Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson was expected to be one of the top sophomores in the SEC this season until he suffered a torn ACL during spring practice, and while Lawson has said he expects to play this season, Tigers defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is taking a more reasoned approach.
"It's been a remarkable rehab and recovery" since the May 1 surgery, Johnson said on SiriusXM's College Sports Today on Tuesday night, as reported by the Birmingham News. "He's way ahead of schedule, but I would say half a season would be optimistic."
Johnson also said the coaching staff doesn't know "when we're going to get him back."
Lawson (6-foot-2, 261 pounds) was expected to be Auburn's top pass rusher this season in the wake of Dee Ford's departure, and a "normal" ACL rehab would have him back no earlier than the first week of November. At that point, Auburn still would have five regular-season games remaining. But what does a "remarkable rehab" mean for a return date? Auburn plays LSU on Oct. 4 and South Carolina on Oct. 25. Could he possibly return for either of those? It seems unlikely.
Lawson was a consensus national top-25 recruit in the 2013 signing class. He was a key reserve for the Tigers last season as a true freshman, finishing with four sacks -- including one that sealed a win over Mississippi -- and 7.5 tackles for loss. Perhaps his biggest play was stuffing Alabama tailback T.J. Yeldon on a fourth-and-1 play late in the Tigers' upset of Alabama; the stop came with the Tide leading 28-21 late in the fourth quarter, and after the Lawson play, Auburn proceeded to march for the tying touchdown.
Senior defensive lineman Gabe Wright has called Lawson "a freak athlete. I believe he's a phenom."
Wright (6-3, 284) has played tackle throughout his career, but was cross-trained at end during spring drills and also has seen time at end during fall camp. He had three sacks as an interior lineman last season, but his main value is against the run. Senior end LaDarius Owens (6-2, 259) had two sacks and 11 quarterback hurries in 2013, but he is recovering from offseason surgery and might not be 100 percent for a while.
One positive for the Tigers is that Johnson is a veteran coordinator who will be willing to use a variety of personnel, a variety of packages and a variety of blitzes in an effort to create pressure.