Searching for depth with the losses of Demarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson in the middle, Coach Don Dunn was looking for someone to step up and make plays. That person has turned out to be true freshman Pat Sims.
A standout at Dillard High in Ft. Lauderdale, Sims was a highly recruited player and eventually chose Auburn over several other top-notch football schools. Expected to be close on his grades and test ACT score, Sims made his needed score on his last attempt this summer and immediately set his sights on playing right away for the Tigers.
Pat Sims should add some depth for the Tigers at defensive tackle.
It didn't take long for the defensive lineman to make his mark in preseason practices. In pass rush drills early on he showed the ability to use his hands and get to the quarterback. With Jackson out, Sims has taken advantage of getting more reps in practice to make rapid improvements in his game. He said that having a chance to get in the action early has been important for him this preseason. That was particularly the case with the first major scrimmage when Sims got the bulk of the action at tackle with senior Jay Ratliff held out.
"It's very important," Sims said. "You have to learn out there in the scrimmages and practices before you can learn in a game. I went out there and learned a couple of things. I did some things wrong and I did some things right. Now I just have to move on.
"I think I did all right," Sims added. "I made about three or four tackles and had one or two sacks. I think I did well, I just have to keep making progress and get better at everything."
At 6-3 and right at 300 pounds, Sims has the frame to be just what the doctor ordered for an Auburn defense looking for some muscle inside. Despite his talents and strength inside, Dunn said that Sims has a long way to go in order to be the kind of player they can count on every play.
"He's doing all right," Dunn said. "He gets a little tired and he has to learn to push through. He's going to be okay."
A big help to Sims and Tez Doolittle up front has been Ratliff. Not a rah rah type of player, Ratliff has taken on the role of a leader for the defensive line. Showing them the ropes as well as teaching them the defense in addition to the coaches, Ratliff's help has been greatly appreciated by Sims in the preseason.
"I don't know everything," Sims said. "When there are things I don't know, I ask him and he tells me. He's like a big brother to me. I know most of the plays. There are just other things I don't know right now. In due time I'll know everything."
Even though Sims and Doolittle have both shown some progress through two-a-days and heading into the season, Dunn said that the young guys and the veterans have to play at a higher level if the defense hopes to remain one of the best in the league.
"We have a long way to go," Dunn said. "We've made a lot of freshman mistakes like jumping offsides, but I thought overall the effort has been good. We have to get better at pass rush and have to learn to convert from run to pass. We have a lot of little things. We've got a lot to work on."