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2019 Position Preview: Linebackers

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A bunch of new faces will take the field in 2019 at linebacker but there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about this unit.

SEC Championship - Auburn v Georgia Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

This is not an unfamiliar position for Auburn linebacker coach Travis Williams. When he was promoted to full time assistant before the 2016 season, he faced the challenge of not only rebuilding the linebacker corps but also the reputation of Auburn linebackers in general. And rebuild he did...

Now he’s faced with a similar challenge though it feel less daunting this time around. T-WILL took a group that wasn’t expected to be super productive and turned them into one of the better units in the SEC over the past three seasons. He didn’t recruit Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams or Montavius Atkinson either. Now he will get a chance to field a group that was recruited and developed solely by him.

Departures

  • Deshaun Davis (6th Round Pick) - 112 tackles (57 solo) 15.0 TFL 3.5 sacks 2 PD
  • Darrell Williams - 74 tackles (34 solo) INT TD 2 PD FR
  • Montavius Atkinson - 41 tackles (15 solo)

Returners

  • K.J. Britt (Junior) - 23 tackles (15 solo) 2.0 TFL PD
  • Chandler Wooten (Junior) - 10 tackles (2 solo)
  • Zakoby McClain (Sophomore) - 4 tackles (3 solo)
  • Michael Harris (rFreshman) - N/A
  • Josh Harris (rFreshman) - N/A

Newcomers

Strength - Athleticism

First off, you won’t hear me say anything bad about that departing senior linebacker class. They were a great group who played a huge role in the improved play of Auburn’s defense over the past 3 years. With that said, they were at times limited athletically and it showed against some of Auburn’s top competition. Inside the box, this group was fantastic but they struggled at times playing sideline to sideline.

I don’t see that being an issue in 2019.

K.J. Britt, Chandler Wooten and Zakoby McClain can cover some serious ground. Britt especially showed flashes of his closing speed in limited action the past two seasons.

Then there’s true freshman Owen Pappoe known by many as “Freak”. He’s as athletically gifted a prospect as Auburn has ever signed and while there will undoubtedly be moments where he misses assignments or makes the wrong read due to his inexperience, he’s also going to have some incredible “wow” moments mixed in there too. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he gets but my bet is you see Auburn return to a 4 man rotation at the 2nd level with Britt, Wooten, McClain and Pappoe all seeing meaningful snaps every week.

Weakness - No Proven Production

Over the past three seasons Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montavius Atkinson combined for 550 tackles (282 solo) 50.0 TFL 10.5 sacks 11 PD 5 FR 2 FF. I don’t care how confident you feel about your classes or your ability to develop talent, that is some serious proven production walking out the door. But it’s not just numbers Auburn is losing in those guys. It’s their leadership, specifically Deshaun Davis’s. Self described as “the actual defensive coordinator”, Davis did more than just make tackles. He adjusted fronts, made changes to calls and generally made sure that Auburn was aligned properly before every snap. Auburn must now find a new leader to run things in 2019. Man I am gonna miss those dudes playing in Auburn uniforms next season...

Prediction

There’s some buzz from spring that this 2019 group might end up better than last year’s but spring talk is always cheap. I am going to need to see those guys hold their own against SEC competition before I start banging that drum. With that said, I am optimistic that Auburn won’t see a severe drop-off in performance at that position this year. Travis Williams has shown that he can develop talent. Now he’s got kids that he specifically recruited and has been grooming. I expect a strong performance in 2019 and this group becoming the strength of the defense in 2020.

War Eagle!