Man In The Middle Is A Man On A Mission

Auburn's starting middle linebacker has stepped up to become a leader of the defense this season.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite being new to playing middle linebacker and being smaller than most SEC players at that position, Travis Williams is leading the Auburn football team in tackles going into Saturday's showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers.

The 6-1, 214-pound junior says that he is not going to let a couple of little issues like size and inexperience get in the way of his assignment of being a leader of the nationally-ranked Auburn defense.

"A lot of people forget that I just started mike (middle linebacker) this summer so I learned mike in three weeks and some guys have been in that system for years," Williams says. "Right now I am on a mission to just play the mike. I know I am undersized and all of that, but I am just on a mission to prove people wrong."

The middle linebacker is basically the defensive quarterback because he has to know all of the calls and make sure his teammates are in the right place at all times. And, despite having a short time to learn such a detailed position, Williams says that learning it was the only thing he could do.

"They got me at mike," says Williams, who was the starter at weakside linebacker last season. "I can't say, ‘Well coach, you just put me there.' I mean they have got me out there so I have got to know it. It is my responsibility to know it so I put a lot of pressure on myself and learned it because my teammates are depending on me to learn it.

"They are depending on AT (Antarrious Williams) to learn will (weakside linebacker) and wherever the coaches put you they are depending on you," the junior adds. "So, as a team we know that we need each other as a team defense. That is what we are really working on--just believing in each other, wherever the coach puts us. There are just 11 guys out there."

Through four games, Williams, and the entire starting linebacker group that also features sophomore Kevin Sears, has won praise for its play from the coaching staff. Travis Williams, a former Spring Valley, S.C., High standout, has 18 solo tackles and two assists this season. He has used his knowledge of the game and quickness to make up for his lack of size.

"A lot of people talk about that speed, but I think I am way quicker than a lot of guys," he says. "It's more quickness--more first step, and when I see it I go. And linemen they are 330 pounds and I am there like a bullet. They try and do everything they can to get to me.

"My vision is pretty good, too," Williams adds. "I have got pretty good eyes. I see when people are pulling and I see everything in front of me so that helps me out a lot."

Travis Williams celebrates after the defense recovers a fumble from LSU quarterback Marcus Randall.

Auburn is currently ranked ninth nationally in total defense, which isn't bad for a group that was considered to be rebuilding. Williams says the defense has come quite a way from late summer when there were a lot of questions, including many about a front seven that had to replace five starters. "We have come a long way, but the coaches always told us that we are just trying to be 11 guys out there," he notes. "Eleven guys that can play Auburn defense. It doesn't matter what size you are."

The middle linebacker adds that those 11 guys, whoever they are at any given time, are thinking team first. "In the past we were watching special teams and a guy would mess up and nobody would say anything, but now we know that we are going to need everyone on special teams.

"It's like when we played The Citadel Saturday and the guy had probably a five-yard run and everybody was like we don't even want anybody to get a yard. A guy was getting five yards and we were looking around like what is going on. Guys are asking questions because as a defense now we are getting to a point where we don't even want a guy to get a yard."

Williams says that his defense, which is heading up to Knoxville this weekend to take on the SEC's number one rated offense, will have video work to do this week to prepare for the Vols' two-headed, true freshman attack at quarterback.

"They have got a fast quarterback (Brent Schaeffer) that everybody knows about then they have got this one guy that is about 6-5 (Erik Ainge) and he has got a rifle for an arm," Williams says. "We have got two different styles of quarterbacks that we have got to practice against."

He also notes that despite the fact that Tennessee has been balanced on offense this season, averaging 263 yards per game rushing and 240 yards per game passing, that won't make it any tougher on the Tigers as long as they play smart defense. "You have just got to read your keys," he says. "You only fool a fool. If you step up for a run and he passes the ball then you are a fool so we have just got to read our keys and just play what we see."

A lot of people will get a chance to see this SEC showdown as the 4-0 Tigers, who are ranked eighth and ninth in the major polls, take on the 3-0 Vols who are eighth and 10th in this week's rankings. The game is being televised on ESPN with the kickoff scheduled for 6:45 p.m. CDT from Neyland Stadium.

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