Auburn’s foremost concern on defense this past season was primarily related to the performance of the line. Before the season began the Tigers were faced with the daunting task of replacing Dee Ford, who moved on to the NFL, and Carl Lawson, who suffered a knee injury.
Lawson’s knee injury ended his season before it began, and it was an obstacle the Tigers were never able to overcome when nobody else stepped up to fill his or Ford’s role from the 2013 squad.
Last season Auburn’s defensive line accounted for 59.5 tackles for lost yardage, 29.5 sacks and 92 quarterback hurries. The 2014 group finished the season with 41.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and 77 quarterback hurries. The lack of a consistent push by the defensive line resulted in a higher number of explosive plays surrendered.
During the 2013 season Auburn’s tackles totaled 125 stops, 27.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks and 48 quarterback hurries. The 2014 defensive tackles made 126 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and 52 quarterback hurries. The interior line production was virtually the same from last season, which meant the principle drop-off in production came at the end position.
The 2013 defensive ends combined for 110 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and 44 quarterback hurries. This past season the group totaled 77 tackles, 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hurries.
During the 2013 season Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens were Auburn’s leading tacklers on the defensive line. As juniors they combined for 61 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and 20 quarterback hurries. As seniors the pair combined to produce 45 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, one sack and 18 quarterback hurries.
Trimming Wright to 285 pounds to assist at end likely made him less effective as a tackle and Owens struggled with injuries the majority of the season. Not only did Auburn battle through injuries up front to Lawson and Davonte Lambert, the Tigers played 11 defensive linemen this past season compared to 16 the previous year.
The good news moving forward for the Tigers is the combined play of Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Gimel President. During the 2013 season they combined for 32 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 18 quarterback hurries. In 2014 they combined for 88 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and 40 quarterback hurries. Add Lawson and Lambert into the mix and Auburn has a solid base to build on in 2015.
Montravius Adams will be a junior for the 2015 season.
The Tigers return 11 scholarship defensive linemen for 2015, which means there will be an opportunity for incoming signees to play as true freshman. A key for the season will be avoiding injuries.
Over the past 20 years of Auburn football the defensive line accounted for 58.2 percent of the team’s tackles for loss. The 2014 unit accounted for 50.6 percent, 15th over the past 20 seasons. Muschamp’s 2007 Auburn defensive line was No. 1 on the list, accounting for 79.1 percent of the team’s tackles for loss. The 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2014 units fell in the bottom half of the list, but the 2010 unit was No. 3 and the 2013 defensive line was No. 5.
If Auburn is to improve on defense, it will start up front on the line. During the last 20 years only five Auburn teams had more than 30 tackles for loss at the end position during the course of an entire season. The combined record of those teams was 57-9.
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