Auburn Tigers: Davonte Lambert

AUBURN, Ala. -- The summer enrollees have arrived, and after looking at who will make an early contribution on offense for Auburn, it’s time to turn our attention to the defense.

DT DaVonte Lambert: Auburn has enjoyed as much success as any program with junior college players, and last year was no different. Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Ben Bradley all came in and made an impact in 2013, and it looks like D'haquille Williams and Derrick Moncrief are well on their way to doing the same this year. You can go ahead and add Lambert to that list. He wasn’t able to enroll early, but he’s on campus now and that’s all that matters. Lambert, the top defensive tackle in the 2014 ESPN Junior College 50 rankings, had 36 tackles, eight sacks and four fumble recoveries last year at Georgia Military College. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 290 pounds and has the size, strength and ability to play early on the defensive line.

LB Tre' Williams: After missing the entire spring, linebacker Anthony Swain will reportedly be back with the team this summer and will join Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost, the projected starters at linebacker for Auburn. That news would seemingly hurt Williams’ chances of playing early, but don’t count him out. Williams not only is good enough to play as a freshman but to push for a starting spot. He finished with 119 tackles as a high school senior and earned all-state honors. After signing day, Gus Malzahn called him one of the keys to this class, a guy who has great potential and someone who will make an immediate impact. It’s now up to Williams to come in, learn the defense and make his presence felt.

CB Kalvaraz Bessent: Auburn’s 2014 class is full of instant-impact defensive backs, including cornerback Nicholas Ruffin and safety Stephen Roberts, but based solely on talent, the one most likely to see the field early is Bessent. The 6-foot, 170-pound cornerback initially committed to Alabama but flipped to the Tigers midway through last season. He’s an athletic prospect with outstanding ball skills. He’ll be on “probationary status” this summer after having a run-in with the law in March, but if he can do all the right things from now until the season opener, there’s a strong chance he’ll be in the mix for playing time. If not, don’t be surprised if Roberts or Ruffin emerges in the secondary. All three are good enough to play early.
This is Part II of a weeklong series predicting what changes are ahead for Auburn this spring.

AUBURN, Ala. -- There have been plenty of questions surrounding Auburn’s defensive line this offseason. How do you replace a guy like Dee Ford? Who will be the leaders now that Ford and Nosa Eguae are both gone? What should be expected of the rising sophomores? Will any of the newcomers make an impact?

Here’s a bold prediction for the spring: The defensive line will be better in 2014 than it was in 2013.

How can that be when Auburn is losing a combined 20 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks from Eguae and Ford? Three reasons -- star power, experience and depth. The line was the strength of the defense a year ago, and it’s expected be the strength again this season.

The key will be that trio of rising sophomores -- Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson -- who should evolve from promising young rookies to the dominant defensive linemen that Auburn fans have grown accustomed to seeing over the years.

[+] EnlargeCarl Lawson
AP Photo/Todd J. Van EmstCarl Lawson showed he could be Auburn's next defensive star after a solid freshman season.
All three came to Auburn as highly ranked recruits, and though they had their moments last fall, it was clear they were still raw. As spring practice approaches, they have had a chance to play in the SEC, and they’ve been able to work out in a major college weight room. They’re ready, both physically and mentally, to take the next step.

Lawson, in particular, could be in line for a huge spring as he looks to replace Ford at one of the defensive end spots.

“That guy is going to be a mammoth player by the time he leaves here,” Eguae said of Lawson, a former five-star recruit.

The talent and star power might be in the sophomore class, but experience cannot be taught, and Auburn has plenty of it. With defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker expected to return for a fifth season, the Tigers will feature five scholarship seniors on their defensive line.

It’s a group that includes LaDarius Owens and Gabe Wright, two starters from the BCS title game. They might not be as good as Eguae and Ford just yet, but the duo still combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season. Former junior college transfer Ben Bradley is another senior to watch. He played well early in the season but faded late.

Auburn also signed six defensive linemen in 2014 to add even more depth to an already deep unit. The three most likely to contribute next year are juco teammates DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence and ESPN 300 defensive end Andrew Williams, who waited until signing day before choosing the Tigers.

“That was a strength of ours last year,” head coach Gus Malzahn said of the defensive line. “We lost some seniors, but we really feel like we filled our needs there. We got some outstanding impact players that coach [Rodney] Garner is very excited about.”

All four starting spots on the defensive line will be up for grabs, but Garner proved last season that just because a player isn’t in the starting lineup doesn’t mean he’s not going to play. Early in the year, Auburn was rotating eight or nine bodies up front. Garner and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have plenty of options to choose from as they put together the rotation for the season opener. It’s a pool of players that’s talented, experienced and deep.

Room to improve: Defensive line

February, 19, 2014
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Editor’s note: This is Part III in a week-long series looking at Auburn’s top five position groups with room to improve.

AUBURN, Ala. -- The defensive line wasn’t bad in 2013. In fact, it was quite the contrary. The line was considered the strength of the defense, and the rotation of players up front was one of the reasons Auburn won 12 games and made the run it did. However, when you lose two starters and arguably the two most consistent players on the line, there’s still plenty of room to improve.

It starts with defensive end Dee Ford. How do you replace a player who led the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (14.5)? The Tigers were without him the first two games this past season, and although they won, there was a noticeable difference when Ford returned to the lineup against Mississippi State.

Carl Lawson, Gabe Wright
Shanna Lockwood/USA TODAY SportsGabe Wright (90) and Carl Lawson (55) figure to be major cogs in the defensive line rotation in 2014.
The other loss up front, Nosa Eguae, isn’t as talented as Ford, but he was just as valuable in his own way. He started the season at defensive end but moved to tackle midway through the season to help the team. Eguae might not get drafted, but the intangibles and the leadership qualities he provided will be difficult to replace.

The good thing is that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have plenty of options to choose from. Auburn’s defensive line is as deep, if not deeper than any other position on the field. But can they sustain success, and more importantly, can they improve on last year?

Battling for No. 1: Seniors to be Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens were both listed as starters on the depth chart for the VIZIO BCS National Championship game, so they’re obviously the favorites to crack the starting rotation in 2014. Wright led all Auburn defensive linemen with 31 tackles in the 2013 season, and Owens was right behind him with 30. Defensive tackle Angelo Blackson started 10 games as a sophomore in 2012 but lost his job this past season when Eguae moved inside. He’ll be given every opportunity to win it back this spring. Beyond that, it’s a pair of former ESPN 300 prospects who are next in line. Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams just wrapped up their freshman seasons, and they both hope to take the next step in their second seasons. Lawson, who was second on the team with four sacks, has the makings of a star.

Strength in numbers: This is where Auburn thrived last season. The coaches were able to rotate close to seven or eight players up front each game, and the line didn’t miss a beat. That not only provided valuable game experience, but it also kept the starters fresh for the fourth quarter. Junior college transfer Ben Bradley and freshman Elijah Daniel were both thrown in the mix as soon as they arrived on campus, and both responded well. Bradley, who enrolled last January, started in three games in his first season. In reality, they both belong in the above group, as they will both compete with the first group this spring. But regardless of whether or not they start, they will be counted on for depth. There’s not much depth after that. The next-most experienced player, JaBrian Niles, has played in just seven games over the last two seasons.

New on the scene: Auburn put together one of the top defensive line classes in the country a year ago. This year’s class might not rival that, but it’s still a promising group. The two most likely to compete for early playing time are junior college transfers DaVonte Lambert and Devaroe Lawrence. Unlike Bradley, they weren’t able to enroll early, so they won’t go through spring ball, but they should still be ahead of the other signees physically. Lambert, in particular, has a real chance to make an early impact. He was the top-rated defensive tackle in ESPN Junior College 50 rankings. The Tigers also signed three ESPN 300 defensive linemen, headlined by defensive end Andrew Williams, who committed to Auburn on national signing day. The line should continue to be the strength of Auburn’s defense for years to come.
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Likely DaVonte Lambert (Waynesboro, Ga./Georgia Military), the nation’s top-ranked junior college defensive tackle. He will be expected to boost the interior trenches immediately for the Tigers. A few other players could make their presence felt at positions of need, including ILB Tre' Williams (Mobile, Ala./St. Paul’s Episcopal), who is physically prepared to make the jump, and this is a depth-issue area for Auburn. We do not see the same type of defensive freshmen impact in the 2014 class that we saw with the 2013 class, as we expect the majority of Auburn’s defensive commits in this class will redshirt.
The Class of 2014 is almost in the books, and that includes the junior college ranks as well. While there aren’t major changes in the final 2014 ESPN Junior College 50, there are some noteworthy moves.

No longer in the 2014 class

Early Offer: Auburn has big day 

December, 19, 2013
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Is there anybody hotter on the recruiting trail than Auburn after its success with junior-college recruits?; Arkansas needs talent at receiver, and the Hogs received good news when one of its former commits returned to the fold; Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy can’t wait to get a juco playmaker in the lineup.

Auburn scores big with juco recruits
The junior college midterm signing period opened on Wednesday and Auburn came away the big winners. Despite relentless pursuit by LSU, Auburn signed receiver D'haquille Williams, the nation’s No. 1 player out of Mississippi Gulf Coast College. The Tigers also announced the signings of his teammate, four-star linebacker/safety Derrick Moncrief, defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), and offensive lineman Xavier Dampeer from Wesson (Miss.) Copiah-Lincoln Community College. Lambert, the No. 6 player in the ESPN JC 50, flipped from Tennessee to Auburn and gave the Tigers three of the top 14 players in the country. The Tigers are poised to crack the top 10 of the ESPN Class Rankings with more than a month left before signing day.

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The junior college midterm signing period opened on Wednesday and the Auburn Tigers came away as the clear-cut winners.

Despite relentless pursuit by LSU, Auburn signed receiver D'haquille Williams, the nation’s No. 1 junior college player, out of Mississippi Gulf Coast College. The Tigers also announced the signings of his teammate, four-star linebacker/safety Derrick Moncrief, and offensive lineman Xavier Dampeer from Wesson (Miss.) Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

[+] EnlargeD'haquille Williams
Courtesy of Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.D'haquille Williams, the No. 1 juco prospect, signed with Auburn and Gus Malzahn called him "a dynamic player who can run, catch, do all the things it takes to be a great wide receiver."
The good news continued Wednesday afternoon as defensive tackle DaVonte Lambert (Milledgeville, Ga./Georgia Military College), the No. 6 player in the ESPN JC 50, flipped his pledge from Tennessee and said he was signing with the Tigers.

By the end of the day, the Tigers had inked three of the top 14 players in the country and are now poised to crack the top 10 of the ESPN Class Rankings with more than a month left before signing day. But make no mistake, Williams was the prize of the haul.

"He's a dynamic player who can run, catch, do all the things it takes to be a great wide receiver," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. "If you look back we've had years when we threw it a lot. We are going to get more balanced next year. Anytime you have a dynamic player like him coming, that's a good thing."

Despite missing out on Lambert, it was still a banner day for the Vols.

Tennessee signed the nation’s No. 2 juco prospect in Lavon Pearson, an impact receiver from Quincy (Calif.) Feather River College. The Vols also landed No. 26 Dontavius Blair, an offensive tackle from Garden City (Kan.) Community College, and No. 40 Owen Williams, a defensive tackle from El Dorado (Kan.) Butler Community College.

All three are expected to see the field quickly at Tennessee and are a major part of the Vols’ second-ranked recruiting class.

"Von was as productive of a player as there was in all of junior college football this past season,” Tennessee receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Azzanni said. “He brings instant help as a threat on the outside to our offense.”’

Oklahoma State also came away a big winner with the addition of running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, No. 4 in the ESPN JC 50, out of Garden City. Hill had flirted with Texas and even took an official visit to Austin last weekend, but in the end he stuck with the school he committed to early in the process.

“It feels good to finally get this all out of the way,” Hill said. “I owed it to myself to make sure Oklahoma State was the right place for me. In the end, it was OSU and it wasn’t even close.”

Hill is one of the fastest players in the country, with a 200-meter time of 20.14 seconds and a 100 time of 10.19.

Several other teams filled major holes with commitments as the signing period opened Wednesday.

Kansas State landed Andre Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa JC), a receiver who is No. 36 in the juco rankings and is expected to complement All-Big 12 receiver Tyler Lockettnext season. Davis said he told the K-State coaches he plans on coming in and being better than Locket.

Florida State added to its offensive line depth with the addition of Kareem Are (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott Community College), who is No. 45 in the ESPN JC 50. Are is a nice addition because he can play virtually every position along the offensive line.

Florida also landed a nice signing day surprise when Drew Sarvary, an offensive tackle from Tyler (Texas) Junior College switched his commitment from Texas Tech and signed with the Gators. UF needs as much help as it can get up front and Sarvary, a Tallahassee, Fla., native, jumped at the opportunity to stay near home.

Top 2014 junior college classes 

December, 3, 2013
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National signing day is quickly approaching, but first up is the midyear junior college signing period. The opportunity for juco prospects to sign with Football Bowl Subdivision programs starts Dec. 18, and several prospects have already made commitments. More commitments are likely to come between now and the start of the signing period, but with the release of the ESPN JC 50, let’s take a look at five programs (in alphabetical order) having success on the juco recruiting trail.

Arizona: The Wildcats have commitments from a half-dozen junior college prospects. Only one verbal, LB Antonio Smothers (Scottsdale, Ariz./Scottsdale CC) is in the ESPN JC 50. Smothers can give them a big, physical downhill run defender between the tackles. They might sit outside the top 50 in the recruiting rankings, but DT Jeff Worthy (Santa Ana, Calif./Santa Ana College) and OL Kaige Lawrence (Victorville, Calif./Chaffey) are solid pickups in the trenches. With the secondary featuring several upperclassmen, they also bring in some help with CB Patrick Glover (Gilbert, Ariz./Scottsdale CC) and instinctive and aggressive S Jamie Byrd (Dade City, Fla./Iowa Western).


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