While Auburn’s run to the national title game last season was spurred by the team’s innovative offense and overwhelming rushing attack, the Tigers’ defense was led by defensive tackle Gabe Wright. Wright proved to be one of the most disruptive interior defenders in the nation, but his role is expected to expand this fall.
Wright will start the season at defensive tackle, but he’ll also be expected to receive repetitions at defensive end.
Wright was forced to play defensive end during spring practice due to injuries along the defensive line, and the Tigers’ coaching staff came away impressed with his play.
“(Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Gardner) actually wanted to put me in last year, but he just stated I wasn’t mentally ready,” Wright told al.com’s Brandon Marcello. “I respect and I don’t second-guess his decision. If I’m called upon, I will answer the call. There’s no doubt about that. It just shows his confidence in me.”
Wright also wasn’t physically ready to play defensive end last year. He’s down to 290 pounds with enough the athleticism to set the edge and rush the passer.
“I’ve been wanting to drop down body weight since I’ve been here — and body fat — which has been done,” Wright said.
Wright’s versatility will provide insurance along the Tigers’ defensive line after losing Dee Ford to the NFL and Carl Lawson to a potential season-ending ACL injury. Wright’s ability to provide depth at defensive end also allows the ultra-talented Montravius Adams to gain more repetitions at defensive tackle.
While Wright remains one of the best interior defenders in college football, his biggest contribution this season may be his ability to play defensive end until Lawson is fully healthy or one of the Tigers’ young pass rushers are ready to take over the spot.
He probably won’t win the sport’s most important individual award, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson took home a nice consolation prize on Tuesday.
Watson was announced as the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback in college football. A three-year starter for the Tigers, Watson has completed 775-of-1,115 career passes for 9,489 yards with 86 touchdowns against 30 interceptions while also adding 1,829 yards and 23 scores on the ground.
Most importantly, he’s led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. His 2nd-ranked Tigers will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.
Watson was named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday for a season in which he’s thrown for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Recent winners of the Unitas award are Colt McCoy, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and, in 2015, Connor Cook. Watson will accept the honor at a ceremony in Baltimore on Friday night before jetting up for the Heisman ceremony on Saturday.
On Monday, Army displayed the World War II-themed uniforms the Black Knights will wear against Navy on Saturday.
On Tuesday, it was Navy’s turn.
With President-elect Donald Trump in attendance, the Midshipmen will put their 14-game winning streak on the line by channeling one of the best Navy teams of all-time — the 1963 bunch.
That 1963 team was led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach and finished the season ranked No. 2 in both polls, falling to No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The ’63 game remains one of the most memorable in the 116-year history of the game, played on the insistence of Jacqueline Kennedy amid talk of canceling the contest following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
And, oh by the way, Navy won that fabled game, 21-15.
Christian McCaffrey will declare for the NFL Draft, according to a report from Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
He would join Texas’s D'Onta Foreman and LSU’s Leonard Fournette among early entrant running backs.
McCaffrey, of course, offers a different skill set than those two and any other running back. Just as much a threat catching the ball or as a returner, McCaffrey set the FBS single-season all-purpose yardage record — rushing for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns, receiving for 645 yards and five scores, accumulating 1,070 kick return yards with one touchdown and returning punts for 130 yards and a touchdown. He finished runner-up to Derrick Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting while leading Stanford to the Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory.
This season, McCaffrey’s profile dropped as Stanford dropped from the national title conversation, but he actually improved as a running back. McCaffrey’s averages jumped in both yards per game (145.1 vs. 144.2) and yards per carry (6.3 vs. 6.0).
Assuming he does indeed declare, McCaffrey will wrap up his Cardinal career as Stanford faces North Carolina in the Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET Dec. 30, CBS).
Former Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam died on Tuesday, a family spokesperson announced Tuesday. He was 42.
Salaam was found dead in a Boulder, Colo., park on Monday night. Authorities said there were no signs of foul play.
“The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today,” CU athletics director Rick George said in a statement Tuesday. “We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”
Salaam was best known in college football for winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy, beating out Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, the late Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins after a season in which he rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns on 7.61 yards per carry. Salaam also claimed the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after helping the Buffs to a season in which they finished 11-1, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.
Salaam was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in the 1995 NFL Draft and became the youngest player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. His career fizzled from there, though, as a broken leg derailed his career and his yearly totals dwindled to 496, 112 and later two yards with the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. Salaam later tried comeback efforts in the XFL and CFL before calling it quits.
Oddly enough, Salaam is the first Heisman winner in more than half a century to pass away.
“He was very coachable,” former CU coach Bill McCartney said. “He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive.”