After losing three senior linebackers, including defensive team captain Deshaun Davis from last year’s team, a void must be filled for the Auburn defense to excel in 2019.
While there are a few options on the current roster to replace Davis as the vocal leader of the Tiger defense, through the first two weeks of spring practice, one name in particular has emerged.
Serving a vital backup role for the past two seasons, junior linebacker K.J. Britt, who has registered 27 total tackles (two for a loss) in 27 games played, is ready to capitalize on his expected increased role and is more than ready to become the next great Auburn linebacker.
“Deshaun had a lot of great leadership, but I believe I was born with a leadership mentality and I really, truly believe that. I think God gave me that gift, I try to make sure that it’s seen,” Britt said.
Britt, along with fellow junior Chandler Wooten, sophomore Zakoby McClain and five-star true freshman Owen Pappoe have impressed head coach Gus Malzahn so far, and although all three starters from last year are no longer on the roster, don’t expect the Tigers to take a step back at the position.
“They’ve been flying around. K.J. Britt is leading that group and kind of taking over that Deshaun Davis role and he’s real good with communication — he’s a natural leader. But I think overall, those guys are flying around,” Malzahn said.
Regarding Pappoe, the highly touted freshman was the eighth overall recruit and top ranked outside linebacker in the class of 2019 according to ESPN. With any recruit of that caliber, expectations are high — expectations that, according to Britt, Pappoe is surpassing.
“He’s learning, he’s really learning. He’s really picking it up faster than I did when I was a freshman,” Britt said. “Everybody knows he has the athletic ability — he can run, he can jump, all that stuff. But, just learning how to play in the box, from day one you can see the progression. He’s really getting better. I can’t wait to watch him.”
Not only has Britt impressed Malzahn, he’s also garnering considerable praise from his teammates.
“K.J.’s a dog, man. That’s always been K.J. K.J. is great. I don’t even know how to explain it, he’s like another version of Deshaun,” said junior defensive lineman Big Kat Bryant. “He’s another leader. He’s always behind me so I’m always hearing him, so I believe he’s another Deshaun.”
With Davis leaving The Plains as one of the best linebackers in recent memory, Britt and company have a lot to live up to. However, Britt is confident that this year’s group can not only live up to expectations, but exceed them.
“Last year’s defense, there really was a lot of coaching on the field, a lot of communication. I mean, we still got a lot of communication I just feel like this defense right here, it’s hungrier, more willing. I think we all know internally what we can be. … I believe this defense is going to be really good, really capable of doing and making a true identity for ourselves, for the 2019 team,” he said.
With A-Day scheduled to kickoff on April 13 at 3 p.m., Auburn fans will get a chance to see the new-look Tiger defense spearheaded by Britt.