The Tigers are coming off a 6-7 season in which they were projected to be one of the nation's better defenses. Led by former Vanderbilt coach and longtime defensive mind Derek Mason, Auburn struggled to find consistency, primarily late in games.
Mason now heads to Stillwater to replace Jim Knowles at Oklahoma State. New defensive coordinator Jeff Schmedding has experience working with Harsin, having served as Boise State's primary defensive play-caller for two seasons.
Auburn isn't out of the woods just because of Mason's departure. Leading tackler Zakoby McClain now hopes to make an impact with the Baltimore Ravens. The same goes for No. 1 cornerback Roger McCreary who now looks to be a cornerstone in the Tennessee Titans' secondary.
Should that benefit Texas A&M's chance to win on the road in Week 11?
Follow along with AllAggies.com as we continue to provide an in-depth look at every opponent on Texas A&M's schedule. Now, let's look at several key defensive players returning for Harsin's defense.
EDGE Derick Hall
A bright spot last season in the front seven, Hall returns hoping to build off his 2021 campaign. Last year, he led the Tigers in sacks (nine), and tackles for loss (12.5) while finishing second in forced fumbles (two) to go along with 54 total tackles.
A tweener-type, Hall can play from either a two- or three-point stance. He's quick off the edge due to his violent hand placement and has the speed to blow past offensive tackles coming out of their breaks. Reporters from Auburn have raved about his development this offseason and expect him to expand his role as a leader following the departure of McClain.
DE Colby Wooden
For years, Auburn has been known for its successful defensive linemen, including names such as Derek Brown, Marlon Davidson, Nick Fairley and Montravius Adams. Woolen is next up as he continues to improve his pass-rushing skills while putting up substantial numbers against the run.
Last season, Wollen finished with 61 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and seven quarterback pressures. This offseason, he said that he upped his weight by nearly 10 pounds to become a more efficient pass rusher off the edge. He expects his production to double by the season's end.
LB Owen Pappoe
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Every Batman needs a Robin. Pappoe has served as the team's No. 2 linebacker behind McClain since 2020. Now, he'll take on the mantle as the Tigers' field general in 2022.
McClain gets the credit as the team's top linebacker due to his tackles. Pappoe produced as the team's "WILL" backer in 2020, recording 56 total tackles to go along with four sacks. A breakout year was on the horizon, but an injury against Penn State limited his playing time for the remainder of the season. Setbacks this offseason certainly haven't helped his role moving forward.
When healthy, Pappoe has the tools to record double-digit tackles per game. The biggest question for now, however, is his health moving closer toward the season.
CB Nehemiah Pritchett
Every team in the SEC features a high-end No. 1 receiver. That puts added pressure on the senior defensive back as he tries to duplicate McCreary's success from the past two years.
While serving as the team's No. 2 cornerback, Pritchett played well. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out with a 67.7 coverage grade and an 80.2 tackling grade. Due to his ability to make plays in open space, some suggest that his best move for the future would be to play inside at the nickel position.
Pritchett should match up well against lankier receivers due to his 6-1 frame, but he'll need to add some weight to win in press coverage. Last season, McCreary weighed 190, thus allowing his 5-10 stature to take on the brute strength of bigger receivers. Can the 182-pound Pritchett produce similar results?
S Craig McDonald
The only transfer on this list, McDonald should fill the role voided by strong safety Smoke Monday. Coming from Iowa State, McDonald recorded 41 total tackles for the Cyclones and also was tied for the team lead with two interceptions.
Harsin is banking on McDonald to be his next star in the making with three years of eligibility left. He's a physical run-stopper who can win in zone coverage against running backs and tight ends. He also is considered by the coaching staff to be versatile enough to play both safety spots in a pinch.
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