Carl Lawson can transform Auburn's defense
After missing the 2014 season due to a torn ACL, sophomore pass-rusher Carl Lawson has returned to the field for the Auburn Tigers, with head coach Gus Malzahn talking up his performances in practice as “unblockable.”
It’s easy to see why Malzahn would be excited. Lawson’s injury left Auburn shorthanded as a pass-rush unit last season, and the Tigers ultimately failed in trying to manufacture pressure and production by other means. Auburn’s highest-graded pass-rusher was defensive tackle Montravius Adams (led the team with 35 pressures), and their highest-graded edge defender Elijah Daniel ranked just 18th among SEC edge defenders as a pass-rusher.
The problem for Daniel, as it was for all of Auburn’s pass-rushers, was converting pressure into hits and sacks. Daniel converted only five (one sack, four hits) of his 32 pressures into knockdowns on the quarterback – a subpar 15.6 percent. As a team the Tigers were a little bit better, but their 30.6 percent knockdown percentage was second-worst in the SEC behind only Alabama.
So essentially, Auburn is addressing its biggest weakness with one of the most talented players in the country at his position. That could have a very positive impact on the Tigers’ defense, starting in their opener against a Louisville team breaking in three new starters on the offensive line.