NCF On The Trail: Carl Lawson

Gus Malzahn was not a happy camper after the Iron Bowl. He was frustrated with his team’s execution in the red zone, and he was not pleased with his defense, which allowed 55 points and 539 yards to rival Alabama. One of those was on him. The other he knew he needed to fix.

The day after the game, Malzahn let go of veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson after two seasons on the Plains. Less than two weeks later, he hired ex-Florida coach Will Muschamp to replace Johnson. It was a home run hire for Auburn. In January, Travaris Robinson and Lance Thompson were added to the defensive staff, and the transformation was complete.

But this was a defense that allowed 30 or more points in seven of the last eight games. It needed more than a few coaching changes. It needed an infusion of young talent.

Fast forward to Wednesday, national signing day. Auburn finished with the No. 7 recruiting class per ESPN. Of the 27 signees, 13 came on the defensive side of the ball. That group included five players ranked in the ESPN 300 and was highlighted by five-star defensive end Byron Cowart.

"The future is very bright on that side of the football," Malzahn told ESPN after the class was complete.

It didn’t come without drama, though. Oh was there drama. The coaches rejoiced in the morning when Cowart announced he was choosing Auburn over Florida, but grew weary when the signed letter of intent never came through. Finally, it was Muschamp, the man most responsible for landing Cowart, who took the papers off the fax machine about 3 p.m. CT.

The coaches could celebrate once again, knowing they landed the nation's No. 1 player.

"You’re talking about the best player in the country," Malzahn said in his signing day news conference. "So yeah, he’ll have a chance to compete and have a chance to be on the field immediately with his skill set."

Cowart, along with fellow Floridian Jeffrey Holland, filled arguably the Tigers’ biggest need -- players who could get to the quarterback. Auburn finished No. 11 in the SEC this past season with 21 sacks, so developing a pass rush was Priority No. 1 for the new staff.

"We didn’t have Carl Lawson this year, and we had a couple other injuries, too, so I thought it was very important," Malzahn said. "That was one of our priorities -- get some guys so that we could rush the passer with just four guys and not have to blitz. We were able to do that two years ago, and we weren’t able to do that this past year. So that was definitely a focus, and we’re very excited about these guys that signed today."

The other need Auburn wanted to address on signing day was finding players who could cover. The Tigers struggled against the pass last season, and with two starters departing from the secondary, it was important to bring in a handful of new defensive backs.

That is where Robinson comes in. The new assistant coach, who was with Muschamp at Florida, proved instrumental to the 2015 class, specifically in the secondary. Auburn landed four defensive backs in the past three weeks, and Robinson had a large part to do with all four signing Wednesday. It was no surprise that all four hailed from the Sunshine State.

"Coach T-Rob went out -- he already had relationships with some guys -- and he felt very good about them coming in," Malzahn said.

Auburn also signed Richard McBryde and Darrell Williams, the top two linebackers in the state. Both bring versatility, and should help with the transition of defensive schemes now that Muschamp has arrived. That was another key for this class.

"Coach Muschamp, he’s handpicking these guys to fit his defense, and he’s very excited about that," Malzahn said. "We’ve got some guys that can help us immediately."

Wednesday was the next step to rebuilding a defense that let Auburn down time and time again last season. Nobody expects a top-10 group next season, but as Malzahn said, the future certainly looks bright on that side of the ball.

How Missouri and Auburn were built 

December, 4, 2013
After losing 16 games combined last season, Missouri and Auburn have come a long ways as they prepare to face off Saturday in the SEC championship game. How, exactly, did both of these schools get here?

Their success on the field this season -- just two losses combined -- is more impressive considering Auburn is in Gus Malzahn's first season as coach and Missouri moved over from the Big 12 to the SEC before last season. Recruiting is tough enough as it is, but going through such a major transition for both programs can be detrimental to a school's recruiting class.

[+] EnlargeDorial Green-Beckham
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsFormer No. 1 overall recruit Dorial Green-Beckham has caught 49 passes for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.
If games were determined by recruiting rankings, Missouri would be at a big disadvantage. Over the past five years, Missouri has never finished inside the top 25 in the team recruiting rankings. In that same time period, the Tigers have landed only five recruits ranked in the ESPN 300.

Top SEC recruiting rivalries 

October, 1, 2013

From year-to-year the Southeastern Conference is full of recruiting battles. This year it appears that Alabama and LSU could have some of the best recruiting battles we've seen in a while. Here's a closer look at the five top recruiting rivalries in the SEC.

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SEC recruiting mailbag

August, 23, 2013
It’s time to dip into the SEC recruiting mailbag and answer your questions. Because of the amount of questions we’ve received, we won’t be able to get to all of them today -- but we encourage you to ask again next week by tweeting your questions to @DerekTysonESPN.

@Watup_Haun: Who's going to land Clifton Garrett (Plainfield, Ill./Plainfield South)?

Derek Tyson: LSU appears to be the team to beat for the ESPN 300 linebacker and by a wide margin. Garrett will also take official visits to Ole Miss, Tennessee and Florida. LSU is shaping up to have a monster recruiting class, and right now I expect Garrett to be a part of it.

[+] EnlargeAdoree' Jackson
Jeff Barlis/ESPNESPN 300 athlete Adoree' Jackson likes Florida's football and track teams and met with both head coaches during his July visit.
@UltimateLemons: What's your gut tell you about Florida landing Adoree' [Jackson] and [Lorenzo] Carter? Do the Gators even contend realistically for Raekwon [McMillan]?

DT: Though Florida has made a big impression on the five-star prospects, Jackson and Carter, the Gators certainly have their work cut out for them. Florida's track program recently won a national championship, and track will be a key factor in Jackson's decision. USC, Michigan, Tennessee and LSU are a few other schools squarely in the mix for the talented athlete. Carter has Florida in the lead with Alabama and Georgia slightly trailing. At this point, Florida feels good about both prospects, but there is still a long way to go.

As for McMillan, the Gators are in his top five, but Ohio State is clearly the team to beat. Clemson and Georgia are also near the top of his list. He is talented enough for the Gators to continue to pursue him, but at this time, I don't think he will end up in Gainesville.

@UTSportsAction1: Do the SEC school's generally look for three-star athletes and above?

DT: If you ask coaches in college football if they only recruit players ranked three-stars or higher, you would probably get the same overwhelming response. "We don't look at stars," they would likely say, and probably in a stern voice. The truth is, a lot goes in to our recruiting rankings, and we don't just rate someone a four-star prospect for the fun of it. A lot of research goes in to every player we rank. I know for a fact that some college coaches do in fact look at rankings, but they wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't do their own evaluations. So to answer your question, I think college coaches use rankings as a general guide to see if they are missing out on certain prospects or to see which other schools have offered players, but they do their own evaluations and decide who they want to offer based on a number of factors.

Looking back at last year's SEC recruiting classes and excluding kickers, long snappers, punters and junior college, prep school and transfer players, SEC teams only signed seven players who were ranked two-star prospects or below:

2013: Alabama - 0, Auburn - 0, Arkansas - 1 (WR Drew Morgan), Florida - 0, Georgia - 0, LSU - 0, Kentucky - 2 (QB Reese Phillips and OT Justin Day), Mississippi State - 0, Ole Miss - 0, South Carolina - 1 (DE Kendal Vickers), Tennessee - 0, Missouri - 2 (OC Alec Abeln and DT DeQuinton Osborne), Texas A&M - 0, Vanderbilt - 1 (ATH C.J. Duncan)

The numbers speak for themselves. Though it's uncommon, the SEC does generally recruit prospects ranked three-star prospects or higher.

@madveal37: The SEC has widespread talent. What true freshmen are going to have a big impact in 2013?

DT: This is not really a recruiting question, but because I had an opportunity to see a lot of these players in high school and at all-star games over the last few years, I'll give my opinion on a few I think could make an early impact.

DE Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): There is a reason he was the consensus No. 1-ranked player in the country. He will play early and often for the Rebels and should make a big impact.

WR Demarcus Robinson (Florida): Florida needs help at wide receiver, and Robinson has been a star in fall camp.

RB Alex Collins (Arkansas): Collins was a steal for the Razorbacks. His explosiveness will earn him carries early in his career.

DE Carl Lawson and DE Elijah Daniel (Auburn): With Auburn's top defensive lineman, Dee Ford, out for the opener, it should open the door for Lawson and Daniel to make their marks.

LB Reuben Foster (Alabama): It's not easy to get on the field early at Alabama, but head coach Nick Saban has specifically singled out Foster for having a strong camp. Look for him to see the field early.

@miketag98: Will UK lose a lot of recruits if [Mark] Stoops flops on the field? Like if they go 4-8?

DT: I really don't believe so. Obviously Kentucky hasn't had much success on the field over the past few years, and recruits understand that. What Stoops is selling to these recruits is an opportunity to help turn the football program around. The opportunity to play early is another key selling point. As long as Kentucky shows improvement and is at least competitive in most of their games, I don't see recruits bailing on this impressive recruiting class.

@bigjpl2: Does Georgia have a real shot at Elijah Hood (Charlotte, N.C./Charlotte Catholic)?

