Auburn, Ala.--Coming off one of the better seasons for an Auburn defense in the last decade and with Kevin Steele back for his second year as coordinator of the unit, the Tigers hit the ground running in spring practice. Able to stay in the same defense for the second season in a row meant a chance for players to really improve over the course of spring practice.
We take a look at five players who helped themselves in a major way on defense this spring:
Derrick Brown--You would have to look long and hard to find a better combination of size and speed from a defensive lineman in AU history than what big Derrick Brown possesses. At 6-5, 317, Brown plays tackle for Coach Rodney Garner, but when the Tigers switch to a 3-4 he has the agility to slide outside to end. Even though he took a step forward this spring there is still a whole lot of game left in the tank for Brown to find. Just scratching the surface of his ability, the big sophomore has a chance to become a dominating force in the middle if he can play with the edge that Garner demands from his guys.
Marlon Character--A player brought in to play either cornerback or safety, Marlon Character worked mostly at the safety spot last fall until getting a look at cornerback during bowl practices. That seemed to be the moment things clicked for the Atlanta native and he has done nothing but impress since then. Long and athletic, the 6-0, 186-pounder is the type of player coaches are looking for in today’s wide open game because of his ability to cover and also support the run. He has put himself very much in the running to be Auburn’s third cornerback, an important position considering how much teams throw the ball in college football.
Paul James gets to quarterback Malik Willis in the spring game.
Paul James--While he still needs to show the consistency that Garner is looking for, end Paul James showed in the A-Day game that he has got the ability to be a playmaker for the Tigers when healthy and playing full speed. Saying he was still around 85 percent in the spring while recovering from knee surgery that ended his 2016 season very early, the A-Day MVP on defense showed good quickness at 270 pounds. His combination of size and speed makes him a promising player coming off the edge.
Daniel Thomas--Playing behind Rudy Ford at the nickel position last fall, true freshman Daniel Thomas got thrown into the fire late in the season with starts in the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl to end the year. He showed plenty of positives in his time on the field, but getting a look at safety may have opened up his game even more this spring. A natural downhilll player, Thomas showed the ability to make stops at the line of scrimmage in the A-Day game and with his size he could be the fourth safety and in line for a leadership role on the defense in 2018.
Andrew Williams--A player who admittedly looked out of place his first year on campus as he moved from end to tackle, redshirt junior Andrew Williams has improved as much as any player on the roster the last three years and now is in line to be a productive performer at defensive tackle for the Tigers. Bigger and stronger than ever at 6-5, 290 pounds, Williams showed the ability to get pressure last season and carried that over with his play in the spring game. With very good athleticism for an interior player, Williams should give Auburn some pass rushing ability from the middle.