With Dee Ford now playing in the NFL and Carl Lawson out indefinitely after having knee surgery, a player that has stepped up his game in their absence is senior Gabe Wright. A defensive tackle by trade, Wright is getting work outside at defensive end this preseason and so far the results have been positive. Showing good quickness and explosion at 291 pounds, the Columbus, Ga. native is one of several players rotating with the first group in camp.
With fellow seniors Ben Bradley, Jeffrey Whitaker and Angelo Blackson in the mix at tackle along with Montravius Adams, junior college transfer Devaroe Lawrence and freshman Dontavius Russell, Auburn has plenty of bodies to get the job done. Outside senior LaDarius Owens is dealing with an infection, but should be one of several guys at defensive end getting a look. Included in that is Wright, Elijah Daniel, Gimel President and newcomers Raashed Kennion, Andrew Williams and Davonte Lambert.
That is 13 players for the four spots with Wright, Adams, Lambert and Daniel all capable of playing both end and tackle. Depth is the name of the game once again for the Tigers up front and Wright said he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We did lose an edge rusher in Carl, but we are evolving and advancing,” Wright said. “I can even go into freshmen. Raashed has been excelling in the past couple of weeks. Gimel President, and we've still got Lambert. Those guys have been doing well in the past couple of weeks. It's been really impressive seeing all these young guys come together the last couple of weeks.”
Cassanova McKinzy is one of the players getting a look on the defensive line
For Garner the idea of playing more guys is something that has become a way of life for him on the defensive line. A deep playing rotation was one of the keys last season to Auburn’s success late in games and Garner said that’s the play once again.
“My thing is selling them on quality reps not quantity,” Garner said. “I think it keeps them fresher. I think at the end of the game they are stronger and hopefully we are able to maybe create an advantage at that point. At the same time I think it’s healthier. I think it preserves them and gives them more longevity in this collision game.”
Getting more players ready for action means more youth on parade for the Tigers on the defensive line. A veteran that enjoys teaching and helping the new guys get acquainted with life at Auburn preparing for the SEC, Wright said so far he likes what he sees from his new helpers and in particular Kennion.
“It’s his speed and size,” Wright said. “Honestly, I don't know the last time we had a 6'5", lanky speed defensive end. Dee Ford was a little under 6'2", Carl's an even 6'2" guy. You know, he sets the tone with his speed rush. The bigger he gets, the more experience he gains, he'll learn how to use more power and stuff.”
Kennion is just one of the guys helping to give the Tigers more of a pass rush this preseason. Another is linebacker Cassanova McKinzy. Showing good burst off the edge, McKinzy had another strong showing in Saturday’s short scrimmage and Wright believes he could be just the answer Auburn is looking for early.
“Cass is definitely still the Mike linebacker, and he been doing a good job of it,” Wright said. “He's been getting after guys and that's something we didn't really see too much of last year. It may have been because he wasn't the Mike, but he's the Mike now. He's really been setting the tone well.
“He really has a pass-rush trait, as Coach G would call it,” he added. “You know, there's some times where he would make a move that doesn't look fundamentally correct, but that's just because he hasn't had the time to perfect that craft. There are times where he'll do a spin move that won't be the way Coach is teaching it, but he still finds a way to get up field and get to the quarterback. He's really been excelling coming off the edge.”