Auburn, Ala.--For defensive line coach Rodney Garner and the Auburn Tigers, the goal heading into the 2016 season is a simple one in theory, but easier said that done. With plenty of talent and depth to help the defense take a big step forward, Garner said their goal is to take their performance to the next level.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to work with these guys," Garner said. "I definitely think there's a lot of skill, a lot of talent there. We've got to embrace the process of what it's going to take to play at a high level, a championship level. I think we've got to develop a singular purpose where it's all about Auburn. It's not about individualism, we've got to put Auburn first.
"We've got to go out there every single day with a purpose in mind that we're trying to get better together, collectively," the former Auburn player said. "We have to be a united force, that we're not going to splinter the first time we hit adversity because adversity comes.
"We have got to be able to stay together and if we're going to be one of the pillars or rocks that's going to build this team then we've got to put them through the fire to make sure they're not going to splinter the first time they hit a rough spot."
With veterans such as Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson to lean on up front along with returning starter, redshirt sophomore Dontavius Russell, and seniors such as Devaroe Lawrence and Maurice Swain, Garner has a strong group of older players to build around.
Montravius Adams (1) celebrates a sack vs. Texas A&M. The senior is expected to be a key performer for the 2016 Tigers after seeing major playing time the previous three season.
When you factor in sophomores like Jeff Holland , Byron Cowart and Andrew Williams, true freshmen Marlon Davidson, Derrick Brown and Antwuan Jackson, as well as junior college transfer Paul James, the challenge every day on the practice field is to play your best because someone else is waiting to take your reps. Garner noted that is a huge motivating factor and something that can only help that defensive line.
Maurice Swain (90) is in his second season with the Tigers.
"I think competition is always really good because it definitely creates more accountability," Garner said. "It's accountability to one another too because they know 'I can't really afford to go out there and have a bad day, especially when I've got a guy competing for the same position that has equal talent and could be just as good and just as productive.' It makes you bring our 'A' game. "
Not only does competition work to improve the players individually, Garner said that push makes for more players that are able to play. That means more depth overall and more chances for playing time, something that is always a good thing when you talk about the defensive line.
"I like it," Garner added of the competition. "I think it improves morale because they know that 'hey, if I go out and work hard and improve and if I'm a productive player and I'm not making mistakes and I can play at a high level, a championship level, then I'm going to play'. At the same time if I'm not performing I'm not going to play. At this level we video everything. The eye in the sky don't lie. What you put on tape, that's your resume."
Auburn's defensive linemen and the rest of their teammates face a challenging opening game on Saturday as No. 2 ranked Clemson visits Jordan-Hare Stadium for an 8 p.m. CDT kickoff.