Auburn, Ala.--Playing a limited role for the Auburn football team as a true freshman a year ago, finishing with just 13 tackles and one sack, 6-2, 250 Jeff Holland has come back determined to have a bigger impact in year two on the Plains.
Admitting that his dad called him out for not taking things seriously enough, Holland has been a different player since the end of the 2015 regular season. Now expected to be on the field a whole lot for the Tigers this year, he said for him it’s all about focus.
“I think I've made a lot of progress,” he said. “I have just got more focused. I got in my playbook. It's a process and I had to follow along with the process of listening to my coaches.
"I just had to study my plays," he added. "The technique--high school football is different because everybody is good at this level. You just have to study what you do. Study. Be more focused."
Holland’s improvement actually started before coming back to Auburn in January. Like most young guys it was tough for Holland to work on the fundamentals of the game during the season because of the week-to-week focus on getting ready for the next opponent, but the bowl practices proved to be huge for him in allowing him to improve as a player on and off the field.
“They were very important,” he said of the practices leading up to the Birmingham Bowl. “I took it seriously. I learned more. I got more reps. I just worked hard in those practices.”
Carrying that over to spring training, Holland impressed his coaches with his improved play and it has carried over to the preseason work, according to Coach Kevin Steele.
"He likes to rush the passer and he's got a skill set that allows him to do that," the first-year Auburn defensive coordinator said. "He has got quickness, explosion, good use of his hands and he runs relatively good for a guy in that position. He likes to play. He enjoys playing. He has fun out there practicing."
Working behind Carl Lawson in the regular defensive set, Holland could be on the field at the same time with Lawson in pass rush situations. That is something that keeps him working to get better every day, but the biggest incentive comes from the other guys in the room and Coach Rodney Garner, the sophomore pointed out.
"Coach (Rodney) Garner in the meeting room says we come to work every day," Holland said. "There's no starting positions right now. He says there are 22 spots on the defense. You just have to come to work every day."
That is the goal for Holland as Auburn gets ready to face Clemson in the season opener on Sept. 3. Called Auburn's second-best pass rusher behind Lawson by offensive tackle Robert Leff, Holland should have plenty of chances this year to show what he can do. He said that is exciting for him, but in the end it's all about wins and losses. "My goal is just to help my team win, to put my team in the best situation," he said. "Win games and be a great player."