers had a collection of seniors, most of whom were just OK. But defensive end should be the thrust behind Auburn’s improvement along the line of scrimmage, headlined by the return of Lawson and Lambert from injury.

Daniel, slowed by a hamstring injury this spring, is an excellent player to bring off the bench as a pure pass rusher. Again, he tied for a team-best 17 quarterback hurries last season.

Then there’s Byron Cowart, ranked as the No. 1 defensive end of the 2015 class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Muschamp, who originally recruited Cowart to Florida, got the five-star to follow him to the Tigers on National Signing Day. He won’t arrive until the summer, which may limit how much he’s able to contribute early. Then again, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett didn’t enroll early in 2014, then recorded double-digit sacks as a true freshman.

Overall, the team’s athletic, versatile pass rushers should give Auburn plenty of options on defense. Expect the team to line up in multiple personnel, vacillating between 3-4 and 4-3 depending on the opposing offense. As long as the dynamic pass-rushing ends stay healthy, and the team gets some contributions from young players like Russell and Cowart, the Tigers’ defensive line is going to become a major asset in 2015.