Markaviest Bryant (above) 36 1/2 tackles for lost yardage as a high school senior with 15 1/2 sacks.
Auburn, Ala.--Coming into college football's national signing day for Auburn the overriding sentiment was that Coach Gus Malzahn’s Tigers were going to limp to the finish line.
Even though the class was expected to be a Top 15 group not much excitement was expected from Auburn down the stretch as it put the finishes touches on its 2017 class. However, that was wrong.
One of the top defensive ends in the country and a potential answer as a pass rusher for the Tigers following the loss Carl Lawson, many predicted Bryant was headed to play at LSU or for the home-state Georgia Bulldogs, but instead chose Auburn. That set off a celebration for the Auburn coaches, something Malzahn said happens sometimes when you put so much time and effort into the process.
“Every time he’s been on campus, you could tell he fit here,” the coach said of Bryant. “It was a great feel and talking with him we always felt like we had a good chance."
The coach said the player known as "Big Cat" has "got a chance to really be a special player" for the Tigers.
“You fight hard (for) the guys that aren’t committed," Malzahn said. "You go down to signing day and especially with our need for a pass rusher that was extra special and big for us as a staff. It was the icing on the cake to this class. He was the last one to send his stuff in and commit. It was a good end to a good day.”
For Garner, getting a player the caliber of Bryant was a positive way to finish the class. Not looking to sign a big group this year following last year’s haul, the veteran coach said "Big Cat" is someone who has what Auburn is looking for at defensive end.
“I think we’re getting a dynamic young man who has a tremendous skill set,” Garner said. “He has great length. He can bend. He has a great burst. He has the ability to affect the game in a third down situation and be able to create some pressure on the quarterback. This year one of the things I thought we did a decent job of was we were able to affect the passer without having to blitz.
“When we went to our rabbits package we were able to put four pass rushing linemen out there that were pretty skilled and with different pass rush games," Garner points out. "We were still able to affect the quarterback without having to bring that fifth guy.”
Bryant’s addition along with speedy Tadarian Moultry gives the Tigers a pair of players who may be able to help with the pass rush off the edge of the defense right away.
Tadarian "T.D." Poultry makes a play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game in Montgomery.
With the loss of Lawson, last season's leader in sacks, Malzahn said those two are what the team needed for Garner and the defensive line.
“Big Cat is a pass rusher, there’s no doubt, and Coach Garner did a super job of recruiting Big Cat,” Malzahn said. “T.D.’s got the ability to rush the passer. He showed that during the all-star games and Travis Williams did a super job of recruiting him.
“Those two, and I think Chandler Wooten too, can rush the passer, and that’s the name of the game," Auburn's head coach added. "If you can rush the passer by just rushing four and not having to blitz, that is where great defenses start.”