Like all Auburn and college football fans, and I am a huge one, I am eagerly anticipating the upcoming season. With my background as a player and coach, I feel like I understand the game in a lot of ways, including that it can be difficult to accurately predict exactly what a team is going to do in any particular year.
When I take a look at the 2016 Auburn Tigers, I think this group has a chance to be really good defensively compared to recent defensive groups Auburn has put on the field. A lot of things have to fall into place for this team to challenge for the SEC Championship considering the competition it faces, but I do think there is reason for hope it will be better at stopping opposing offenses with the defensive front leading the way.
With experienced players up front like Carl Lawson at end, Montravius Adams, Dontavius Russell and Devaroe Lawrence at tackle plus others trying to push for playing time, the Tigers should be more difficult to run against. If Lawson steps up and has a big junior year like I think he is capable of doing, he should make a real difference with the pass rush.
I expect the younger players on the defensive front like Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland to be improved and the same is true of Maurice Swain, a juco transfer who will be a senior in his second season with the team. Paul James, another juco transfer, could help the pass rush after arriving in January and going through spring practice.
If the defensive front plays like it is capable of doing that should give the linebackers plenty of opportunities to make plays. I liked what I saw from that group in spring training.
Tre Williams is a linebacker I expect to have a strong junior season. I like Montavious Atkinson’s potential and the same is true of another young linebacker, the kid from Hoover--Darrell Williams. He came on strong in the spring.
Also at linebacker the graduate transfer, T.J. Neal, will have a chance to contribute in a major way. Redshirt freshman Richard McBryde and the young kid from down on the coast who graduated early, Tre Threat, could also help this team at linebacker.
Auburn has the potential to have good experience in the secondary with players like Rudy Ford, Stephen Roberts, Nick Ruffin, Josh Holsey and Tray Matthews, all with starting experience, to go with promising young players like Jamel Dean and Javaris Davis along with cornerback Carlton Davis, an All-SEC Freshman last fall.
If the Tigers can avoid a rash of injuries, this defense has a chance to open the season with quality depth, especially on the front four, which I think is the most important part of a football team other than the quarterback position.
In my opinion the Tigers have a chance to be the kind of defensive group that can lead Auburn to an improved season as long as the quarterback takes care of the football and doesn’t put the defense in a lot of bad situations.
I am excited to see how these Tigers are going to develop. Each team has different leadership and a different personality, which is defined by how the players handle the inevitable ups and downs throughout the course of a challenging SEC season. It’s how the players handle the bad things that will determine the end result.
One thing for sure about the 2016 team is that it won’t develop any early false impressions of how good it is considering the Tigers open with a national championship contender when Clemson comes to town. We’ll find out real quick what type of potential Auburn has this year. I like the fact that Coach Gus Malzahn’s team has such a demanding opener. I think it is a great, great opportunity to get past a disappointing 2015 season and set the stage for bigger and better things in 2016.
When I was coaching as soon as the 4th of July holiday ended the tempo and urgency of preparations for the season picked up. That time is here as signalled by the annual SEC Media Days that take place next week in Birmingham, which really kicks off the upcoming season in this part of the country.