Editor’s note: T-minus 13 days and counting until Auburn opens the season against Clemson on Sept. 3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Check back every morning as we break down the roster, profile key players and look at unanswered questions coming out of training camp.
It’s easy to see the improved talent level on Auburn’s defense. The Tigers recent success on the recruiting trail combined with the return of NFL ready defensive linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson has raised the expectation level for the group.
A deeper defense has also pushed Auburn’s young players along faster with the coaching staff has talked up a number of untested underclassmen they feel will have a major impact this fall.
Auburn defensive back Jamel Dean’s recent injury thrust Javaris Davis into the spotlight.
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The consensus fastest player on the team — he ran an electronically timed 4.18 this spring — was already in the mix for reps at the corner spot opposite Carlton Davis. Dean’s injury leaves Davis alone with last year’s All-SEC freshman at the top of the depth chart.
“Jamel is a great player,” Davis said. “He was pushing me really hard. Now I’m just trying to get better and just keep working, so I have to elevate my game more since he’s down. He was a big asset to the team.”
Davis’ speed and cover skills help him make up for his lack of size at 5-foot-10, 182-pounds.
“He was extremely talented, even last year when we redshirted him,” Malzahn said. “He had a great spring. He's more confident.”
While Davis is in the running for Auburn’s most improved defender this offseason, the award might belong to a teammate with the same surname Deshaun Davis. The linebacker emerged as a leader at his position this spring.
The Vigor High School alum out of Alabama has continued his assent up the chart during training camp.
Auburn spent the open viewing periods during training camp repping its 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
Linebackers Tre’ Williams and Darrell Williams spent the majority of the time with the first time, but defensive coordinator Kevin Steele plans to use multiple fronts allowing Deshaun Davis a chance to join Williams 2.0 in the middle of the field.
“He’s picked up where he left off,” Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams said. “DeShaun is one of those guys, I look at DeShaun as one of the starters as well. He’s a guy that, depending on the game, you never know he could be out there as a starter. I know for a fact he’ll get 30 or 40 snaps a game, for sure. He’s a guy that you really can count on.”
The best-case scenario for Auburn is both defenders live up to the hype
Extra point: Can Auburn hold opposing offenses to less than 20 points a game?
The last time Auburn’s defense achieved the feat was in 2008 when it allowed 18 points per game. The Tigers aren’t alone with less than 20 percent of the teams in the country holding offenses to less than 20 points a game each of the past five seasons.
Auburn’s defense has a couple factors in its favor this season as it tries to make a big statistical jump — the SEC has very few imposing offenses this season, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele kept many of the same concepts and terminology from last season and the group has better depth overall.
A major stumbling block could be an ineffective Tigers’ offense.
The defense’s margin of error will be nonexistent in the SEC if the offense turns the ball over and can’t sustain drives.
Bottom line – Auburn might have a more impactful defense this season — putting pressure on the quarterback, forcing turnovers and allowing less explosive plays — it just still might not be enough to hold teams under 20 points a game across the whole season.
Stat of the day
Alabama is the only team in the SEC to hold opposing teams to less than 20 points each of the past five seasons.
The Crimson Tide has three of the top four scoring defenses in the conference during that span including the best overall defense. In holding teams to 8.2 points per game in the 2011 season the team only gave up nine touchowns.