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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fifth in a seven-part series breaking down Auburn football’s 2021 roster.

This season begins a new era for Auburn’s defensive line. Longtime coach Rodney Garner is gone after eight seasons; replaced by Nick Eason. First-year defensive coordinator Derek Mason is transitioning the defense from a 4-2-5 scheme to a 3-4 front, which means new roles for the players who remain.

Here’s a look at what we know and don’t know about Auburn’s defensive line:

The lineup

Marquis Burks (Sr.), Tony Fair (Sr.), Tyrone Truesdell (Sr.), Dre Butler (Jr.), Marcus Harris (So.), Zykeivous Walker (So.), Colby Wooden (So.), Jeremiah Wright (So.), Daniel Foster-Allen (R-Fr.), Lee Hunter (Fr.), Ian Mathews (Fr.), Tobechi Okoli (Fr.), Marquis Robinson (Fr.)

What we know

What we know is that Auburn needs its defense to create more pressure than it did last season. Some of that will come from the “Edge” players, or outside linebackers, in Mason’s scheme, but the defensive line will need to do more, too.

Wooden is a great starting point after totaling four sacks and leading the team with nine tackles for loss last year. He had a 9.3 percent pressure rate last season, per CFB Film Room, which ranked third on the defense behind Derick Hall (who is playing outside linebacker now) and Big Kat Bryant (transferred to UCF).

The next closest player behind Wooden was Walker at 3.2 percent. He recorded one sack last season. He’s one of the players Auburn will be asking more of this season.

The good news for the Tigers, though, is that last year was the first in the rotation for a lot of their returning contributors on the defensive line — Wooden, Walker, Butler, Burks and Wright included. Having that experience plus a full offseason should only help.

Because the potential is there. Walker was Auburn’s second-highest rated signee in 2020. Butler recorded only two tackles for loss and one sack in limited action last season, but he was one of the most explosive junior college defensive linemen a year earlier when he recorded 22 tackles for loss and 11½ sacks at Independence (Kansas) Community College.

Newcomers could help, too  Montgomery native Marcus Harris, a transfer from Kansas, led the Jayhawks with 7½ tackles for loss last season.

What we don’t know

What we don’t know is exactly how high Wooden’s ceiling is. But it certainly looked last season like he has the makings of Auburn’s next star along the defensive line.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound redshirt freshman produced his 42 tackles, 9½ tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries and pass breakup after missing nearly the entire 2019 season due to a bout with mono. So last year was just the start.

Mason’s scheme could be an ideal fit for him, too. Wooden split his time last season between end and tackle, and 3-4 end is, in some ways, the perfect hybrid of the two.

“I just want to be able to show my versatility,” Wooden said. “As far as what I need to work on, just the fundamentals like using my hands better and coming off and staying low. For me I feel like staying low is the big one because last year I was standing up. I just need to stay a little lower and keep working hard.”

Breakout candidate

Burks. With Wright sidelined indefinitely after tearing his ACL during spring practice and Jay Hardy gone, Burks is trending toward being one of the team’s top options at tackle, if not the starter. The former junior college player got off to a slow start because of an injury last season but Wooden said the senior has gotten stronger and more physical and was “exceptional” during the spring.

They said it

“Auburn has always had a great tradition. I played against Takeo Spikes in high school. I coached Carl Lawson in Cincinnati the last couple of years so I got to know him. I came here last year and got to know Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson. I coached Angelo Blackson, drafted him when I was with the Tennessee Titans. Gabe Wright, I’ve crossed paths with him as well. So it’s a tradition, especially on the defensive line here at Auburn and it’s going to continue to be that way.” — Nick Eason

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This article originally ran on annistonstar.com.

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