Marlon Davidson, Tashawn Manning

Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson, right, overpowers offensive lineman Tashawn Manning during a drill

Bolstered by veteran groups at defensive line and defensive back, the Auburn defense has hit the ground running in fall camp with the expectation to be the best unit fielded by the Tigers during Gus Malzahn's tenure.

Malzahn floated that possibility at SEC Media Days, and it's a notion the defense is determined to prove true. 

What sets this defense apart from past Auburn squads?

"Effort," said defensive end Marlon Davidson, a rare four-year starter along the line for the Tigers. "We give tremendous effort every day. Even though we have players on the backside that aren’t even near the play, you still see them bust their tail going over the ball. Those little things.

"The effort that we show, the hustle, the attitude that we bring to the game is special."

Davidson did his part during the offseason to elevate his game by putting in the extra time training with strength and conditioning director Ryan Russell, focusing on a healthier diet and working on his fundamentals.

"I improved on my hands last year. I was getting back to the quarterback but I was just one step too slow. Now, I’m trying to get my footwork faster now," he said. "I feel like I’m moving better. I feel like I’m progressing to be the athlete I want to become. And I think I’m going to try to take the next step this year and become a great player."

Davidson has also taken some of the younger Tigers under his wing, including highly-touted defensive end Jaren Handy. Davidson served as Handy's "Big Brother" on recruiting visits and says the true freshman reminds him of himself four years ago. 

"He reminds me so much of myself coming in — the fight, the want to be better, the want to be great," said Davidson. "Every day, he keeps doing it and doing it. Every day he keeps getting better. I see a bright future for him for sure.

"His attitude, his approach to the game, it's exactly how I did when I first came in."

If Handy is able to emerge as an early contributor, it could pay big dividends for the Tigers and defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who is experimenting in the fall with sliding buck end Nick Coe, and even Davidson at times, into the hole at defensive tackle left by Dontavius Russell. Davidson said Handy also has the talent and skillset to move into the interior.

"Handy can play either way; he can play tackle or end. He’s that good of a player," he said.

The Tigers are also hoping junior Tyrone Truesdell can elevate his game, play a bigger role and make a bigger impact at tackle. 

"I expect a lot out of Truesdell because he’s been here two years," said Davidson. "He’s shown a lot of improvement the first three days; I like the Tyrone Truesdell that I see. He wants to get better. I feel like it’s a lot of pressure on him trying to step into Dontavius’ shoes, but I feel like he can get the job done."

Auburn is also hoping Coynis Miller will be able to help out at some point at tackle. Miller has been held back in fall camp so far with an undisclosed injury.

When Coe slides inside, T.D. Moultry will fill the void at buck end, which Davidson said Moultry is ready to play as a full-time starter.

"The guy can flat out ball. I think he’s going to come into the buck spot and give us a lot of juice, just a lot of dominance by him," he said.

Davidson also likes the emergence of linebacker K.J. Britt as a leader of the defense, although he's not ready to give over the reins completely to the first-year starter.

"He’s doing a lot," said Davidson. "But I still try to tell him that it’s my team. I always throw that in there. 

"But KJ, he’s an alpha, and every day he’s going to be the alpha."

The move of Jermiah Dinson to cornerback and Christian Tutt to nickel could also pay dividends for the Tigers' overall speed. 

"I feel like we’re going to be faster; I feel like we’re going to be more experienced this year," said Davidson. "I feel like we can run and fly to the ball. We’ve got all the pieces back, nothing’s missing. K.J. Britt, he’s stepping up in his spot. Chandler Wooten’s stepping in. Owen (Pappoe), Jakoby (McClain), they’re doing a great job at linebacker.

"I feel like we are going to be the best this year."

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