Auburn, Ala.--So far Byron Cowart's production hasn’t matched his hype, but for his position coach Rodney Garner that's just part of life for most young defensive linemen when they take longer than expected to find their groove. Don't take that to mean Garner doesn't want the best out of his players, but he's not going to push the expectations out of reach for the sophomore just yet.
A player who struggled to develop into a key performer as a true freshman, the same for the majority of defensive linemen making the jump from high school to college, Cowart has seen his play improve since the extended time in bowl practices and throughout the spring even though he finds himself locked in a serious battle to even make the top two at strongside defensive end coming out of spring practices.
Saying that the sophomore is on track, Garner said the toughest thing for Cowart and any young guy is just the difference in size and talent level they have to face day in and day out in the SEC.
“They’re not playing against 180-pound offensive lineman any more,” Garner said. “Those days are over. You’re playing against 300-pounders. They’re big, powerful guys that want to break your neck every single time the ball is snapped. I think he’s adapting. He’s getting better. He’s learning competition.
“Everybody would just love to go out there and be dominant. I would love to just run around people and be dominant, but it doesn’t work that way. The adjustment on the line of scrimmage in this conference is hard. It’s very, very hard. That is a difficult thing.”
With his performance level higher and some of the pressure off now that he’s been on campus for a year, Cowart is continuing to deal with the everyday challenges that college football playesr go through. Just because his first season wasn’t an All-American type year doesn’t change Cowart’s career, Garner pointed out.
“He’s going to be fine,” the veteran defensive line coach said. “They have to guard against all this pressure that everybody has placed on them that they’re going to come in and be an instant success. Some guys are quicker than others. That doesn’t equate to success or failure, I don't think.
"This guy may come in and year one and live up to those expectations. This guy may not live up to those in year two or three. That doesn’t equate to whether he was successful or not.”
The player who may have to deal with some of the same expectations eventually is redshirt freshman Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. Despite the fact that he only played competitive football for one season before getting to Auburn and dealing with a pair of surgeries since that time, Tega has the potential to do big things on the Plains, but Garner warned it’s going to take time. “He’s a big, strong, powerful guy that has to learn football," Garner noted. "The good thing about Prince is he doesn’t have bad habits. The bad thing is he has no habits. This is a new game to him. This is a contact game to him. It’s a physical game. He’s a big, powerful guy that is still learning to use his body.
“He does a lot of things based on upper body strength but I’m trying to teach him that the most important muscles you have are in the lower body. He has to play at play level, hand placement and those kind of things. The arrow is pointing up. He’s a work in progress.”