Dee Ford, Craig Sanders, Carl Lawson (injury)
LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel, Gabe Wright (Likely to get a good bit of work at DE), Cassanova McKinzy (in Dime situations)
Justin Thornton, DaVonte Lambert, Andrew Williams, Raashed Kennion
Causes for optimism:
I'm struggling here. Practice reports as of last week were that the team still had not found a consistent pass rusher. If there's one thing Auburn was very good at last year, it was pressure from the ends in obvious passing situations. If we can't find a consistent pass rusher, we're going to be in trouble against a lot of teams defensively.
If you'll notice, I put Cassanova McKinzy in as a returnee here. This is returnee simply in that he is a player returning from last year. Cass is our staring Middle Linebacker, but he has been mentioned as getting some work as a rush end during Dime situations. Gabe Wright is in a similar situation. There is a good chance he may see some - or even a lot - of time at DE rather than DT. It worked for Nosa Eguae to switch from outside in last season, perhaps this will work just as well for Gabe. Elijah Daniel showed flashes of brilliance and justifying his high recruiting ranking last season. JUCO transfer DaVonte Lambert has supposedly been impressing coaches and pushing for one of the starting positions. I hope LaDarius Owens shows out this year and takes control of one of the other positions. Justin Thornton and Andrew Williams were both highly recruited prospects and could push for early playing time as well.
Causes for concern:
We have to replace Dee Ford and no one has stepped up to do it, yet. The obvious thought would have been Carl Lawson. Alas, he is out for the foreseeable future. I hope to see him return this season, but only if he's 100% healthy and ready to go. Even then it's unlikely he comes back in a starting role. Dee Ford accounted for 1/3 of Auburn's sack total last year. That's a pretty big deal. We are going to have to either have someone step up and play at Dee's level, or else get great production from everyone on the unit. If this fails to happen, then we're going to have to rely a whole lot on that offensive prowess we've been speaking of all summer in order to have a shot at the SEC West, much less the playoff.
We're going to struggle early. We may struggle all year. I'm hoping someone steps up in a way we never expected right off the bat, though. Whether it's LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel, DaVonte Lambert, Gabe Wright, or one of the freshmen. I really hope more than one steps up. The Cass Dime Package just sounds like we're reaching right now for something to provide an extra push in the edge rush and we're not finding it, so far. This is an aspect of our defense that definitely has me concerned, right now.
Next up: Linebackers