Auburn football: Looking at the Tigers' defensive ends for 2014

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 28, 2014 

Sophomore defensive end Carl Lawson had offseason surgery on his ACL, Gus Malzahn confirmed on Monday. It is unknown how much time Lawson will miss this fall.

LAUREN BARNARD — Auburn University

Editor's note: The 2013 season is in the books. Any underclassmen eligible for the NFL draft have decided whether to return to school or pursue a pro career. And national signing day is drawing closer by the day. With that in mind, Auburn beat writer Ryan Black breaks down the team's 2014 roster, going position-by-position and giving his take on each spot's future. The series continues with the Tigers' defensive ends.

Who's Staying: LaDarius Owens, senior: Played in all 14 games (12 starts); 30 tackles (12 solo, 18 assisted), 5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries

Carl Lawson, sophomore: Played in all 14 games; 20 tackles (14 solo, six assisted), 7.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 7 QBHs, 2 forced fumbles

Elijah Daniel, sophomore: Played in all 14 games; 9 tackles (four solo, five assisted), 3 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, 11 QBHs

Gimel President, sophomore: Appeared in three games; 3 tackles (all solo)

Keymiya Harrell, junior: Appeared in one game; compiled no statistics

Who's Leaving: Dee Ford: Played in 12 games (11 starts); 29 tackles (18 solo, 11 assisted), 14.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, 1 pass breakup, 17 QBHs, 2 FF

Nosa Eguae: Played in all 14 games (12 starts); 22 tackles (14 solo, eight assisted), 5.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 6 QBHs, 1 blocked kick

Craig Sanders: Participated in 13 games; 22 tackles (13 solo, nine assisted), 3 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, 7 QBHs

Ken Carter: Played in all 14 games; 9 tackles (two solo, seven assisted), 1 TFL, 1 PBU, 3 QBHs

Who's Coming In: Raashed Kennion: 55 tackles, six sacks (Numbers from junior season at First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Fla.; no senior stats available for this player)

DaVonte Lambert: 36 tackles (14 for loss), eight sacks, four forced fumbles (Numbers from past season at Georgia Military College in Milledgeville, Ga.)

Justin Thornton: 56 tackles (17 for loss), eight sacks (Numbers from senior season at Vigor High School in Prichard, Ala.)

Outlook: The challenge at the defensive end position is the same one Auburn is dealing with at running back.

How do you replace someone as productive as Tre Mason or Dee Ford? In both situations, the Tigers are more fortunate than most; while they don't have one single player likely to replicate those kind of staggering numbers, they make up for it in depth.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the line last season was Owens. After finally settling in at end (he became a linebacker in the spring before reverting back to a lineman) he developed into one of the Tigers' most steady defenders. He started the season opener, was a backup for the next two contests and then held down the starting job opposite Ford for the remainder of the year. There's no reason to think that will change come this fall.

The likely starter on the opposite side — also known as "Ford's old spot" — is Lawson, who captured the defensive "newcomer of the year" award at the team's banquet in December. Even though he didn't start a game, Lawson was second on the team in both sacks and tackles for loss, behind Ford, of course. It's a good bet the Alpharetta native will move to the top of those statistical categories next season.

Fellow Class of 2013 signee Daniel didn't put up quite the numbers that Lawson did, but surprisingly, he topped his counterpart in quarterback hurries (11-7). He may have come in as a bit of a raw product, but as the season wore on, Daniel continued to garner praise from the coaching staff.

Few were more impressed than Ellis Johnson.

"He might be as good of a 1-on-1 pass rusher as we have," the defensive coordinator said. "He’s got a great first step, good power. Can use him inside or outside."

If Harrell can remain healthy — which has been a problem his entire career at Auburn — he would give the Tigers yet another player to incorporate into the rotation, while President could be a candidate for more playing time as well.

Lambert will transfer in from Georgia Military College and immediately step into the void left by Eguae. Much like the departed senior, Lambert said the coaching staff told him he'll shift inside to tackle on third downs.

The other two incoming recruits — Kennion (6-foot-7) and Thornton (6-foot-5) — are tall, rangy players. What both lack at this point is weight; Kennion is 225 pounds while Thorton is 222.

By comparison, both Lawson and Daniel arrived last year weighing in at 250 pounds.

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