This week’s preview focuses on a position that is expected to have both the depth and experience and to be the strong point of Auburn’s defense this season: the linebackers.
Of all of Auburn’s positions, linebacker will see one of the highest, if not the highest return percentages of any position on the team. The Tigers will only lose former walk-on Craig Carter, who did not see action in his time at Auburn.
With only Carter leaving, Auburn will return 17 linebackers for the 2020 season. While this is a terrific return rate, 10 of Auburn’s returning linebackers are former walk-ons with limited to no game experience.
This leaves seven scholarships linebackers of the 17 returning. This is no cause for concern because the seven main players are all experienced and many of them are young.
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele primarily uses only two linebackers on the field at one time.
The Tigers will return their only two scholarship seniors in Chandler Wooten and K.J. Britt. Together, the two combined for 96 total tackles and Britt was third highest on the team for total tackles in the 2019 season.
Behind them will most likely be junior Zakoby McClain and sophomore Owen Pappoe, both of whom had more solo tackles than Wooten, but saw less playing time last season.
Auburn rounds out its returning linebackers with junior Tanner Dean and sophomore O.C. Brothers, who combined for seven total tackles as reserve linebackers.
In 2020, Auburn will welcome three incoming freshmen into its linebacker ranks.
The first is Wesley Steiner from Warner Robins, Georgia. Steiner recorded 81 tackles as a senior, was selected in the Under Armour All-America Game, and was rated the No. 6 prospect out of Georgia and in the top 5 nationally at his position.
Auburn also signed Desmond Tisdol from Rochelle, Georgia. Tisdol was a first-team all-state at linebacker, and is rated as one of the top 25 recruits in Georgia and No. 6 nationally at his position.
Last but not least, Auburn signed Cam Riley from Evergreen. Riley had 112 tackles as junior and won a state title his sophomore year.
He participated in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and is rated as one of the top 15 prospects in the state.
Auburn’s linebackers will once again be coached by Travis Williams, who will be entering his seventh consecutive season as a coach for Auburn.
Williams played for Auburn most notably in its 2004 undefeated season, when he lead the team in tackles. After college, Williams played for the Atlanta Falcons in 2006 and 2007, before transitioning to his coaching career. He began coaching at his alma mater, Spring Valley (S.C.) High School, as a volunteer assistant in 2008. Williams returned to Auburn in 2009 as a defensive graduate assistant, and was part of Auburn’s 2010 national championship season.
After coaching stops at Northern Iowa (2012) and Creekside (Ga.) High School (2013), Williams came back to Auburn in 2014 as a defensive analyst. He served several roles as support staff before being promoted to linebacker coach prior to 2016, a position he has held since then.
The 2020 linebackers will be under Kevin Steele, a veteran coach who has had success at both the collegiate and professional levels.
When Steele came to Auburn in 2016 from LSU, he immediately improved the Tigers' defense from 71st (2015) to 28th overall. Since then, Auburn has had multiple top-15 total defenses and has been a dominant force on the football field.
If there is any position Auburn does not need to worry about it is probably the linebackers. There are no holes to fill.
All but one player will return, many of whom are experienced, and the pecking order is clear but Steele will have no issue rotating players in and out as he has both talent and depth.
Along with the returning players, Auburn also signs three new talented linebackers, who should help keep the position solid for years to come.