Auburn's Malzahn loads up on defensive line
AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is known for his offense, but made the biggest splash on the defensive line with his first recruiting class.
Defensive tackle Montravius Adams and end Elijah Daniel both announced on Wednesday that they'd play for the Tigers, joining the group's highest rated signee Carl Lawson on the front line.
"In this league you win on the offensive and defensive lines, and the defensive line was a focus,'' Malzahn said. "The three guys we have, we feel like are three of the best in the entire country. Coach (Rodney) Garner's a great coach and he's going to have three guys that have a chance to help us immediately.''
The 23-player class also included a signing day pickup in four-star running back Johnathan Ford, a former Vanderbilt commitment. The strong finish vaulted Auburn into a No. 10 finish according to Rivals.com, 11th by 247Sports and 13th by Scout.
Carver-Montgomery four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson led three signees at the position and the Tigers signed four wide receivers. Along with the defensive line, those spots in the offensive backfield were huge needs for a team that ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in total offense and 13th in yards allowed per game.
The need for immediate help led Malzahn to bring in six junior college transfers, three of them already enrolled.
A big objective was to get more physical.
"I told our staff in the very first staff meeting we had that we needed to find football players that are going to be Auburn-type, tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar guys,'' Malzahn said. "I really feel like for the most part we did that.''
The Tigers added offensive lineman Deon Mix, a former Mississippi State commitment, on signing day but had loaded up on blockers in the past two classes. This time the emphasis was on the opposite side of the line for a defense that struggled to stop the run and generate much pass rush, even with junior defensive end Corey Lemonier, who declared for the NFL draft.
Garner supplied a boost with previous relationships to both Adams and Daniel before leaving Georgia for his alma mater.
The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Adams is a five-star tackle who had 34 stops behind the line as a senior at Dooly County High School in Vienna, Ga.
"I think this is going to be my eighth year coaching college,'' Malzahn said. "I don't know if I've seen a bigger, athletic guy than him. I really feel like the sky's the limit with him. Coach Garner had a great relationship with him. That really helped get him here.''
Daniel was ranked the No. 3 defensive end and 27th-best prospect by 247Sports.
"Pass rushing was one of our big needs, and this guy can really do it,'' Malzahn said.
Malzahn also cited Lawson's continued commitment as a key after prospects like five-star linebacker Reuben Foster and four-star defensive tackle Dee Liner - who both signed with Alabama - withdrew their pledges following coach Gene Chizik's firing.
"When a lot of guys went south and went other ways, he hung in there with us,'' Malzahn said. "He provided the stability on the defensive side to have the class that we did. "
He said Johnson, Alabama's Mr. Football, fulfilled a similar role on offense. He could compete with junior college transfer Nick Marshall, a former Georgia signee, and returnees Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace for the starting job.
Marshall passed for 3,142 yards and 18 touchdowns last season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College, while rushing for 1,095 yards and 19 scores.
Johnson is also a basketball standout, but Malzahn said he will concentrate on football as a freshman.
"I know his goal is to be the starting quarterback here and what it takes to be a starting quarterback in college, especially in this conference, it takes a lot of focus,'' Malzahn said. "But he is a very good basketball player.''
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