After three less-than-inspiring weeks and a 2-1 record that feels more like a 1-2 record, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has made a quarterback change. Jeremy Johnson has been stripped of his starting job, which now belongs to Sean White starting this week against Mississippi State. Can the new Tigers quarterback pull some tricks to rejuvenate Auburn and live up to the preseason hype? Well, he certainly can’t hurt.
Johnson has completed 59.7 percent of his passes for 473 yards and five touchdowns through Auburn’s first three games. He has been picked off six times though, and he lost two fumbles in Auburn’s loss at LSU over the weekend. Malzahn has publicly defended Johnson and refused to suggest Johnson would be in danger of losing the starting job, but after digging a hole in sEC play there is little time to waste in making the necessary moves in order to try to turn things around. His play has simply not lived up to some of the preseason expectations given by some around college football. Some thought Johnson would be a Heisman hopeful, but now he will be holding a clipboard on game day.
White is a redshirt freshman, and this will mark his first time on the field throwing a pass for the Tigers. The quarterback play at Auburn has only been one part of the problem so far this season. The defense has been gashed despite the addition of defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The defense will hope to start playing better this weekend, but will do so without defensive end Carl Lawson. Malzahn said Tuesday Lawson will be out for an extended period of time, although he hopes that means he will be back before the end of the regular season. Lawson injured his hip in the season-opener against Louisville, did not play against Jacksonville State and did not make the trip to LSU this past weekend.
Auburn’s defensive line is looking to head into the 2015 season with a fully operational Carl Lawson at defensive end. After a cautious spring, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn believes one of his top defensive linemen is ready to go full speed in the fall.
“Carl did everything but the actual live tackling,” Malzahn said Wednesday in Atlanta. “I really believe he’s back to 100 percent.”
Lawson suffered an ACL injury in the spring of 2014, which led to surgery that held him out of the rest of spring practices last year. Although his teammates were optimistic he would return at some point during the 2014 season, Lawson ended up sitting out the entire season. This spring, a year removed from the initial injury, Auburn played it safe and limited what he did in practices, which is pretty typical at any program for a player coming back from an ACL injury. With another spring in the books at Auburn, Malzahn is ready to let Lawson get back at it moving forward as a key piece on Will Muschamp‘s defense.
“He’s like a breath of fresh air,” Malzahn said. “It was extremely challenging to play without him last year. He’s an impact player, one of the better defensive players in the entire country and when you don’t have him, it’s tough. Now that we have him back, it’s a good thing, and he’s a leader too.”
Malzahn was in Atlanta for an Auburn event.
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson tempered expectations Monday regarding the possible return of Carl Lawson to the lineup at some point early this season.
Lawson suffered a torn ACL during spring practice, but he’s aggressively rehabbed the injury and teammates have been excited about his progress. Those teammates believe Lawson will be ready to contribute at some point during the season.
An ACL injury normally requires six to nine months of recovery time. Even if Lawson is ahead of schedule and cleared to play this fall, it won’t be until later in the season.
“It’s been a remarkable rehab and recovery,” Johnson said on SiriusXM’s College Sports Today. “He’s way ahead of schedule, but I would say half a season would be optimistic.”
If Lawson completes is rehab within the six-month time frame after having ACL surgery May 1, the earliest he will be ready to play is Nov. 1 against the Ole Miss Rebels.
The Tigers can’t rely on Lawson potentially recovering faster than expected. The coaching staff has to plan accordingly and develop other pass rushers on the team.
“We don’t know when we’re going to get (Lawson) back,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve got some guys who can step up.”
Johnson may be able to manufacture a pass rush with multiple looks along the defensive line. Defensive tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams have both practiced at defensive end, and they’ll provide push from both the interior and the edge throughout games. Senior defensive end LaDarius Owens will also need to step up in Lawson’s absence and develop into the team’s primary edge rusher.
(Hat tip: Al.com)
It’s only been three months since Auburn’s Carl Lawson had surgery to rebuild a torn ACL, which he suffered during spring practice, and the defensive end already appears to be ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation.
Lawson’s early progress has been promising enough that a couple of his teammates believes he can return to the field this fall.
“I don’t know the timetable on it, but I know he’s doing good, because we were in rehab together all summer, I know he works hard,” defensive end LaDarius Owens told Al.com. “He’s trying to come back as soon as he can.”
The normal timetable for an athlete to return from an ACL tear is within six to nine months after surgery. Even if Lawson is ahead of schedule, the earliest Auburn should expect him to return is in November as the team prepares for its stretch run in SEC play. Once Lawson is back on field, it’s unlikely he’ll be the same player he was during a promising freshman campaign when he finished second on team with four sacks. It usually takes a full year before an athlete has full range of motion and confidence in the injured knee.
Despite these concerns, Lawson is impressing those who have seen him in recent weeks.
“He looked good,” linebacker Kris Frost said. “I saw him moving around, a lot, actually. I’m really confident about him being able to come back. I’m not sure when, but you know, whenever the time is right, we’re going to be ready for him.”
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.