DT: Hood, the former Notre Dame commit, was considering North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia Tech before he originally committed to the Fighting Irish. Now that he has backed off his pledge, you would think Georgia might still be in the picture. However, Georgia has two stud running backs in Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs signed four-star running back A.J. Turman last year, and they have two ESPN 300 running backs (Sony Michel and Nick Chubb) committed this year. Chubb is very comparable to Hood as far as size, speed and build. At this point, Georgia doesn't have a pressing need at the position and could risk losing one of its other commits if the coaches put the full-court press on Hood. Though Hood might still show interest in Georgia, in my opinion, I don't believe he will end up in Athens.

@BlakeBoswell1: What are the odds [Leonard] Fournette stays in LA?

In my opinion, the odds are in LSU's favor to land Fournette -- but not by much. Alabama is certainly putting up a big fight. In fact, Fournette was in Tuscaloosa last weekend with Cameron Robinson and Laurence Jones to watch the Crimson Tide scrimmage. I think this will be a battle to the end, but Alabama has a lot of depth at running back, and LSU's proximity to home gives the Tigers the slight advantage.

Carl Lawson makes it official to Auburn 

February, 6, 2013

Defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton), the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 150, signed with Auburn, as expected, on Wednesday in a ceremony at his high school. Lawson was an early pledge to the Tigers but wavered in his commitment in recent months. He reaffirmed the pledge shortly before signing day.

"I committed to Auburn the school, not the coaching staff," Lawson said Wednesday in an interview on ESPNU.

-- Mitch Sherman

What is the impact of Lawson’s decision?

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Ole Miss RB commit flips to Auburn 

February, 3, 2013
AUBURN, Ala. -- Auburn University has been looking for more help at the running back position in 2013, and the Tigers added a key piece this weekend.

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Carl Lawson makes final decision 

February, 3, 2013
Following the dismissal of Auburn head coach Gene Chizik in November, five-star defensive end Carl Lawson (Milton, Ga./Milton) decided he needed to reevaluate his options. He took an unofficial visit to Clemson the weekend of Chizik's firing, and followed it up with official visits to Clemson and Tennessee before his final official to Auburn this weekend.

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NSD TV announcement schedule

January, 31, 2013
National signing day is just around the corner on Feb. 6. That day, a number of the nation’s top football recruits will announce their college destinations and 18 ESPN 300 prospects are scheduled to do so on ESPNU.

Below is the full schedule of announcements on ESPNU, which kicks off with the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect, Robert Nkemdiche, making his long-awaited decision at 7:30 a.m. ET.

Note: All times are Eastern

Friendship could be Vols' Lawson opening 

January, 30, 2013
Tennessee might have a secret weapon in the race to land five-star defensive end Carl Lawson.

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Three remain for DE Carl Lawson 

January, 29, 2013
ALPHARETTA, GA -- No. 2 prospect Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton) has been committed to Auburn since March 24, 2011. There is a good chance he will remain part of the Tigers’ future when it comes time to send in his letter of intent next Wednesday on signing day.

But changes to the coaching staff at Auburn opened the door for two other programs to get the five-star defensive lineman on campus for official visits earlier this month, and they should be considered contenders to land the 6-foot-3, 252-pound prospect.

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Offers rising for Adeosun, sleeper OL 

January, 24, 2013
During an interview with George Adeosun (Alpharetta, Ga./Alpharetta), a funny thing happened. It started out like any other, with the 6-foot-5, 300-pound offensive lineman giving his thoughts on his first two BCS offers -- Virginia and Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma is notable for its alumni association, and Virginia is well known for its academics,” Adeosun said.

But toward the end of his answer, a familiar sound occurred as a tweet was sent out. It was from his coach.

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Could Vols add No. 2 prospect Lawson? 

January, 22, 2013

The battle for No. 1 prospect Robert Nkemdiche (Loganville, Ga./Grayson) has been well documented, but less than 50 miles away, programs have also been fighting it out for the No. 2 prospect in the country, defensive end Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton).

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Dabo Swinney makes push for Adams 

January, 14, 2013
ESPN 150 prospect Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga./Dooly Co.) took his second official visit last weekend, traveling to Clemson. The 6-foot-3, 300-pound defensive lineman was first targeted by the Tigers more than 18 months ago, and they are considered one of the major contenders to get Adams as national signing day approaches.

Adams spoke well of his latest trip.

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Clemson gets 5-star DE back on campus 

January, 13, 2013
Clemson was the last program to get the nation's No. 2 prospect on campus in December, and the Tigers were the first to get Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton) on an official visit in 2013. That could bode well for the program’s chances of pulling in the five-star defensive end on signing day.

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First official set for five-star DE 

January, 8, 2013
Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga./Milton), the No. 2 prospect in the country, has taken one trip in the last two months, an unofficial visit to Clemson back in November on the weekend that Auburn head coach Gene Chizik was fired. The 6-foot-2, 251-pound defensive end is set to take his first official visit this weekend.

"I set an official to Clemson," Lawson said. "I am interested and excited about visiting such a wonderful program such as Clemson."

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