We’ve looked at the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, offensive line, and the most talented defensive line at Auburn since 1988. Now it’s time for the linebackers. The starters are all seniors with plenty of experience, but there is also plenty of young talent behind them.
The Quarterback of the Defense
The 2-year starter is back for his senior season, and is the heart-and-soul of the defense. Davis serves as both an extension of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and an evolutionary version of his position coach Travis Williams. Davis had a fantastic junior season, registering 82 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. He also recovered two fumbles and was cheated out of a defensive touchdown.
Davis serves as the defensive quarterback. Were they allowed, he would have the green dot on his helmet signifying the radio to the coaching booth. A great deal of Auburn’s defensive success at not allowing big plays last season came down to proper alignment. Most of that comes back to Davis.
The Other Starters
Williams was a starter with an asterisk last season. Given the proliferation of 3 and 4 WR sets throughout football, there isn’t much need for a 3rd linebacker, so Williams was left rotating in with senior Tre Williams (no relation) unless Auburn was facing a heavy set. He still posted career highs in tackles and tackles for loss and looks to take over as a full-time starter in his senior season.
The senior has finally grown into his recruiting profile picture! Atkinson is Auburn’s best pass coverage linebacker, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him spell Williams in passing situations. Atkinson has the quickness to cover running backs in space and still has the size to hit like a tank. If Deshaun Davis is the “Travis Williams” of this defense, then Montavious is the “Karibi Dede”. I’ll go ahead and throw down a prediction for the season: Atkinson will score a defensive touchdown, probably on a pick 6.
Auburn doesn’t have much in the way of juniors (Ellis Johnson didn’t like to carry as many linebackers), so Richard McBryde is the only scholarship junior listed at linebacker. However, the past two classes have included plenty of talent to bridge the gap. KJ Britt found plenty of the field last season, and should be in the rotation this season. Vying for playing time alongside Britt and McBryde are a trio of Georgia boys: sophomore Chandler Wooten and true freshmen Michael Harris and Zakoby “rolling ball of butcher knives” McClain. I’d expect nearly the entire linebacking corps to work on special teams, as even Davis did last season, but McBryde, Britt, Wooten, and possibly one of the freshmen should be the core of kick coverage.