Auburn trying to reach heights of Muschamp's past defenses

Auburn trying to reach heights of Muschamp's past defenses

Published Aug. 21, 2015 12:56 p.m. ET

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) Montravius Adams knows who was Auburn's defensive coordinator the last time the Tigers had a truly elite defense. It's the same guy who's running the show now.

Will Muschamp has raised expectations for the Tigers' defense by his mere presence, though having some talented players on the field doesn't hurt either.

The former Florida head coach built a top 10 defense in his last stint at Auburn from 2006-2007 and has done the same in stops at LSU and Texas.

''When he was here, they were considered one of the top defenses in the nation and one of the top in the SEC and when he was at Florida'' he did the same thing with the Gators, said Adams, a 300-pound defensive lineman. ''So now that he's back, it's just a different environment. He changed the vibe and players have been taking it and looking up to him.


''I think we're going to be real good.''

That would be quite an accomplishment. Even when Auburn has been really good overall, like during the 2010 national championship season and the 2013 runner-up finish, the defense has been mostly pedestrian.

The Tigers' average rankings over the last four seasons: 78th total defense, 64th scoring defense, 67th in defending the run and 68th against the pass. The championship team was 60th in total defense.

Those numbers help explain both the Tigers' up-and-down fortunes and why Auburn was willing to pay Muschamp more than $5 million over three seasons.

He does have some talent to work with, including former five-star prospects Adams, Carl Lawson and Byron Cowart on the defensive line. Cornerback Jonathan Jones had six interceptions last season while linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy have combined for 340 tackles over the past three years.

Lawson especially is expected to beef up an ineffective pass rush after missing last season with a knee injury. He'll likely line up opposite DaVonte Lambert, whose 3.5 sacks in 2014 matched Frost for the team lead.

Lawson had four sacks as a freshman without starting a game.

''You've just got to know where he's at,'' coach Gus Malzahn said. ''There's no doubt about that from an offensive standpoint. He disrupts. He's a disruptor, and a lot of times even if he's not making the play, he disrupts stuff for other people.''

A number of newcomers are also expected to make immediate impacts.

Jones is joined at cornerback by versatile graduate transfer Blake Countess. Countess started 30 games for Michigan the past three seasons while safety Tray Matthews started six games as a freshman at Georgia before getting dismissed for violating team rules.

Matthews sat out last season after transferring. Plus, Muschamp said he wouldn't hesitate to play freshman cornerbacks Carlton Davis or Jeremiah Dinson in the secondary.

The biggest name among the freshmen is Cowart, a 6-foot-3, 277-pounder who was ranked the nation's top recruit by ESPN and Rivals.

Linebacker Jeff Holland also brings another pass rusher into the mix. Muschamp's move from Florida helped sway both to come to Auburn.

Muschamp has made even veterans like Frost and McKinzy battle for the starting jobs, sometimes inserting players who had strong practices into first-team spots the next day.

Frost said Muschamp has improved the defense both by his knowledge and his demanding, fiery personality.

''Without a doubt, we're already light years ahead of where we were before as far as collectively as a defense,'' Frost said. ''The mindset and how we do everything and how we know everything is important to us. That's where we are now. Just getting better.

''We're feeling good (and) moving forward with everything. We just need to continue to work. That's what we're going to do every day until the point of the first game.''