Post-spring positional analysis: Defensive line
With 15 practices done and dusted and spring practice officially over, it’s time to take a look at how each position group fared.
With new coaches and the first set of spring practices in two years, this year provided players an opportunity to move up the depth chart and create strong first impressions.
Next up, the defensive line.
Auburn’s defensive line struggled to create much push at the line of scrimmage in 2020 with no Derrick Brown or Marlon Davidson.
But, it was a young group and nearly everyone returned for this season, including Tyrone Truesdell for a super senior season.
There was some movement within the group over the course of the spring after Jeremiah Wright — who had surged into a starting defensive tackle spot — went down with an ACL injury. With Wright down, J.J. Pegues moved from tight end to defensive tackle.
On A-Day Pegues showed some natural athleticism at the spot, but his technique wasn’t quite up to snuff, and he’ll have to continue working on that. Though, that was expected after practicing just a few times at the spot.
The star of the group in 2020 was Colby Wooden who had 42 tackles and four sacks, and he remains that star player in 2021. Wooden can play on the edge along with shifting inside and playing defensive tackle when necessary.
Along with filling up the stat-sheet, Wooden is entering his third year at Auburn and embracing a leadership role for the first- and second-year players.
“I enjoy being a leader,” Wooden said. “It feels like just yesterday I was looking up to Marlon [Davidson] and Derrick [Brown]; now I'm kind of the old head in the room, I guess you could say. It's just exciting to have the younger guys look up to me and, you know, be put in that role of leadership and guiding the right ways so we can be successful.”
Some of the young guys he’s helping lead include Lee Hunter, Zykeivous Walker, Pegues, Jay Hardy and Romello Height — all of whom are freshmen or rising sophomores.
Walker is another player for Auburn who can play edge or slide inside to defensive tackle.
While a true nose tackle, Hunter looked strong on A-Day including a tackle for loss on running back Tank Bigsby.
For now, Hunter is behind Truesdell and Marquis Burks who are the starting defensive tackles.
The depth chart is partially unclear for Auburn, with Hardy, T.D. Moultry and Jaren “Stone” Handy all absent at A-Day, and edge rusher Daniel Foster-Allen injured.
Auburn also has a plethora of newcomers in the summer, with edge rushers Dylan Brooks, Tobechi Okoli and Andrew Leota coming in. Ian Mathews and Marquis Robinson are incoming defensive tackles.
Auburn already has a talented room along the defensive line, but once the cavalry arrives, the defensive line can become a strong suit for the team.
“ We have a lot of good players in the room, from top to bottom,” defensive line coach Nick Eason said. “It always starts up front. Teams that win national championships and SEC championships, they have great defensive lines. I'm honored and excited for the opportunity to lead these guys, to be able to be dominant. That's our goal — dominate the line of scrimmage and be the best. I talk to my guys about being the best in the world. Be the best at everything we do.”
Along with the changes on the depth chart, the whole defensive scheme changed for the defense. With Derek Mason at defensive coordinator, the linemen were tasked with learning a 3-4 scheme along with the previously utilized 4-3 scheme.
Mason described himself as a kid in a candy store with the different players he has available to him when switching back and forth between the two schemes.
Zykeivous Walker OR Caleb Johnson
Lee Hunter OR Dre Butler
Jay Hardy (Absent from A-Day)
T.D. Moultry OR Jaren Handy (Both absent from A-Day)
Nick Curtis OR Romello Height
INJURED: Jeremiah Wright
INCOMING: Andrew Leota, Tobechi Okoli, Ian Mathews, Marquis Robinson and Dylan Brooks
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