Linebackers A Point Of Emphasis In Preseason

Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof and sophomore Jake Holland discuss the play of the linebackers.

Auburn, Ala.—With just over two weeks left until the season opener against Utah State on Sept.3, the Auburn Tigers have plenty of competition on both sides of the football for starting jobs and playing time. Among the most important are at linebacker where Daren Bates is returning as the starter on the strong side and senior Eltoro Freeman, junior Jonathan Evans and sophomore Jake Holland are all expected to be in the playing rotation this fall.

Working along with Freeman at middle linebacker, Holland earned some valuable experience last season playing behind Josh Bynes for the Tigers. Now a year older and wiser, he said that education and learning more of the defense has been huge for him.

"It's just the mental ability and being able to make all my calls and checks," Holland said. "It's also poise on the field. I just feel a lot more comfortable out there. That allows me to make plays."

While Holland has been busy picking up the calls in his second season in the middle, Freeman has played all three linebacker spots in his career with the Tigers and gives them depth at each position. He has focused mainly in the middle this preseason however and Coach Ted Roof said he's done some good things.

"He's had a solid camp," Roof said of Freeman. "He's just working to get better. He's been playing mostly in the middle, but that's not necessarily permanent."

Starting every game as a true freshman at safety for the Tigers, Bates gives Auburn a unique weapon as he can be a hybrid player capable of playing the pass while also stepping up in the run game. Roof said that's what he has seen more of out of Bates this preseason.

"Now he's got a linebacker mentality," Roof said. "It's not like he is a safety playing linebacker anymore, he's a linebacker playing linebacker. You can see it in the drills he does and his approach to things. He's put on some weight, which is a good thing, and done a good job so far."

Jake Holland

Behind them Roof said players such as Harris Gaston, Jawara White and true freshmen Justin Garrett, Chris Landrum, and Anthony Swain have made some progress. Knowing what it's like in that role, Holland said they'll become important to the defense as the season gets underway.

"I feel like we're coming along pretty well," Holland said. "I feel like we've got a good base as far as starting out. The younger guys are coming up and we're getting the depth we needed last year. I think that's going to help us this year."

Focusing on correcting mistakes as well as getting more and more of the defense in, the Tigers will slowly begin to incorporate some of the game plan for Utah State in the coming days as they work towards the opener. Getting the playing rotation whittled down to a workable number while also moving forward, Holland said the goals for the defense never change no matter what time of the year it is.

"I feel like the effort has gone up," Holland said. "I feel like the defense itself has meshed together well. We're communicating better and flying around and making plays.

"We just want to get better every day," he added. "We want to work on our physicality. That's what you do in camp. We just want to take a step up each day. You don't want to go backwards or stay where you are at."

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