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Who will lead Auburn's defense


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Who will lead Auburn's defense in 2017?

James Crepea | jcrepea@al.com

Perhaps as important as the loss in production from Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams is the departure of intangibles, specifically leadership, they brought to Auburn's defense.

Lawson was a multi-year captain and universally respected by his teammates, who now must fill the void.

There is no shortage of experienced veterans on Auburn's defense, which returns 10 of its top 12 tacklers from last season, to call upon to lead the way in 2017.

"I guess probably the biggest thing is that we're not having to focus as much on, even though we are doing it as coaches verbally, is the leadership," defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said. "With the Stephen Roberts, Tray Matthews, Tre' Williams, Darrell Williams, Dontavius (Russell), even Jeff (Holland), those guys, we've got leadership. So there is a lot of leadership taking place without us having to press that."

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn also cited Matthews, the Tigers' leading tackler (76) last season, as a leader of the defense.

"Usually a couple other guys step up from a team leader standpoint," Malzahn said. "It doesn't always have to be an older guy, sometimes it's younger guys and we've got some younger guys that have performed very well on the field that have the ability to kinda take that next step."

Auburn's secondary is loaded with experience, with three senior safeties in Matthews, Roberts and Nick Ruffin with starting experience. Not to mention former walk-on Michael Sherwood, also a senior, and junior cornerback Carlton Davis.

"We all have great grasp on the scheme," Matthews said. "We know everything that's going on. It'll be tremendous for the team. We can all step up and be leaders."

The upperclassmen in the secondary will be particularly vital as Auburn replaces starters Josh Holsey and Rudy Ford this fall and grooms freshmen signees for years to come.

Roberts is among three returning defenders who had two interceptions last season and is in line be the full-time punt returner, which he took over when Marcus Davis was injured last season.

"It's kind of nice to be the older guy now," Roberts said. "You kind of get more respect than you did as a freshman."

With Steele back off what was a tremendous turnaround season for the defense, Auburn also benefits from having the same coordinator back for the first time since 2013-14. While that's not so long ago, none of the players on the roster have had that stability before.

"It gives us an easier role being a leader because you know we already know the defense, so we can teach those young guys that," Tre' Williams said. "As far as technique-wise they can just watch how we do it. Then they can go in and do it, and if they do something wrong it's easier to coach them up while (linebackers coach Travis Williams)l coaches somebody else up.

"We're able to coach somebody. It works both ways."

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