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Post-spring projections: Auburn’s defensive line

Auburn defensive lineman Maurice Swain, No. 90, tackles running back Jovon Robinson behind the line of scrimmage on April 9, 2016.
Auburn defensive lineman Maurice Swain, No. 90, tackles running back Jovon Robinson behind the line of scrimmage on April 9, 2016. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Editor’s note: Projecting Auburn’s two-deep depth chart based on spring performance.

First team defensive line

The way Auburn’s first team defensive line performed for the White roster on A-Day was a point of pride for the coaching staff.

During the first half, the defense had two sacks, five tackles behind the line of scrimmage and forced three three-and-outs. The starting group held the Blue team to 21 rushing yards on 33 attempts and less than 150 yards of total offense (eight first downs).

The White’s dominance up front with Carl Lawson and Marlon Davidson at defensive end; and Montravius Adams and Dontavius Russell at tackle, was a major factor.

Lawson and Adams were a disruptive force playing alongside each other. Lawson had four tackles with a sack and two for a loss while Adams had two tackles (one for a loss) and they combined for a quarterback hurry.

Once the veteran linemen decided against entering the NFL draft in January — in part to extend their time as teammates — they were expected to be Auburn’s workhorses up front.

The coaching staff will monitor both linemen’s snaps to keep them healthy, but they will be on the field together in pressure situations.

“More is better, and if more is like Carl or Montravius, it's really better,” Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said of the teammates declining to enter the draft.

While Lawson and Adams can write their names in pen on the depth chart, Russell’s and Davidson’s name are in pencil.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner wants to establish a deep rotation with multiple players referring to a magic number of 10 guys, a realistic estimate given the influx in talent the past two years.

“Every spring since I've been here we've been short on d-linemen so I've been tired,” Lawson said. “This spring I haven't been really tired and that's a good thing.”

Davidson, who played well with the first team on A-Day, might be the surprising name on the list as an early enrollee out of Greenville High School from Alabama, but he made a strong impression during the course of 15 spring practices on his teammates and coaches.

“He is a guy that's very physically, mentally and emotionally mature for a guy that should be going to his senior prom in the next week or so,” Steele said. “If you'd watched it and didn't know, you'd think he'd been around for a couple of years and that's the biggest thing.”

Second team defensive line

Auburn has plenty of defensive linemen in the mix for playing time with more coming in the fall including the team’s highest rated recruit from the 2016 Class Derrick Brown.

“Besides my freshman year, yes, this is the deepest we've ever been,” Adams said. “And this ain't even everybody.”

The competition will continue through fall camp with veterans and highly rated prospects hoping to show their coaches the same sense of urgency.

“The competition with guys coming in and stuff, you don’t want to get passed up,” Cowart said. “You want to take the coaching and get better.”

Cowart is trying to crack Auburn’s starting lineup while putting a disappointing freshman year in the rear view mirror. Last year’s top recruit averaged 20 snaps a game last season, but had little to show for it with a total of six tackles.

The 6-foot-3, 277-pounder is competing against fellow sophomore Jeff Holland and junior college transfer Paul James III on the outside. James had an ankle issue that forced him to miss the first two weeks of spring practice, but showed no issues on the field during A-Day.

Lawrence and Swain provide experience on the interior of the line. Both lineman played in all of Auburn’s 13 games last season. Defensive line coach Rodney Garner wants to see more consistency from Lawrence before increasing his workload.

“He needs to get that edge,” Garner said. “He needs to not become lackadaisical. He needs to understand how to bring his ‘A’ game every single day. He’s a tremendously talented young man that has to focus though. He has a skill set that can really help this football team.”

Coming up: Projecting Auburn’s running backs

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