Auburn’s top pass rusher and one of the best in the country at putting pressure on the quarterback, Lawson’s departure leaves plenty of opportunity for someone to step up at the position on Kevin Steele’s defense, beginning with junior Jeff Holland.
Playing behind Lawson last season and on the field at the same time in Auburn’s third down packages, Holland is the most experienced player returning at the position and Steele said he looks like a different guy so far this spring after mentioning him as one of the leaders on that side of the ball for the Tigers.
“He's done a great job in the offseason in the weight room,” Steele said of Holland. “He's kind of re-made his body. We kid him about that. He's pretty proud of it so if you see him, kind of point it out to him.
“He's stronger. He's got more muscle mass, which helps him in his power. He's got a lot of confidence right now, He knows what he's doing. he's not having to think. That helps.”
Even though he’s just a redshirt freshman Coe is already well seasoned on Auburn’s defensive schemes after getting plenty of reps a season ago said Steele.
“He practiced the game plan every week like he was playing,” Steele said. “He basically got 70 percent of all the two reps. We rolled Carl and Jeff with the ones and then gave Jeff about 30 percent of the twos. Nick got about 70 percent of every game plan Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and he wasn't playing so he's been through it.”
Nick Coe practicing in New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl
Like Coe, James is a 270-pounder that brings something different to the table at the position, size. Able to withstand life on the defensive line against SEC offensive tackles, Steele said both have what it takes to play for the Tigers.
“There's a reason that they fight featherweight and heavyweight,” Steele said. “There's a difference in what takes place in that. Those guys in the SEC are big guys over there. If it's good body mass, it helps, particularly when you can move like those guys can in space.”
Rounding out the group for the Tigers is Threat. A player that saw most of his time on special teams as a freshman, Threat played a similar rush-end position in high school at Spanish Fort before moving to strictly linebacker as a senior. Now back in a familiar role, the big backer is someone that Steele said could do both for the defense down the road.
“It's not to say he won't play some linebacker but has happened in this league is about 75 percent of your snaps are played in nickel or dime,” Steele said of how things have changed on defense. “We have a three linebacker scheme and we rep three linebackers, but then when you get into game-planning and practicing, then it's cut down to two linebackers and sometimes even one.
“Just in terms of being able to play two positions will help him. He played it in high school so it's kind of natural to him. When we go nickel, that's one less linebacker on the field so somebody's not getting reps. It just allows us to get more diversity in our group. Plus, the Buck does drop some now. We play some 3-4. When you've got a guy that has dropped and understands dropping, it's a whole lot easier to do.”