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Auburn DL Ready to Lead Tigers

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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While the SEC is loaded with top-tier defensive linemen, Auburn could have the nation's premier group.

The last five SEC Champions have each finished in the top three in the league in both rush defense and tackles for loss. Translation; dominant defense line play has been the recent key to winning in college football's toughest conference. Ahead of this fall, Auburn's front four fits the bill. Derrick Brown, Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson and company give the Tigers one of the nation's most ferocious defensive lines, perhaps the best. That trio returns with 56.5 career tackles for loss, fresh off helping Auburn allow the second-fewest rushing scores in the conference.

Brown is getting pre-season All-American attention as his hype, at 6'5'', 325 pounds, continues to build towards the top of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. He already appears to be a top ten lock with top-five potential. Notably, Brown and Davidson, both uber-talented, both opted to return to the Plains for their senior seasons. It was Coe who actually led the Tigers in sacks with seven and paced Auburn defensive linemen in tackles for loss with 13.5. Another year together, with the likes of Tyrone Truesdell and Big Kat Bryant, should make this unit even more effective.

While the SEC is loaded with top-tier defensive linemen, Auburn could have the nation's premier group. These Tigers are skilled, see the NFL Draft grades, experienced and hungry. Relatively-quietly, this team is as good as it gets at one of the game's checklist positions. When Auburn won the 2010 BCS National Championship, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Cam Newton was obviously a generational catalyst. The Tigers also led the SEC in rush defense and tackles for loss.  

Momentum, in the return of high-profile producers and an exclamation point to finish last season, is clearly in place. Of the 81 teams to play in the postseason a year ago, the Tigers ranked 8th in rush defense, allowing just 79 rushing yards in a 63-14 romp over Purdue. The performance was a springboard for Auburn and its defensive line alike. Expectations, moving forward, are only on the rise.

With one of the nation's most talented fronts, veteran defensive coordinator Kevin Steele will have a multitude of schematic options. Brown is the anchor at the point of attack; the remainder of the rotation, and the alignment of the second and third level, will be able to be shifted based on situation and circumstance. Expect Auburn, its base as strong as it gets in the trenches, to have a standout defense nationally.

A dominant defensive line is always key in college football. In the SEC, it's critical. When your schedule features Oregon, Texas A&M, LSU, Georgia and Alabama, it's an absolute prerequisite. For all of the talk about head coach Gus Malzahn and the quarterback position, much of the Tigers' season will center around play at the line of scrimmage. Week one against the Ducks in Arlington awaits as both a national showcase and test.  

Challenges await for Auburn. So, too, does a front four ready to carry the load. The Tigers have questions, but also arguably college football's best defensive line. Such a starting point may prove to be the perfect foundation.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports