AUBURN | The ranks at defensive tackle are thinning out for No. 15 Auburn, but so far Gus Malzahn doesn’t seem too concerned.
The Tigers will open up conference play at Missouri Saturday with just seven scholarship defensive tackles on the roster, but three of those have played little to no snaps this season.
“I think right now our defense is the No. 2 defense in the country and our defensive line has a lot to do with that,” Malzahn said. “We feel good about that position and we feel good about the depth there.”
Junior Byron Cowart, who was the fourth or fifth defensive tackle in the playing rotation, left the team Tuesday; redshirt freshman Antwuan Jackson, who was expected to be part of the rotation, did the same in May.
Junior Dontavius Russell and sophomore Derrick Brown have started each of the first three games while junior Andrew Williams has been the top backup. Behind those three are true freshman Tyrone Truesdell and a pair of defensive ends — Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe — who can also slide inside.
“Nick Coe has got the ability to come inside. Truesdell is coming on. Andrew Williams is obviously already in the mix. So we feel good,” Malzahn said.
Former walk-on Gary Walker, who was put on scholarship in August, could see his playing time increase. The 5-foot-11, 270-pounder has played in two of Auburn’s first three games but has yet to record a tackle.
Linebacker Deshaun Davis is confident in the ability of both Truesdell and Walker to step up and help out the defense.
"They've always been working with us, and those are two guys that we really believe in," Davis said. "We know we have some guys like Andrew Williams that are going to take their games to the next level. Nick Coe can come in and play defensive tackle. Marlon can do it if he wants to.
"So depth is not really an issue on the defensive line. I feel like we have a lot of great guys who can come in and play."
Auburn's other defensive tackles include sophomore Jaunta’vius Johnson, who has been slowed by a series of injuries, and freshmen Tashawn Manning, who is returning from cancer treatments. Neither has played this season. True freshman Alec Jackson, who was signed as a defensive end, is expected to redshirt this fall but is likely to grow into a defensive tackle within the next year or so.
Kickoff at Memorial Stadium is set for 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU.