One of those reserves, redshirt sophomore Karibi Dede, is developing into a key contributor at outside linebacker and on special teams. Dede was a safety last year, but made the move to linebacker in spring training and has steadily improved since then.
"I am starting to see things now as a linebacker," Dede tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I am starting to feel right at home. The biggest adjustment was vision and speed because you are closer to the ball. I have adjusted and things are slowing down. I am able to read the play and react to it."
Dede's background as a defensive back makes him a player who is sometimes put in the game in obvious passing situations. However, he notes that playing linebacker and safety are definitely different.
"At linebacker you have to be physical," he says. "You have to hit something or somebody every play. At safety sometimes you are out there in coverage. At linebacker nine out of 10 times you are hitting something. You are playing downhill and you have to use your leverage and your pads."
This year's starting linebacker group of Travis Williams, Antarrious Williams and Kevin Sears has been successful using its quickness and toughness to make plays. Last year's starting linebacker group that position coach Joe Whitt put on the field featured larger players.
"I think Coach Whitt assesses each group he has and he teaches us to play to our advantages," Dede says. "Last year the group was bigger with Dontarrious Thomas, Karlos Dansby and Travis starting. D.T. and Karlos are bigger than the guys we have now and there were certain things they had to do to win. With us being smaller, there are certain things we have to do to win."
Dede, who stands six feet tall and weighs 205 pounds, played a variety of positions on offense and defense on powerful teams at C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Va. He saw action at running back, linebacker, cornerback and safety and was an All-State performer his senior season before spending a fall at prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in hopes of getting more looks from major college programs than he did as a high school senior.
Former Auburn defensive coordinator and secondary coach John Lovett recruited Dede to Auburn to play safety. He arrived in time for spring training in 2002 and redshirted that year. He started six times and played as a reserve in the others the following year at safety before being moved to linebacker this year.
Dede says playing a variety of positions in high school helped him with his adjustment to a new position at Auburn.
"In high school you don't have a whole lot of rules," he says. "It is more like see the ball, hit the ball. I think playing different positions gave me an opportunity to see the ball from different perspectives, which kind of helps me out with what I am doing now as a linebacker."
Dede, who was in on 27 tackles last year at safety, says that Whitt has been teaching him to play with his "eyes" as a linebacker.
Karibi Dede was solid last season as a redshirt freshman.
"I keep training my eyes," Dede says. "I feel the faster you see it, the faster you can react to it and make a play. As time goes by, looking at film, play recognition has been big this year for us.
"I believe Coach Whitt has done a good job getting us prepared for each individual game having us look at certain things and know what we are looking for. When we get out there on Saturday, nothing really surprises us that much. Where they have made changes, we come over on the sideline and they draw it up. It is all about our eyes being able to see and recognize it."
Dede also plays on the punt return, punt coverage, kickoff return and kickoff coverage teams. Through six games, special teams play has been better than in recent years. The redshirt sophomore says that is not an accident because the coaching staff has emphasized it more this season.
"We are having fun out there on special teams," he says." I am on all four phases of the special teams. Each group is a different bunch put together. You might have a linebacker here, a safety there, a corner there.
"Out of all of the special teams I think I like punt return the best. There is a two-way goal. You have the opportunity to block a kick, which is huge. You can really change the momentum of the game if you get a blocked kick. I think we have had maybe three in six games. You also have a chance to set up a return and make a big play there, too."
Dede and his fourth-ranked Tigers will be looking to make more big plays on Saturday when the Arkansas Razorbacks come to Jordan-Hare Stadium. Kickoff time is 2:30 p.m. for a game that will be televised nationally by CBS as the Tigers look to improve to 4-0 in the SEC in a key divisional matchup vs. the Razorbacks, who are 3-2 overall and 2-1 in SEC play.