Editor's Note: These lists feature our thoughts on the most important players for Auburn heading into the 2016 football season. We are counting down 16 key Tigers for the offense and 16 more for the defense as Coach Gus Malzahn's team prepares to face Clemson in the season opener.
Coming off a year in which he made 42 tackles with one and a half sacks and four and a half tackles for losses, Russell got a taste of what life in the SEC is all about and should be more prepared in his second season of play.
Continuing to add strength and muscle to his frame, Russell is up to 6-3, 308 and with his quickness that should make him a solid performer up front when combined with guys in the middle like Montravius Adams, Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain. With the physicality that Coach Rodney Garner wants out of his defensive linemen, the returning starter will be an important part of Auburn’s defensive efforts this fall.
Best Case Scenario: Russell builds on what he did last season and continues to show improvement at the defensive tackle position. With Carl Lawson back at defensive end and Adams beside him, it should allow Russell to face single blocks much of the time. That should give him the opportunity to make more plays and more of those plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Worst Case Scenario: The worst case scenario for Auburn is that the defensive line again struggles to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. That has been an issue for the Tigers since 2010 when All-American Nick Fairley led a strong group that caused problems for Auburn's opponents.
Russell and Montravius Adams make a play against Louisville in the 2015 season opener.
Career Comparison: When I think about a player who Russell reminds me of I come back to former Auburn standout and NFL player Gerald Williams. Solidly built with good hands and quickness, Williams was an All-SEC selection in 1986 and played for a long time in the NFL. Overlooked by many, he was a steady performer who wasn’t flashy, but made plays on a consistent basis.
Russell At His Best: Coming out of the gate last season Russell showed what he was capable of against Louisville. With Lawson on the field he had six tackles, one and a half sacks and two and a half tackles for losses. The next 12 games he had just two total tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Quote: Carl Lawson said, "Dontavius is coming along good, but like I said many times before, we all, myself, Mon (Montravius Adams), Devaroe (Lawrence), Dontavius, (Maurice) Swain, the young guys that we got, Jeff (Holland), Byron (Cowart), we all need to get better as a unit, feet and hands. We want to become a good D-line and progress from there.”