Auburn, Ala.--Finishing the 2014 season with just 21 total sacks and only five and a half from the defensive end position, new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp will need the return of Carl Lawson this spring to provide a spark off the edge for the Tigers.
Totaling four sacks and seven and a half tackles for losses in part-time duty as a true freshman in 2013, Lawson will still be limited some in the spring drills after missing the 2014 season with a knee injury, but his return is huge for the defense moving forward.
Auburn’s best player at the position last season, junior college transfer Davonte Lambert, won’t be able to go in the spring after having knee surgery late last year. He finished with three and a half sacks last year in his first season on the Plains and was one of the lone bright spots on the defensive line for Coach Rodney Garner. He should be full speed by preseason practices and that is the main goal for the senior.
With Lawson limited and without Lambert that leaves a big opportunity for junior Elijah Daniel to step up and finally fulfill his promise on the defensive line. Following an impressive freshman season when he had two and a half sacks and three tackles for losses, mostly as a third down pass rusher at defensive tackle, Daniel had just one sack a year ago while adding three and a half tackles for losses. Physically capable of being a force at end, this spring will be a huge one for Daniel to show what he can do.
Elijah Daniel has seen action in 27 games for the Tigers with one start.
Seeing the first real action of his Auburn career as a redshirt sophomore, Gimel President was solid with 30 tackles a season ago, but has to show more as a pass rusher beginning this spring. With just one sack, five tackles for losses and six quarterback hurries in 13 games, President has a lot of improvement to show if he wants to be a difference-maker when the Tigers hit the field against Louisville to open the 2014 season.
Playing in four games last season before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the year, Raashed Kennion showed some flashes of being able to help the Tigers as a pass rusher. A winter in the weight room should help him be stronger on the edge this spring, but he’ll continue to need to add strength heading into next season. The same is true of redshirt freshman Justin Thornton.
Undersized when he arrived on campus last summer, Thornton was set back even more when he had surgery to remove his appendix in August. Still thin, the Prichard native has explosiveness and athleticism and that is something he needs to show this spring. With a need to find someone to get to the quarterback, the Tigers have a player to watch in Thornton, but he is expected to get his first look at the 'buck' outside linebacker position. At 240 pounds, he has more size to play that role, but could put his hand on the ground as well in a pass rush role.
Redshirt freshman Andrew Williams. A four-star prospect coming out of high school, should push for playing time this year. Williams used last fall to get bigger and stronger while also working on the fundamental side of his game. With the size to compete right away, he will have to show the explosiveness needed to play end in the SEC this spring. If that doesn’t happen he could be a player that winds up moving inside down the road.
Keymiya Harrell, who suffered ACL injuries in the spring of 2013 and 2014, is trying to make a comeback this year. Coach Gus Malzahn said that the redshirt senior from Dallas County High is expected to be able to participate in spring drills.