Auburn, Ala.--Needing help immediately on the defensive line the Auburn Tigers got just what the doctor ordered in the 2016 class up front with one of the top groups in the country. Looking for impact players across the board, Gus Malzahn said he’s very happy with what the Tigers added on Wednesday.
“Just a couple of highlights of this class that stood out to me, our defensive line class I really believe is the best in the country,” Malzahn said. “I really believe we’re building a foundation for a Top 10 defense so I’m real excited about that. Coach Garner did a wonderful job with that group and really deserves a lot of credit for the whole defensive class. We lost three defensive coaches about a month or so ago and he really held that thing together and deserves a lot of credit for our defensive line class.”
The story of the day came from the five-star variety when big-timer Derrick Brown chose the Tigers over Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and others. A physical player with the ability to get to the quarterback from the middle of the line of scrimmage while also a solid run stopper, Brown is a huge get for the Tigers and Malzahn as the defense looks to step up in the first season under the guidance of coordinator Kevin Steele.
“Derrick Brown, the No. 1 player in the State of Georgia,” Malzahn said. “We've been recruiting him for two years, probably over two years. Coach Garner did a wonderful job with him. He's got a wonderful family. He's a true impact player. We believe he's one of the best players in the entire country. I got a chance to watch him in person play, and it was one of the more impressive performances that I got a chance to watch at any position. We're very excited about him.”
In addition to Brown, Auburn also got a signature from massive defensive lineman Nick Coe from North Carolina. At 6-6, 270, Coe is a champion heavyweight wrestler that has the ability to play outside at defensive end but could easily move inside to tackle down the line. That combination of size and athleticism has Malzahn excited about what he can do down the road.
“I think he’s a state champion wrestler for a couple of years,” Malzahn said. “He’s got a chance to do it again. He is a very big, athletic guy. We’re very excited about him.”
Much of the help is already on campus with early enrollees Marlon Davidson, Paul James and Antwuan Jackson all expected to challenge for playing time right away for Coach Rodney Garner. One of the top players in the country on the defensive line, Davidson has been a top target for Auburn for the better part of two seasons and his addition is a big one for the Tigers.
“We also signed what we believe is the top player in the State of Alabama in Marlon Davidson, a guy we identified well over a year ago, almost two years ago,” Malzahn said. “We believe he’s an impact player.”
A talented defensive end with the speed to get to the quarterback, James is recovering from minor stress fracture surgery on his foot and should be ready to go in the spring. He has the ability to put his hand on the ground as a true defensive end, but could also stand up similar to Carl Lawson and Cassanova McKinzy from a year ago.
Perhaps the most important of the three is Jackson. A true defensive tackle, Jackson is a powerful player that has a habit of making plays in the opponent’s backfield. A year ago he had more than 50 tackles for losses at Cedar Grove High, something that Malzahn said his defense has been missing.
“Antwuan Jackson on the defensive line, we feel like he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the country,” Malzahn said. “Coach Garner recruited him extremely hard and it has been well over a year or two years that we’ve recruited him. We think he’s got a bright future and he’s a fine young man.”
Also part of the class is big Tashawn Manning from Wekiva, Fla. Expected to come in and play early for the Tigers when he committed over the summer, Manning was diagnosed with leukemia in the fall and is currently undergoing treatments. Auburn got a waiver from the NCAA to allow Manning to sign on Wednesday and not count against the 25 limit, something Malzahn said they were happy to do for a kid that is part of the Auburn program already.
“Tashawn Manning is a young man who was diagnosed with cancer close to three months ago,” Malzahn said. “He's a guy we're very excited about in the future. I really feel like it'll be a Shon Coleman story all over again. He's a tough young man. After he signed his papers, I said, 'what are you going to do to celebrate?' And he went to go get chemo. If you would, keep your thoughts and prayers with him and his family. He's got a great attitude, and we truly believe he'll be with us in a short period of time.”