Auburn football: SDS’ 3 areas of improvement for Tigers’ defense

For better or for worse, the Auburn football team is getting a makeover with the hiring of new head coach Bryan Harsin, but we think it’s for the better. So does Thomas Schlarp of Saturdays Down South, who previewed Auburn’s 2021 defense since Harsin and defensive coordinator Derek Mason took the reins. After Schlarp’s breakdown of the big picture, here are three improvements for the Auburn defense.

Auburn football’s first defensive improvement: Pressuring the QB

Though returners like defensive end Colby Wooden put the Tigers in a good spot for the fall, Bryan Harsin and his staff flexed their recruiting muscles and pulled key players from the NCAA transfer portal to beef up the defensive side of the ball. Eku Leota will join the Tigers from bowl opponent Northwestern and should make an immediate impact, in addition to defensive end and Kansas transfer Marcus Harris.

With returners Zakoby McClain and Owen Pappoe leading the troops at the line of scrimmage, the Auburn pass rush is poised to surge past the middle-of-the-pack conference rating from last year.

Auburn football’s second defensive improvement: Run Defense

Schlarp reports that Auburn’s run defense ranked eighth in the SEC last season, but due to the high volume of returners they should be able to progress from 2020. The Tigers will return six of their top 10 tacklers, including McClain and Pappoe, Roger McCreary, and Colby Wooden. McClain, Pappoe, and Wooden account for 11 sacks last season, and they’re bound to get better for 2021.

Auburn football’s third defensive improvement: Pass Defense

When it looked like Smoke Monday was all we had, Harsin and co. looked to the transfer portal and pulled in the likes of Donovan Kaufman, Bydarrius Knighten, and Dreshun Miller to beef up the safeties room. Jaylin Simpson and Nehemiah Pritchett are two players on the rise for Auburn football, and they’re both expected to be impact players at cornerback this fall.

Overall, Saturdays Down South declares that Bryan Harsin and Derek Mason have improved the Auburn defense. With a lot of returning talent and hand-plucked transfers from the portal, the new staff is crafting a team that will be competitive in SEC play this fall.