Tre Williams (above) is shown in action during the 2016 A-Day game.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of position previews for the 2016 Auburn football Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--If there was ever a perfect time to have former Auburn All-SEC linebacker Travis Williams taking on the job of coaching the position for the Tigers then it’s now.
Losing three seniors and rebuilding the spot almost from the ground up, the energetic and up-and-coming young coach seems eager to prove he is the right guy at the right time as the Tigers look to bring an edge back to the position.
The only returning player with any major experience playing for the Tigers, junior Tre Williams heads into the season as a strong favorite to not only be one of the starters when they face Clemson in the opener, but to also be a leader on that side of the ball. Earning valuable experience each of the last two years, splitting time with Kris Frost in 2015, the 6-2, 240 Williams has the leadership skills and a nose for the football, two things that should serve him well in Kevin Steele’s defensive system.
A transfer from Illinois, T.J. Neal (6-0, 235) is the only other player at the position with extensive college playing time. A two-year starter for the Illini, Neal graduated and immediately headed to Auburn in late May to begin learning the system. He is expected to battle sophomore Darrell Williams for a starting spot opposite Tre Williams, and it won’t be easy to win the job over the talented Hoover product.
Darrell Williams, a former Under Armour All-American, is making a push for more playing time.
Athletic and physical at the point of attack, the 6-2, 231 sophomore played sparingly last season with much of his time coming on special teams. It didn’t seem to slow Williams in the spring as he had a strong 15 days of work to set him up for a bigger role in 2016. His ability to play on the perimeter and his strong coverage skills make him the odds-on favorite to slide outside to the strong linebacker spot when Auburn uses a classic 4-3 look this season.
Behind Tre Williams should be his close friend DeShaun Davis. A player who likely wouldn’t have been given a second look under the previous staff, the 5-11, 239 Davis took advantage of his second opportunity under Travis Williams and was one of the bright spots of the spring. Not the biggest or the fastest, Davis has a knack for finding the football and his desire to play the game, and play it well, is contagious.
When Darrell Williams is outside at the strong linebacker spot the player who will likely back him up is junior Cameron Toney (6-1, 244) from Huntsville. Showing some good signs on the outside the last two springs, Toney hasn’t gotten his shot to show what he can do to this point, but this could be his year.
Travis Williams is in his first season as coach of AU's linebackers.
Also at the position are sophomore Montavious Atkinson (6-1, 211), redshirt freshman Richard McBryde (6-1, 223) and true freshman Tre Threat. All three bring something different to the table with Atkinson’s speed and athleticism making him an interesting dynamic against teams that will try to spread the field and throw the football. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the mix some early in the season with teams like Clemson and Texas A&M on the schedule.
A classic inside linebacker who plays at his best when he gets downhill, McBryde just has to continue to move forward as a player and try to get into the mix behind the two groups at the inside position. Threat is a different player because of his ability to rush the passer. Doing that almost exclusively early in his career at Spanish Fort, the 6-1, 240 Threat transitioned to more of a true linebacker spot as a senior and while it took him a while to adjust he finished his career in style with a strong playoff run on the way to a state title.