HOOVER | Carl Lawson's sophomore season may be over before it begins.
Gus Malzahn confirmed Monday that the defensive end suffered a torn ligament in his left knee during spring practice. Though surgery was performed in May and Lawson's rehabilitation has yielded positive results, there is no guarantee that the former five-star prospect will contribute in 2014.
"Dr. Andrews looked at it and wanted to wait two weeks for the swelling to go down to be accurate," Malzahn said Monday morning. "After two weeks he determined that it needed to be fixed. We got it fixed and Carl is working very hard. He's determined to try to make it back sometime this year. We'll see how that goes."
Losing Lawson is a gut punch for the Auburn defense, which already was thin at defensive end. Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams cross-trained there throughout spring ball, so either player could move outside on a moment's notice.
Also, some experienced players are returning. Senior LaDarius Owens showed last season that he's more than a third-down rusher while sophomore Elijah Daniel created plenty of pass rush in a specialized, third-down role at tackle.
Malzahn said Monday that a newcomer or two, most likely junior-college transfer DaVonte Lambert or freshman Andrew Williams, will have a chance to jump into the rotation almost immediately.
"Coach (Rodney) Garner has a lot of flexibility," Malzahn said. "He'll have a good plan to address defensive end."
TIME ADDED: Wideout Jaylon Denson and linebacker Justin Garrett have been granted one extra season of eligibility after suffering major injuries during the 2013 season.
Both will be juniors this fall.
Denson's season ended in Baton Rouge after tearing a patellar tendon. Garrett attempted a mid-season comeback after being slowed by a broken foot, but missed the season's second half with a break in the other foot.
"We expect them to be ready to go for the first day of practice," Malzahn said.
END OF THE ROAD: Defensive tackle Tyler Nero has retired from football after suffering syncope, an unexplained fainting episode, during spring drills.
The Atmore, Ala., native will remain on scholarship, though it will not count against the team's NCAA limit.
"He is going to get his degree and could possibly help us with football," Malzahn said. "He's a great kid and we wish him nothing but the best."
A SPECIAL GUY: Center Reese Dismukes has a chance to do something this season that rarely happens anywhere: Become a four-year starter.
He signed with Auburn out of Spanish Fort (Ala.) High in 2011 and now has 37 career starts to his credit. He'll enter the 2014 season as the Tigers' top choice at center barring injury.
"It's pretty rare to come into this league and stick around as physical as this league is," Dismukes said Monday. "It's pretty rare and it's something I like doing. A big reason I came to Auburn was that I'd have a chance as a freshman to start. That ended up happening. Thank God I'm not still a freshman because I was terrible."
NO QUICK FIX: Tight end C.J. Uzomah laughs at people who see the Tigers' spread-option offense as a panacea for offensive lethargy.
Numbers generated at Auburn, Oregon, Texas A&M and Baylor have driven several other programs to install new attacks intended to mimic that success. Still, Uzomah is quick to point out, it's not that easy.
"It's hard. Our playbook is deep. It takes a lot to really grasp it," Uzomah said Monday. "It's not something you can learn overnight. The freshmen come in and we have to sit them down as players and talk them through certain things. Everything depends on something. To try to throw that in and say you're going to be a spread team right now, it's not something that's going to happen overnight."
DOWN AGAIN: Defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who missed the 2013 season after suffering a knee injury during the spring of 2013, will miss this coming season as well.
He suffered another torn knee ligament earlier this summer in an off-the-field incident. That's the third major knee injury of Harrell's college career, which puts his athletic future in doubt.