Content Exchange

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

Beloved position coach Travis Williams is gone, but Auburn’s linebacking corps still has the potential to be one of the strongest units on the whole team.

It’s bigger now, too. Whereas the Tigers typically played only two on the field at the time in Kevin Steele’s defense, they’ll play up to four in Derek Mason’s 3-4 scheme — two on the inside and two more on the outside.

Here’s a look at what we know and don’t know about the second level of Auburn’s defense:

The lineup

Inside: Zakoby McClain (Sr.), Chandler Wooten (Sr.), Owen Pappoe (Jr.), Kameron Brown (So.), Cam Riley (So.), Wesley Steiner (So.), Desmond Tisdol (So.)

Edge: T.D. Moultry (Sr.), Derick Hall (Jr.), Caleb Johnson (Jr.), Eku Leota (Jr.), Romello Height (So.), Nick Curtis (R-Fr.), Dylan Brooks (Fr.)

What we know

What we know is that Auburn returns perhaps the most experienced inside linebacking corps in the SEC.

McClain and Pappoe combined to make 206 tackles, 11½ tackles for loss, seven sacks, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception last season. They probably played more snaps than anyone in the SEC, too — they hardly came off the field after K.J. Britt got hurt in Week 2.

That did result in McClain and Pappoe looking a little gassed at times, especially late in games. They’ll be helped this season by the return of Wooten, who opted out of playing last season because of the pandemic and the fact that he had a child on the way.

Wooten totaled 25 tackles, 4½ tackles for loss and an interception as a key part of the rotation during the 2019 season.

“We’ve got a deeper room,” McClain said. “Because Woo Woo, he’s a big step up for us. We’re glad to have Woo Woo back because he’s a really good player. He's a leader just like he was before he left.”

If Riley and Steiner can take sophomore leaps after getting their feet wet last season, Auburn should have no shortage of options inside.

What we don’t know

What we don’t know is what kind of impact the new “Edge” position will have on Auburn’s defense.

The depth chart is intriguing. Hall didn’t rack up the counting stats last season (just 3½ sacks) but his 19.2 percent pressure rate ranked fifth in the SEC last season, per CFB Film Room. Leota recorded 6½ sacks in two seasons at Northwestern, which is more than any other player on Auburn’s roster has at the FBS level. Brooks was a four-star recruit ranked No. 76 nationally and No. 6 among Edge players in the 2021 class.

But the Edge position is different than the Buck role Hall played the past two seasons. The Buck was used almost exclusively as a standup, rush defensive end in Steele’s 4-2-5 base. The Edge is more of a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker that could have any number of different responsibilities depending on alignment and situation, including dropping back into coverage.

It will be fascinating to watch how those players adapt to that role, as well as how Mason and outside linebackers coach Bert Watts use them.

Breakout candidate

Moultry. It may seem weird to consider a fifth-year senior as a potential breakout performer, but it’s in line with Moultry’s career arc. Auburn has been waiting for the breakout ever since he arrived as a four-star recruit ranked top-100 nationally in 2017, but whether it was because of injuries or inconsistency, it just hasn’t happened yet. Moultry didn’t come to Auburn to play Buck, though. He was an inside linebacker in high school. The third-best one in his class, in fact. Maybe the move to something closer to his natural position will finally lead to the long-awaited emergence.

They said it

“Me and Zakoby, we're champing at the bit right now. … The run fits that we see right now — I'm just gonna say it, it's gonna be something crazy this year. I really like it a lot, man. The opportunity for us to make a lot of plays is gonna be there.” — Owen Pappoe

Support Local Journalism

Now, more than ever, residents need trustworthy reporting—but good journalism isn’t free. Please support us by purchasing a digital subscription. Your subscription will allow you unlimited access to important local news stories. Our mission is to keep our community informed and we appreciate your support.

This article originally ran on


Locations Content Exchange

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.