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Grading Auburn's defensive line

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Grading Auburn's defensive line for the 2017 season

Updated Jan 10, 1:02 PM; Posted Jan 10, 1:00 PM

 

By Tom Green

tgreen@al.com

With Auburn's season in the rearview mirror, AL.com is taking a look at how the Tigers performed at each position during the 2017-18 season. The sixth part of this 10-part series takes a look at Auburn's defensive line.

Offensive line

Grade: A+

Overview: Auburn's defense had its best season since 2008, and that was in large part due to the play of the defensive line. As second-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said throughout the season, all of the Tigers' defensive success starts and ends with the guys up front. The unit helped Auburn finish the year ranked 35th against the run, allowing just 137 yards per game, and also kept pressure on opposing quarterbacks by finishing 25th nationally with 37 sacks.

That success was thanks to a deep defensive line rotation that included starters Jeff Holland, Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson, as well as key backups Nick Coe, T.D. Moultry, Andrew Williams, Markaviest Bryant, Tyrone Truesdell and Paul James III.

Top performer: Holland. "Sensei Mud," as he became known in 2017, emerged as one of the top pass-rushers in the SEC after spending the previous two years learning behind Carl Lawson. Holland was a menace in the backfield this season, finishing with 45 total tackles, including 13 for a loss and 10 sacks. The latter two led the team, as did his 22 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. The 6-foot-2, 249-pound Buck led the SEC in quarterback pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Biggest surprise: Coe. After redshirting in 2016, Coe was primed to step up in 2017 after plenty of chatter about his progress -- which began during Sugar Bowl practices at the end of 2016 and continued through the summer, with defensive line coach Rodney Garner talking him up in July. Still, few expected the kind of impact Coe had on the defensive line this season as he earned Freshman All-SEC honors. The 6-foot-5, 270-pounder appeared in all 14 games, with one start against Mercer, but was a de facto fifth starter along the line for the Tigers. He finished the year with 29 total tackles, including 4.5 for a loss and two sacks, and he added six hurries and a pass breakup. Coe was crucial to Auburn's third-down success while playing in the team's Rabbits pass-rushing package in those situations, and perhaps most impressive was that teams had just a 6.9 percent success rate on plays that he made a tackle.

RELATED: Coe "just touching on the surface of his potential"

High point: The Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. In knocking off the nation's No. 1 team, which entered the Nov. 11 meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium undefeated, Auburn's defensive line dominated throughout the game. The unit accounted for three of Auburn's four sacks of Georgia's Jake Fromm and five of its six hurries. Most notably, though, was how the group controlled the line of scrimmage and suffocated the Bulldogs' run game, limiting them to 46 yards on 32 attempts -- with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel limited to a combined 48 yards on 20 carries.

Low point: The SEC Championship Game. After two wins over No. 1 teams in a three-week span, Auburn then had to bounce back the following week with a rematch against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Round 2 went to the Bulldogs, whose offensive line won the battle up front despite the Tigers getting two early sacks against Fromm. Auburn struggled to control the line of scrimmage, which allowed Chubb, Michel and D'Andre Swift to run free to the tune of 238 yards -- the most Auburn allowed all season -- and gave Fromm time to work as he completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 183 yards and a pair of scores.

Who's returning: Auburn will only lose Holland, who declared early for the NFL Draft, meaning the Tigers will return the rest of their deep rotation in 2018: Russell, Brown, Davidson, Coe, Moultry, Williams, James, Truesdell and Bryant, as well as redshirting freshmen Alec Jackson and Tashawn Manning.

Who Auburn adds in 2018: Auburn signed two defensive linemen during December's early signing period -- four-star defensive end Kayode Oladele and four-star JUCO tackle Daquan Newkirk. The Tigers also hold commitments from four-star edge-rusher Richard Jibunor and four-star defensive tackle Coynis Miller.

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I don't know about A+. It would be more fair to say A- or B+ considering how little we actually got to the quarterbacks this year by using our front four.

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B+ is a true score. I think this transfers to very good.  The DL did have some games at the A grade, but the LSU, UGA 2nd game, and UCF would haver to fall in the B to B- range.

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A+ ? No way. Overall, Solid B+ at most. Had lapses throughout a few games that were questionable. However, they were the best thing about this team.

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I agree with a B+.   Very good but not dominant.  

Next year they have the ability to be dominant tho.  A starting 4 of Davidson, Brown, Russell and TD with Coe and others as backups- WOW.   That is 3, 3 yr starters (2 5* and 2 4* ) that have proven they were deserving of their rankings.    

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6 hours ago, alexava said:

I’ll take the exact same production every year. 

Can't disagree with this statement either.

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50 minutes ago, lionheartkc said:

Can't disagree with this statement either.

Same here, I'm greedy so I'd like to see the number of sacks rise but they were very stout and did well enough to put us in a position to win. They could probably benefit from some more blitzes at the linebacker position or at least some feints of a blitz.

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7 hours ago, alexava said:

I’ll take the exact same production every year. 

I mean that is more realistic. Rarely will you ever see an A+ defensive line? That is like early 2000 Miami or 90s Nebraska squad. Maybe an Alabama crew.

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Davidson was not healthy in football terms at all this past season. I hope he bounces back and the rest of the guys improve upon next year. There was still times where qb's had way too long to throw and weren't even pressured specifically in the last two games.

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12 minutes ago, WFE12 said:

Davidson was not healthy in football terms at all this past season. I hope he bounces back and the rest of the guys improve upon next year. There was still times where qb's had way too long to throw and weren't even pressured specifically in the last two games.

I am sorry but your pro pic of Kyrie got me dying. That interview was hilarious. He can BS with the best of them.

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Just now, DAG said:

I am sorry but your pro pic of Kyrie got me dying. That interview was hilarious. He can BS with the best of them.

It sure was lol that picture is often my mood. He said a lot and also said nothing.

  • Haha 1

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20 hours ago, WFE12 said:

Davidson was not healthy in football terms at all this past season. I hope he bounces back and the rest of the guys improve upon next year. There was still times where qb's had way too long to throw and weren't even pressured specifically in the last two games.

I thought he struggled some but what were his injuries?

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3 hours ago, lala said:

I thought he struggled some but what were his injuries?

Don't remember the specifics other than it was an elbow injury and knee injury.

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On 1/12/2018 at 11:12 AM, WFE12 said:

Davidson was not healthy in football terms at all this past season. I hope he bounces back and the rest of the guys improve upon next year. There was still times where qb's had way too long to throw and weren't even pressured specifically in the last two games.

What was wrong with him?

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56 minutes ago, milehighfan said:

What was wrong with him?

Refer to the above post.

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