Holland Looking To Step Up For Tigers

Auburn sophomore linebacker Jake Holland discusses his development and the defense in 2011.

Auburn, Ala.--When you look at the losses off last year's BCS National Championship team at Auburn, one of the most important is at middle linebacker. A three-year starter and a coach on the field, Josh Bynes was a huge piece of the puzzle for the Tigers on defense.

Now the job is likely going to be in the hands of true sophomore Jake Holland. A classic middle linebacker, Holland and senior Eltoro Freeman both worked in the middle in spring practice and the former Pelham standout is poised to take over a leadership role on the defense. While he admits he's still got a way to go before he reaches Bynes' level of knowledge of the game, Holland says he's getting better every day.

"I'm still in that process of learning the defense as well as he knew it his senior year," Holland says. "As the mike linebacker you have to do that because you're the quarterback of the defense. You have to do that because you have to be able to communicate on the field when it gets loud.

"When you can't hear each other you have to be able to signal and tell them what I see and what is coming," he says. "To do that you need to know what they're doing as well. I think it makes you a better player. Josh wasn't the fastest linebacker in the SEC, but he was so smart that he could get that extra step before the ball was snapped. I think that is very key to the position."

Replacing a player who finished with 73 tackles last season and 240 for his career, Holland doesn't have the numbers just yet with only 12 tackles in eight games in 2010. The one thing he does have is some valuable experience, including playing in both the SEC and BCS championship games. Holland points out just getting out there and gaining a feel for the game was huge for him and the other young guys on defense because they're going to be counted on as leaders this year.

"I don't think leadership is by age, I think leadership is by experience," Holland says. "Leadership is very valuable on the field and it only comes through repetition. You have to get that experience to be comfortable in your position and therefore you're a good player.

"Being able to play last year like Jeff (Jeffrey Whitaker) and a couple of other guys in our class, I think that's a huge step in the right direction for our team," he says. "The new guys that have come in we're going to try to get them some playing time so if we get winded he can step in and fill the void with no missed steps at all."

Leadership is something that comes along with playing the middle linebacker position. Counted on as a coach on the field and as someone who must help everyone on the field be in the right position, Holland notes it's coming along for him slowly but surely.

"I feel like I'm more of a leader," he says. "I just feel like I'm ready to take over the defense. Last summer when I came in around this time I felt like I was the new kid on the block. I'm still learning, but now that I know the defense I'm ready to take that next step and teach these guys that were in my spot last year. I want to help them get where I am."

Jake Holland is shown in action as a freshman.

Knowledge is always a key to playing the game of football, and especially on the defensive side of the ball. Knowing what you're supposed to do on defense and what the offense is trying to accomplish makes the game much easier when you're in the heat of battle. Holland says that's the goal for all of the young Tigers early in 2011.

"There is the factor that when you are young you play a little bit slower when you first come in because you're afraid to make a mistake," he says. "I think we're past that now. Even though we are young we have enough experience to not play tight, just play loose and have fun. That has always been the main point of playing football in the first place."

Having to replace five players up front, a pair of linebackers and three secondary performers, Auburn is thin on experience heading into the new season. That doesn't faze Holland or his young teammates however as he says they are expecting big things out of themselves immediaely when the Tigers face Utah State to open the season.

"People have been saying it's going to be a rebuilding year, but we're going to surprise a lot of people in that I think everybody on this team is just as close as we were last year and even closer because of recruiting and getting to know each other," Holland says. "The bond we have got we were able to make in last year's season continues into this season as well. It's just going to be a great year."

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