The 2022 Auburn Tigers were pretty bad on defense, and the talent on that side of the ball needed some help. The Tigers were one of the worst defenses in the SEC giving up 29.5 points per game, and 172.7 yards per game on the ground. The pass defense was not much better, allowing 222.6 yards per game through the air. Like on offense, Hugh Freeze and staff went to the transfer portal to address the needs at defensive line and linebacker. Previously we looked at the transfer portal additions on offense for Auburn, and now we will take a look at the defensive additions.
Auburn Tigers Defensive Additions
Auburn has some talent returning on the interior of the defensive line in Jayson Jones and Marcus Harris. Last season, Harris had 30 tackles and two sacks with one pass deflection. The Tigers got good news too with Zykevious Walker deciding to return after entering the portal. Those are good players, but some depth is needed.
Auburn did add four players that will add some depth, and have plenty of experience at the power five level. The biggest addition comes from Kentucky in defensive tackle Justin Rogers who played in 24 games over the last three seasons for the Wildcats. In that time he totaled 61 tackles, five tackles for loss, and three sacks. Rogers should compete for one of the starting spots, but at worse be in the rotation with Jones and Harris. Other additions are Mosiah Nasili-Kite from Maryland and Lawrence Johnson from Purdue. The two combine for 65 games played, and 22 tackles for loss in their careers. The defensive additions of Nasili-Kite and Johnson add great depth to the front for the Auburn Tigers.
Perhaps the biggest hole on the Tigers’ defense is the passer rusher. The Tigers will be looking to replace their top two sack leaders Derick Hall (6.5) and Colby Wooden (6). Auburn also lost Eku Leota to the NFL Draft. Leota is a very talented edge rusher that saw his season cut short due to injury.
Like with the defensive line, Auburn needed to add depth to the position to play along returning Dylan Brooks. They found a player with plenty of SEC experience in Vanderbilt transfer Elijah McAllister. He started his career as a freshman in 2019, and played in 11 games for the Commodores. In that season he had his best with two and a half sacks and four and a half tackles for loss. McAllister did not play in the 2020 season and has not collected a sack since his freshman campaign. Auburn will need him to regain his 2019 form.
This position was one that saw many struggles in 2022. Even the talented and now departed Owen Pappoe struggled. This unit’s issues were a big reason why the Tigers struggled against the run due to not being in the proper position several times during games. Auburn does return Cam Riley and Wesley Steiner, who both saw plenty of playing time last season. The pair combined for 100 tackles last season, but the Tigers needed a talent boost at the position.
They will bring in Austin Keys from Ole Miss and DeMario Tolan from LSU. Adding players with SEC experience is huge for this defense. Keys played in 13 games for the Rebels this past season and collected 39 tackles, three and a half tackles for loss, and two and a half sacks. Perhaps his best performance came against Kentucky with six tackles and one loss. With DeMario Tolan, in his only season at LSU played in 12 games and had 10 tackles. He will be looking to come into his own with Auburn after playing next to superstar linebacker Harold Perkins.
The Auburn Tigers did not make any transfer portal defensive additions to the secondary but are returning plenty of experience. Nehemiah Pritchett and D.J. James return at cornerback, and at the safeties, Zion Puckett and Jaylin Simpson are back as well. Donovan Kaufman is also returning to make one of the most experienced secondaries in college football.
Photo courtesy: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
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