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Spring Review: Inside Linebacker

The SEC’s best LB duo returns.

Auburn v South Carolina Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Bryan Harsin’s very first spring practice is in the books. Over the next 2 weeks, I’ll take a look at where each position group stands as we head into the long summer off-season.

Post Spring Depth Chart

MIKE

  • #0 Owen Pappoe | 6’1” | 226 lbs | Junior
  • #31 Chandler Wooten | 6’3” | 232 lbs | Senior
  • #43 Kameron Brown | 6’0” | 239 lbs | Sophomore
  • #30 Desmond Tisdol | 6’0” | 236 lbs | Sophomore

WILL

  • #9 Zakoby McClain | 6’0” | 219 lbs | Senior
  • #32 Wesley Steiner | 6’0” | 229 lbs | Sophomore
  • #35 Cam Riley | 6’5” | 219 lbs | Sophomore

Summer Additions

  • Joko Willis | 6’3” | 215 lbs | Freshman

Spring Review

I feel pretty confident stating that Auburn returns the best linebacker duo in the SEC. You could make a strong argument they are the best returning pair in the country. Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe were iron-men last fall, rarely coming off the field after K.J. Britt went down with an injury and Chandler Wooten opted out. The two combined for 206 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. They return now to play in a new scheme that should give them a chance to shine even more this fall.

Both McClain and Pappoe are sure tacklers who play well in space. Where both need to improve, not only to make Auburn’s defense better but to raise their NFL Draft stock, is shedding blocks in the run the game. Auburn’s interior DL struggled at times in the run game allowing offensive linemen to reach the 2nd level where Auburn’s linebacker pair struggled to get free. The Tigers need to be better in the interior this year but this duo also needs to prove they can consistently shed blocks and make plays against top competition. Both have a very good shot at hearing their names called in the NFL Draft next spring.

As good as those two are, you really don’t want to see them play 100% of the snaps again this season. The return of Chandler Wooten is big for depth and I thought he looked slimmer and quicker during A-Day. He gives Auburn another veteran backer in that room to help lead the defense and give the Tigers top two backers a breather.

I also think this is the year we see more from that outstanding 2020 linebacker class. Cam Riley saw some action last fall but it was Wesley Steiner who jumped out during A-Day. He was taking the 2nd team reps at the WILL and looked good against the 1st team offense. I am still high on Desmond Tisdol’s potential as well and he’s someone Auburn will need to step up in 2022.

One of the most intriguing additions to the 2021 class was Joko Willis. The JUCO signee actually has four years of eligibility remaining and brings an interesting skillset to the Plains. He’s got the length, like Riley, to grow into an edge player if needed but excels at playing in space and looks like a great fit for Auburn’s new scheme. It will be hard to see meaningful snaps in 2021 given the veteran trio of McClain, Pappoe and Wooten but Willis could be someone that cracks the two deep. At minimum, he’s someone Jeff Schmedding will be grooming to have ready for 2022.

War Eagle!