Yesterday we covered the defensive tackles. Today we cover the other defensive line position, the ends! I'm also going to include the Buck position in this just for simplicity.
LaDarius Owens, Elijah Daniel (removed from team)
CARL LAWSON, DaVonte Lambert, Keymiya Harrell, Justin Thornton, Raashed Kennion, Gimel President
Byron Cowart, Prince Tega Wanogho, Jr (likely redshirt)
Causes for Optimism:
Did I mention Carl Lawson was back? And that we brought in the nation's #1 recruit according to some services? Oh, and DaVonte Lambert (who was looking impressive before his injury) is 100%. Then there's Raashed Kennion, who coaches were saying just needed to gain some size last year in order to push for more time. Justin Thornton was no slouch in practice reports, either.
If there's concern at the defensive tackle position, the defensive end/buck position should be loaded. In other words, we are the opposite of last season. I do believe that's a good thing, though. This situation is much easier to deal with in Muschamp's system than last year's issues were. We've got some seriously talented individuals vying for playing time, and there's a chance we could see two rush-ends and a Buck on the field at the same time in passing situations. This is a unit I'm expecting to go from dismal last season to great this season.
Causes for Concern:
Will Lawson's knee hold up? How about Lambert's? Is Byron Cowart ready to contribute immediately? There's talent, but just how much experience is there? Similar to the defensive tackles, there's not a whole lot. Lawson has one full season under him of playing time, but he's studied a ton of film to improve his game. Will that translate into on-field production? Just how good are Kennion and Thornton?
The basis for optimism for this unit is largely on perceived talent and pre-injury performances. We know from last season that this doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be good. I didn't think there was any way Auburn would struggle in the pass rush as they did last season, but wow was I wrong.
I'm a total homer, and I admit it. However, I think Lawson, a healthy Lambert, Cowart, and Kennion (don't know much about Thornton, yet) give us great options at defensive end to work with. Oh, and Gimel President and Keymiya Harrell will have a say in this, as well. There is talent in abundance. The system in place is going to get pressure on the quarterback with that talent. I think this unit is going to excel this year.
To tie that a bit back to what I said on Monday, I believe the defensive line as a whole is going to excel. At least at rushing the passer. Stopping the run could be another question entirely. So don't get too excited just yet. Auburn is going to face a number of teams with bruising running backs behind some really large offensive linemen. This is a line that didn't exactly look great at stopping the run in their last few games of the season, either.
So, what do I think? I think we'll be frustrated at times, and I think we're going to be thrilled at times. I think the good plays and the thrills will outweigh the frustrations, though. I think Auburn's offense is going to be one of this defense's best weapons. Last season's UGA game happened because UGA realized they didn't need to throw the football. Auburn's offense wasn't functioning well, so they just kept pounding. I think this season's offense is going to score enough that we get teams out of rhythm and into more passing situations. That will allow this line to take advantage of its pass rushers.
It may result in a Jekyll and Hyde first and second half situation again, with teams trying to run the ball (and succeeding) for much of the early 1st half, but I think by the second halves, they'll be forced to throw more, and that's when the ends (and the tackles) will show their ability at getting after the quarterback. I think it could be a very exciting year for the lines.