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Position Group Previews: The Defensive Line

Basically a group of rabid police dogs chasing down criminals.

NCAA Football: Georgia at Auburn Albert Cesare-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this afternoon, our guy Ryan Sterritt told you about the quarterbacks, which might be Auburn’s most settled position on offense. It’s only appropriate that we turn to what might be the Tigers’ most settled position on defense to hit that side of the ball tonight.

Yes, it’s the defensive line. It may be a more appropriate use of everyone’s time if I just posted a bunch of videos of police attack dogs mauling burglars, but for those who don’t enjoy watching such carnage, you can just watch our men up front mauling opposing offenses.

THE BEEF - Nose Tackle/Defensive Tackle

Auburn’s got a set starting group up front, and it begins in the middle with nose tackle Dontavius Russell, who’s coming into his redshirt senior season, and defensive tackle Derrick Brown, who’s now an upperclassmen himself as a junior and already coveted draft prospect. These guys weren’t just taking up space and letting others make plays last year, they were the ones wreaking havoc in the middle and clogging up the running lanes for opposing offenses.

Brown was third on the team in stops with 57, including 9.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. Russell added another 46 tackles, with 6.5 TFLs and 3.0 sacks. These guys were disruptive, and it allowed the linebackers behind them to make a ton of plays and roam around relatively undisturbed.

With a taller frame than a lot of defensive tackles (6’5, 315), Brown has blossomed into a “rare talent” according to Mel Kiper Jr. He’s already on the Outland and Nagurski award watch lists, and with good reason too.

He’s quick, agile, and gets to the quarterback in a bad temper. And he’s not alone.

Dontavius Russell’s also molded himself into a similar role. Jake Fromm will not appreciate seeing him across the line again this year either.

And here he is just shooting through on a short-yardage situation to blow up the play.

Again, Russell adds the quickness and ability to escape a block to get right to his target. Auburn’s going to boast one of the best defensive lines in the country, and these two are much of the reason why. Russell adds some more maturity into the fold as a fifth-year player that returned to finish his degree. He was one of Auburn’s SEC Media Days representatives, which is usually a high honor reserved for leaders on the team. He and Brown complete one of the best twosomes in the middle that you’ll find in the country.

THE HUNTERS - Buck/Defensive End

While the tackles are very good and were very noticeable in 2017, it’s no secret that the glamour positions are on the outside. There the job is mostly designed to get to the quarterback and end drives in one fell swoop. If that’s the goal, then it’s a good thing that the Tigers can trot Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe out onto the field.

Both Davidson and Coe spent time at defensive end last year, and in the offseason, Coe sidled on over to take over for Jeff Holland’s vacant Buck position. While Coe may be spending most of his time trying to win the job at the Buck spot, he played pretty much every position on the line last year, backing up Davidson at end, and even dropping into the middle for third down packages. So while he may play Buck, he could also remain as the best backup option at defensive end.

Coe’s a big boy at 6’5, 282, and he’d be a handful for opposing linemen to take on, and despite the official starting nod, he’s getting major praise.

With the talent on the defensive line, it may about getting the best four guys on the field, and Nick Coe certainly qualifies as one of the best four linemen on the team. A lineups with him at Buck, Davidson at defensive end, Russell at nose tackle, and Brown at defensive tackle would be formidable to say the least.

So what about Davidson? He’s only started from the first game he ever played in, against Deshaun Watson and the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers. He finished with 42 tackles last year, to go along with 6.0 TFLs and 3.0 sacks, and as an upperclassmen, he’ll provide that leadership along with Brown and Russell. He’s just been a solid presence over his first two years, and after a little bit of injury trouble in 2017, he should be poised for a large fall.

YOUNG STUDS — Completing the Picture

There’s a ton of defensive line talent with the starters, but we’ve seen this year’s supposed starters grow and make their way into the limelight by giving quality time to Rodney Garner in their earlier days. Derrick Brown had to sit behind Montravius Adams, Nick Coe had to wait behind Jeff Holland and Marlon Davidson last year, and now there’s another crop of guys that are going to be fantastic, but this year’s about adding depth.

Let’s start outside with T.D. Moultry and Big Kat Bryant. C’mon, one of our Buck defensive ends is literally named Big Kat. It’s on the official roster. Both Moultry and Bryant made an impact when they saw the field last season, but Moultry had the better initial year with 15 stops, 2.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks. Bryant kept pace with 2.5 TFLs and 2.0 sacks of his own, but only had 5 total tackles. Both guys can do the job, but with Coe’s talent moving in on the spot, they may have to wait to contribute.

Inside, there’s not quite as much talent, but Andrew Williams backing up Derrick Brown at D-tackle is a nice bit of comfort. Williams ended last year with 38 tackles of his own, and will likely share some time on the second team with Tyrone Truesdell, who can play either tackle spot and will likely end up behind Russell.

So here’s how things likely look with the two-deep for Auburn up front.

BUCK - Nick Coe/T.D. Moultry/Big Kat Bryant

NOSE TACKLE - Dontavius Russell/Tyrone Truesdell

DEFENSIVE TACKLE - Derrick Brown/Andrew Williams

DEFENSIVE END - Marlon Davidson/Nick Coe

I like. War Eagle. More positions tomorrow!