Auburn football: Who will emerge as defensive MVP under Derek Mason?

Auburn football at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.
Auburn football at Vanderbilt Stadium Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn. /

Out with the old and in with the new. That’s a quick summary of Auburn football’s coaching staff this season.

With only one former coach retained under Bryan Harsin in Cadillac Williams, fans should expect to see not only new faces but also new features to its gameplay.

Bryan Harsin brought Derek Mason on to his staff as defensive coordinator in early January to replace Kevin Steele. Prior to Auburn, Mason was head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores football team from 2014 to 2020. He graced the gridiron for Camelback High School in Phoenix, Arizona, and started at the cornerback position for two seasons.

Mason has big shoes to fill, as Auburn’s defense has really been the team’s strongest component throughout Gus Malzahn’s tenure. He has plenty of coaching experience, and his familiarity with the SEC is an added bonus.

According to FanSided’s John Buhler, Derek Mason prefers to lead the defense with a strong secondary as opposed to relying on the pass rush as the Tigers have typically done under Kevin Steele. If this is true, there may be some merit to FanSided’s claim that Smoke Monday–who will be returning to The Plains for his senior season–will be a star under Mason:

"That star playmaker is safety Smoke Monday. Though he has one of the coolest names in the SEC, he is also one of the finest defensive backs the Power 5 conference has to offer."

In the 2020 season, Monday racked up 73 total tackles with one sack. He had the fourth most tackles on the team, behind linebackers Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain and safety Jamien Sherwood.

With many of Auburn’s impactful defensive players not returning for the 2020 season, others will have to step up, and one player that could rise to the top is Nehemiah Pritchett. The talented cornerback has already been recognized for his astoundingly low yardage allowance, and although he recorded only the tenth most tackles on the team in 2020, many of those on the list ahead of him will not be back.

Derek Mason’s use of the secondary should mean that Pritchett’s talent will be fostered alongside Smoke Monday’s, and maybe we could see the two sharing the spotlight for Auburn football in 2021.

dark. Next. Does Garner hire mean Vols will retain Steele?