One of the "bombshells" of SEC Media Days on Monday was Auburn Defensive End Carl Lawson's knee injury and ACL surgery. If you're a member of one of the pay sites or just a regular on any Auburn message board, then you've been aware of this for a while. I was genuinely surprised that it was "news" enough that ESPN treated it like Auburn had done an amazing job of keeping it under wraps. Maybe the media could never get enough actual confirmation to justify reporting on it (and if so kudos to them for not publishing an "unverified" story), but I know the ACL surgery was confirmed on at least one Auburn pay site weeks ago. It's been discussed to the point that I genuinely thought it was common knowledge everywhere by now. It's why in my SEC DL Rankings for Auburn I wrote
This is going to hinge a lot on the health of Carl Lawson. I do think the Tigers' defensive line can be successful without him. Elijah Daniels and LaDarius Owens would likely be the starters on the ends in this case. But don't rule out some stout packages with Montravius Adams on the end, as well.
Regardless, the word is now out there straight from the Head Coach's mouth.
So what does this mean? We know from Media Days that Coach Malzahn says Carl Lawson wants to return this football season. You may look at that and say "if it's really late in the season, then why don't we just redshirt him and get another year out of him? Why waste a year like they did with Jeremy Johnson last season?"
If you're looking at it that way, then perhaps you're not really seeing the landscape of college football as it stands today. I point to Greg Robinson last year as the key example and proof of the point I'm going to make. Johnny Manziel is another one. Both of those players went pro after their SOPHOMORE year. We used to talk about Juniors leaving early for the draft. Now we talk of Sophomores. The NFL rule is that a player must be three years out of high school to be eligible for the draft. If you redshirt a player, then they're eligible after their second season of playing football. And many of those players are physically ready to do so. Greg Robinson definitely was. I could see Shon Coleman going pro at the end of this coming season, though he is a very special case since he's long past that three year mark.
So why did Jeremy Johnson play last year? Why am I saying there's no way Auburn redshirts Carl Lawson unless he can't play a down this season? Because if you have a player with big-play potential YOU PLAY THEM. Vanderbilt's new coach Derek Mason made a statement that is somewhat unconventional right now, but personally I believe it will become the norm before long: no redshirting. There will be players who don't have a reason to play, like freshmen OL perhaps, but for the most part there's no point in redshirting play-makers in today's world. If you do it, you're likely just losing a year of their services to your football team. Auburn played Johnson last year because they saw the potential the team had and wanted him ready. The reality is that if they had used a redshirt for him last year, he probably wouldn't stay the full four seasons of eligibility anyway. So why NOT play him in garbage time or in relief of Marshall when they knew the game wasn't in doubt so that you can get him real game experience? I 100% approve of the move to burn Johnson's redshirt last year. Go back and think of some of the struggles the 2011 offensive line had. Now how much more effective do you think that line may have been if Greg Robinson hadn't been sitting on the bench with a redshirt?
If Auburn is in the middle of a championship run and Lawson is ready to go, then you play him. He's that much of a difference maker coming off the end. I don't care if it's going into Amen Corner, or even if it's just going into the Alabama game, you play him IF he is fully healed and ready. Carl Lawson will likely not play four seasons of football at Auburn University. So if he gives Auburn a better chance to make that championship run, then you put him in the game. He may not START in this case, but he's at least worth it as a break for those who have been starting the year at defensive end and could use the help to stay fresh.
The idea of redshirting players is not going to disappear. As I pointed out earlier, there will always be places you won't be able to get everyone real game experience, such as the offensive lines. My main point is that when you have someone who is a genuine talent and they're likely to go pro early, then you're wasting the chances they have to make your team better by sitting them. It's becoming more acceptable for redshirt sophomores such as Greg Robinson and Johnny Manziel to leave for the draft. Juniors leaving for the draft has been a reality for as long as I've been watching football. When you have someone that talented, you take advantage of it early and often. In Carl Lawson's case the first concern is getting him healthy. I don't want him to set foot on the field until he is 100% healthy and ready to go. However, as soon as he reaches that point, you put him in the game in some capacity. He's too good not to.