A Lot To Like About The Linebackers

Auburn's linebackers are off to a strong start as the Tigers approach the halfway point of the season.

Auburn, Ala.--Veteran Auburn linebacker coach Joe Whitt says he is enjoying the 2004 football season for more reasons than his team's 5-0 start.

"This is a good group of linebackers," he tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "They are fun to be around. It is a great group of young men. The group that I have got is as good a group of people as you would want to be around. I absolutely love them."

With the Tigers losing starters Karlos Dansby and Dontarrious Thomas to the pros and weakside starter Travis Williams moving to the middle, there were questions about how good the 2004 Auburn linebackers would be. So far the answer is good--real good with junior Antarrious Williams stepping up and having a strong season at weakside linebacker and sophomore Kevin Sears taking over for Dansby at strongside linebacker.

"They are coming together," Whitt says. "They are getting better every week. That is what we hoped for with a young group with Travis being the only true starter coming back. Antarrious had played, Kevin had played and some of the guys behind them had played. They still have a long way go, but I expect us to get to where we want to get."

Antarrious Williams, who leads the team in tackles for lost yards with six for 25 yards, says this group of linebackers and all 11 players on defense are learning to play well as a unit. "I think we have a lot of players who are unselfish this year," he says in explaining why the Tigers are currently ranked sixth nationally in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.

Travis Williams leads the Tigers in tackles after making the move to middle linebacker.

Whitt's linebackers will be tested again on Saturday when they face one of the nation's top running backs, Ryan Moats, who plays for the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Moats rushed for 232 yards last Saturday as his team improved to 3-2 with a 28-21 victory over a Fresno State team that was ranked 17th nationally.

Whitt is likely to use more than just his three starters based on his substitution pattern. He has experienced backups and you can expect to see them on the field throughout the game. "Karibi Dede, Mayo Sowell and Derrick Graves have all played a lot of football," Whitt notes. "We have been able to concentrate on the younger guys like Montavian Collier, Kevis Burnam and Andrew Letts. We are working on getting everybody better day by day.

"We are probably using more players because as a group we can be stronger than with one or two individuals. Kevin, Derrick, Travis and AT (Antarrious Williams) play a lot of special teams so to rest them we use a lot of linebackers."

Whitt says that his linebackers are doing more than just performing well in game situations. "The great thing about them is they get excited about working," Whitt says. "Preparation is more important than anything. Getting fired up the day of the game doesn't mean much. You better be fired up on Sunday, Monday and throughout the preparation period. They watch a lot of video on their own. When it is time for us to meet with them, they already have a lot of exposure of what teams are trying to do to us."

The next chance for the Tigers to show what they have learned is Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Louisiana Tech in Auburn's final non-conference game on the regular season schedule.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories