With preseason football practice starting at Auburn this week and the opener vs. the Oregon Ducks only a month away, Gus Malzahn has talked about the 2019 defense having the potential to be the strongest one since he has been coaching the Tigers.
I am not from Missouri, but I have been there more than a time or two, including this year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament, so I am going to need convincing when it comes to predicting this defensive group will be the best one since Malzahn came to Auburn in 2009.
On the plus side, I do like the front four’s potential with Derrick Brown, Nick Coe and Marlon Davidson leading the way, but the group is short of proven depth at tackle and that could be a big issue if injuries are a problem.
I also like the potential at linebacker, especially after players like K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten stepped up in spring training. However, this is a group that will take the field for the opener with a combined two collegiate starts. It will likely be counting on true freshman Owen Pappoe to contribute in a big way. Although it may work out smoothly for position coach Travis Williams, the potential is there for growing pains.
There is a lot to like on the back line of the defense with four quality safeties led by seniors Daniel Thomas and Jeremiah Dinson. The cornerback group should be solid, too, with Javaris Davis and Noah Igbinoghene as returning starters. However, there is little proven depth behind those guys so even though the secondary should be salty, most of the key guys need to stay healthy.
If Auburn’s defense keeps the Ducks grounded out in Texas for the neutral-site opener and does the same on a return trip to the Lone Star state for the SEC opener vs. what could be a strong Texas A&M offense, it will be a sign that Malzahn may be correct about this year’s defense. Until then I am taking a wait-and-see attitude while saying these guys, led by veteran coordinator Kevin Steele, have a chance to be strong.
From the notebook:
• For anyone wondering how unusual Auburn’s football schedule is this season with no home games in the month of October, the answer is that it is really different. The last time that happened was in 1949.
• Coach Bruce Pearl’s two injured newcomers, freshman point guard Tyrell “Turbo” Jones and redshirt sophomore forward Javon Franklin, are making good progress on their recoveries from leg injuries suffered before they got to Auburn. When the basketball Tigers finished their summer full squad practices last week both were participating in non-contact drills and look to be ready to contribute in plenty of time for the 2018-19 season.
• Elliott Anderson is off to a great start as a pro. The lefty relief pitcher did not allow a run in his first nine appearances in the Appalachian League. Pitching for Auburn this past season, he posted a 7-2 record and was 13-2 for his college career before signing with the Kansas City Royals.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter