Editor's note: Auburn's spring practice starts March 18. Some positions are set in stone. Some are up for grabs. Auburn beat writer Ryan Black has already evaluated all the personnel groupings on the team (which you can find here), but now he's paring that down even further to account for every individual position, projecting how the depth chart will look when the Tigers get back on the field for the first time since the BCS championship game. The series continues with the defensive ends.
Who's Who: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
Projected depth chart:
Analysis: Any discussion of Auburn's defensive ends has to begin with Dee Ford.
Replacing 14.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks won't be easy. But at least in Lawson, the Tigers seem to have Ford's heir apparent. The Alpharetta (Ga.) High School grad ranked second to Ford in both of those aforementioned categories, tallying 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He might not have the incredible first-step burst of Ford — few do — but there's no questioning Lawson's colossal talent. (And yes, since it's a projection, I'm predicting Lawson flips from the right side to the left this spring.)
Don't sleep on Daniel, either. Like Lawson, he was part of the Tigers' 2013 class and is naturally gifted as well, getting time to shine as Ford's backup last season. And who knows? He very well could end up beating out Lawson for the starting job.
There shouldn't be any questions about right end, though.
Owens had a surprising breakout season, settling into his spot in the starting lineup for the final 11 games of the Tigers' turnaround campaign. He should be every bit as good this fall, as he's comfortable with his role within the defense; at one point, it seemed he would play right behind the linemen. He moved to linebacker during the spring, but flipped back to end once depth concerns warranted it.
President and Harrell will get their chances as well, but it would be best if they made their push for playing time this spring.
Things will get more competitive once fall arrives, as Auburn signed four ends (Raashed Kennion, DaVonte Lambert, Justin Thornton and Andrew Williams) in their 2014 recruiting class.