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Countdown to kickoff: Can Auburn DE Paul James contribute this fall?

Auburn defensive lineman Paul James call to a teammated at practice on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at the university's athletic complex.
Auburn defensive lineman Paul James call to a teammated at practice on Friday, Aug. 5, 2016 at the university's athletic complex. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Editor’s note: T-minus 20 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.

Auburn wide receiver Ryan Davis barely had time to get a handle on the ball when Paul James III hit him in the backfield for a five-yard loss.

The play was a tantalizing glimpse at the pass rusher who had 14 sacks at Copiah-Lincoln last season.

Defensive line coach Rodney Garner would love to see more of that explosiveness from James as the coach works on developing a week one depth chart.

James missed the early portion of spring practice recovering from a foot injury. Months spent away from the weight room put the junior college transfer at a disadvantage when he finally did get on the field.

“It sidelined him the entire offseason program (before spring practice),” Garner said. “He gained a lot of weight and was in very poor condition for spring. There were times during spring ball I felt like he flashed and showed ability, but because of his conditioning I didn’t feel like we got a true gauge on him.”

The test for James will be refining his fundamentals to thrive against talented SEC offensive lineman.

Garner didn’t need time to even think when asked what James needs to work on before Sept. 3.

“He definitely has to improve using his hands,” Garner said. “He’s hand deficient right now. He didn’t have to be as fundamentally sound at the JUCO level where every thing matters.”

Garner has promised to use a rotation of eight to 10 players, but James still faces fierce competition for playing time.

The Florida native is competing with fellow edge rushers Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland, and Marlon Davidson for reps.

Extra point: Who will lead Auburn in sacks?

Carl Lawson would be an easy answer if he can stay healthy.

The defensive lineman is one of the most talented players in the conference when he’s on the field, but Lawson’s reputation could open the door for one of his teammates.

Offensive coordinators will throw double teams at Lawson to slow him down — or at least try to — leaving opportunities for his linemates to clean up in the backfield.

Bottom line — Lawson will put up a respectable pass rushing numbers, but Montravius Adams is Auburn’s team leader in sacks.

Stat of the day

Auburn’s defense finished with 19 sacks last year, the lowest total for the team in more than a decade.

The only other time in the last 20 years the Tigers finished with less than 20 sacks was in 2001 (16) when the team didn’t have a single player finish the season with more than 2.5 sacks.

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