A 3-9 season and a coaching change weren't enough to stop the Auburn Tigers from landing 5-star recruits Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and 4-star standout Elijah Daniel to anchor the program's defensive line for the foreseeable future.
As promising as this trio of players is for the future, all of them should be significant contributors even as true freshmen. That should result in a huge turnaround for the 2013 season in the Tigers' first year under head coach Gus Malzahn.
A huge amount of credit for the assembly of this class has to go to new recruiter and defensive line coach Rodney Garner. He used to recruit for Georgia, and has now pulled in three massive catches to a program that needs to improve quickly.
It was absolutely critical for Auburn to beef up the defensive side of the ball. Malzahn served as the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for their national championship campaign in 2010.
Ellis Johnson is a veteran defensive coordinator, and is in need of a fresh start after being the head coach at Southern Miss this past season. The Golden Eagles went 0-12, and Johnson was promptly fired after one year.
Thankfully, Johnson has had more success focusing solely on defense, and will be able to maximize the talents of his fresh crop of stars with his highly versatile schemes.
As Joel A. Erickson of AL.com reported back in December, there are a variety of looks that Johnson likes to use, but it's all based on the 4-2-5 scheme. It's a highly unconventional alignment, yet as Erickson notes, it produced four top-15 defenses in Johnson's time at South Carolina.
As we evaluate the personnel of this football team, we'll find ways to create packages that complement that 4-2-5,...We've always been able to create an odd front -- a 3-4 type of philosophy out of it -- it can be done with a hybrid defensive end or maybe another player in the defensive line. I'm sure we've got the personnel here that can do it.
Considering the lack of success that Auburn had on defense last year, Johnson may have been wrong at the time when he made those comments. Now? He's in luck.
Adams was the No. 3 defensive tackle prospect in the country, according to 247Sports.com's composite rankings. His 6'4", 310-pound frame is ready to compete at an SEC level already, and he is astonishingly quick for his physique.
Lawson is the other 5-star, and he committed prior to Wednesday's national signing day unlike Adams. He was 247Sports.com's top weak side defensive end and the No. 21-ranked prospect in the country overall.
At 6'3" and 245 pounds, there is room for Lawson to grow into his frame. However, that lighter weight allows him to be extremely explosive and run a 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds.
It is a lethal concoction of athleticism for offensive linemen to deal with, and it should allow him to be an immediate weapon in college. He also has the ability to chase down opposing ball carriers and mobile quarterbacks effectively due to great awareness and pursuit angles.
Not to mention, Lawson put up a ridiculous 27 sacks as a senior at Milton High School in Alpharetta, Ga., according to his 247Sports.com profile.
As for Daniel, there should be no underestimating his value despite not being quite as hyped as his fellow classmates. The Avon (Ind.) High School standout also has 4.7 speed in the 40, and has a thick, 6'4", 250-pound frame.
His upside isn't quite as high as that of Adams or Lawson, but the presence of those two should allow him to thrive in stopping the run by drawing favorable one-on-one matchups on the strong side.
Needless to say, the Tigers' 97th-ranked rush defense (h/t NCAA.com) should be vastly improved, and these three should also combine to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks. All of them have the filled-out bodies to match up with college football's elite teams right away.
Combine the imaginative defense of Johnson with this type of talent and a return by Malzahn to ignite the offense, and Auburn has all the makings of a big turnaround this coming season.
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