Auburn, Ala.--Travis Williams wants to remember 2016 as just the start of the resurgence of the linebacker position for the Tigers.
In his first season on the job as the on-the-field linebacker coach at Auburn, the former All-SEC performer coached Tre Williams, DeShaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montavious Atkinson to one of the best years for an Auburn linebacker group in the last decade.
Now the job is to get even better.
“They have been working hard,” Williams said. “They have had a ‘coach me’ attitude and they want to get better. It has been fun to coach them. I have been biting on them. I don’t give them an inch. I don’t let them breathe.
“We have to get better," the former Auburn player said. "It’s so easy with everybody patting you on the back saying the linebackers have improved. That’s all fine and dandy, but we’ve got to get better.
"It’s my job to put my thumb on the. It’s my job to keep biting on them. It’s my job to keep dropping them in that grease for us to get better I can’t get complacent as a coach, but they want to get dropped in the grease.
“That’s the fun thing," he pointed out. "They want to be coached. ‘Coach me as hard as you can’ and they know that’s what they’re getting out there. They’re going to get coached with energy. They’re going to play with energy. We’re going to hold guys accountable. What’s fun now is they’re holding each other accountable. I don’t have to say anything so that’s good.”
While Tre Williams, Darrell Williams and Davis get much of the attention, Atkinson has steadily climbed the ladder at linebacker since arriving on campus. Now very much in the playing rotation along with the other three, Atkinson doesn’t take a back seat to anyone, according to his coach.
“Atkinson has all the tools,” Travis Williams said. “That’s the thing people don’t know, I don’t have starters. This spring we do an orange, blue and white group. I rotate four guys with the orange so it’s not DeShaun and Darrell or DeShaun and Tre or Atkinson and Darrell.
“At any second you could see any of those four guys out there. That’s what having depth can do for you. If we didn’t have competition your tail is going to run to the ball anyway or I’m going to bust you.
“Now I just say ‘come on out’ and I put another one in there. I have four guys that I trust to play.
I trust all four guys and everyone does different things. These guys have really grown and we’re just trying to get better.”
Atkinson had a strong game in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma.
While Atkinson has put on almost 30 pounds since arriving on campus to check in at 217 pounds this spring, Darrell Williams has had the most drastic change since last season. Now weighing it at 247 and handling the extra 16 pounds well, the Hoover native has really impressed his coach this spring with his play on the field.
“He’s taken his game to another notch and having a good spring,” Travis Williams said. “We’ve just challenged him to take his game to another level. For him now it’s just outside of football, spending a lot of time on ball on your own.
“That’s for all the guys," the coach said. "It is a luxury to have four guys you can rotate and I like to rotate my linebackers. I just look at Coach (Rodney) Garner and the way he does his D-Line. If you can play there’s no need for you to sit on the sidelines with me. You just keep two guys out there the whole time and you’re out there for 85 or 90 snaps, that doesn’t do Auburn’s defense any good.
“You’ve got to have a plan to win the fourth quarter so I rotate my linebackers with a plan to win in the fourth quarter," Williams added. "If they’re tired that’s my fault. We can run them all day and they can be in the greatest shape of their life, but when they’re tired you’re not getting them back. You have to keep them fresh and a plan to win in the fourth quarter.”
Auburn's linebackers and their teammates are in to the final days of spring training. On Saturday at 1 p.m. they will play in the annual A-Day spring game.