Auburn's Burning Questions: No. 4 - Where will the pass rush come from?
Several questions abound as the Auburn Tigers begin their quest to become the first team to repeat as SEC Champions since 1998. Leading up to the first day of fall practice on Aug. 1, Saturday Down South will examine the 10 burning questions the Tigers face in their quest to win back-to-back SEC Championships.
Auburn’s burning questions:
- No. 10: How reliable will the kicking game be?
- No. 9: How will Tigers handle success/off-the-field issues?
- No. 8: Who will be the biggest surprise?
- No. 7: What does the addition of Duke Williams mean?
- No. 6: Can Nick Marshall thrive in balanced offense?
- No. 5: How much can the secondary improve?
- No. 4: Where will the pass rush push come from?
The outlook for Auburn’s defensive line took a dramatic change when head coach Gus Malzahn made his open statement at SEC Media Days in Hoover. What the Tigers feared the most had come to fruition: sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson tore the ACL in his left knee during spring practice.
Depending on the speed of his recovery, Lawson might be available to play the last three or four games of the season. Is it worth it for him to play? Depending on how the season unfolds and how well or how poorly the defensive line is doing could determine what the coaching staff decides. Rushing him back would be a bad move. Do they redshirt Lawson or not?
Lawson’s coming-out party came against Ole Miss last year. The then-freshman record six tackles including two sacks in the Tigers 30-22 win over the Rebels. Despite not starting one game in 2013, Lawson had the second-most sacks on the team. Lawson became the heir apparent to replace Dee Ford, the 23rd overall selection in April’s NFL Draft, as the Auburn’s next pass-rusher. Of the 32 sacks the Tigers posted in 2013, nearly one-third of them (10.5), came from Ford.
With Ford playing on Sundays and Lawson on the shelf, defensive line coach Rodney Garner will turn to a mix of seasoned veterans and talented sophomores to get to the quarterback tis season. All is not lost; not at all. Last year Garner mixed up the defensive front with multiple substitutions. Because of depth and experience returning, the Tigers don’t have to have a Dee Ford type of year from one lineman. Of course it would be welcome but as long as there are several linemen getting to the quarterback on a consistent basis, a collective replacement of Ford’s productive is just fine.
Senior LaDarius Owens seems to be the obvious choice to take over the end spot vacated by Lawson. Owens started 12 games last year and had 2.5 sacks along with 11 quarterback hurries. Another senior, Gabe Wright, gives Garner options. Wright can lineup in his more comfortable tackle position but can flash to the outside and play end as well. Wright’s 31 tackles last season were highlighted by 8.5 of them being for a loss. Look for Wright to add a speed-rush aspect to his game after losing 12 pounds during the offseason.
Owens, off the edge, and Wright, from the middle, need to provide a consistent pass rush. If they are getting to the quarterback, they’ll draw double-teams which will provide opportunities for the two sophomores: tackle Montravius Adams and end Elijah Daniels. These two ooze with talent. Adams, in particular, had a tremendous spring. At 306 pounds, Adams is a load. He is 22 pounds heavier than the next biggest lineman, Wright at 284 pounds. But don’t let that size fool you. Adams is extremely quick off the ball and should be a handful for offensive lineman. Daniels, who played in all 14 games last season, showed he could get to the quarterback. He recorded 2.5 sacks while registering 11 quarterback hurries. in 2013. Both sophomores need to seize the opportunity in front of them.