Led by Marlon Davidson, who has started all 39 games he has appeared in at Auburn, the Tigers will head into the 2019 football season with seven players who have started 20 or more college games and four more with 10 or more starts.
With seven starters back on offense and seven on defense, the Tigers won’t be the most experienced group in the SEC this fall, but of the league teams on Auburn’s schedule only LSU and Alabama have as many returning starters and that is a positive for Coach Gus Malzahn and his staff.
Davidson, who has shown major toughness playing through several injuries dating back to his freshman year, is fully healthy and excited about his senior season and the potential for his team. The defensive end has dropped a bit of weight to improve his quickness and at 6-3 1/2, 275 pounds says he is in the best shape physically he has been in as he heads into his fourth season at Auburn.
Davidson, one of Auburn’s representatives at this week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, adds that he has very high expectations for Auburn’s 2019 defense. That is also the case with fellow senior Derrick Brown, the tackle who heads into the season with 26 AU starts, the second highest total on the team.
Brown, who was also chosen to join Malzahn at SEC Media Days along with senior offensive tackle Prince Tega Wanogho Jr., told me there is no reason that the 2019 defense can’t be the best one he has played on while adding that he plans to do everything in his power to make that happen.
The strength of Auburn’s defense should be on the front end and the back end. The secondary features three of the most experienced players on the roster. Cornerback Javaris Davis and safety Jeremiah Dinson each have started 24 times and safety Daniel Thomas has 15 starts while also playing extensively in other games.
Up front the Tigers return Nick Coe, who has 11 Auburn starts. Like Brown and Davidson, the redshirt junior defensive end is a pro prospect.
The big question on defense is how will the rebuilt linebacker group led by junior K.J. Britt perform? The Tigers must replace Deshaun Davis, who started 35 games, Darrell Williams (22 starts) and Montavious Atkinson (11 starts).
The most experienced Tigers on offense, as is the case on defense, are the big guys. Senior right guard Mike Horton is tied with left tackle Wanogho for the most Auburn starts with 20. Marquel Harrell, the returning No. 1 left guard, has started 19 times. Jack Driscoll, who joined the team last year as a graduate transfer from UMass, has a dozen starts at Auburn as the right tackle and 32 overall.
The offensive backfield is much less experienced with the Tigers having to replace fullback Chandler Cox, who started 41 games the past four seasons, and quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who started 27 games for the Tigers and three at Baylor.
With virtually no game experience at quarterback, the offense is going to have to rely heavily on a line that features five redshirt seniors when the Tigers take on their demanding schedule that starts on August 31 with a neutral site game vs. the Oregon Ducks.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter