With injuries to DeMarco McNeil, Spencer Johnson and Dexter Murphy along with the defection of talented but undisciplined Marcus Johnson, there was plenty of playing time available last season for another defensive tackle. However, Auburn coaches made the decision to keep the high-profile signee on the scout team last fall.
"A redshirt season was the best thing for me," says Dickens, who was originally discouraged by watching from the sidelines last fall. "I would have played a very limited amount of time if I would have played at all last year. The extra year is letting me get adjusted to the level of competition and the speed of the game and stuff like that."
With projected starting noseguard McNeil not allowed to have contact this spring, Dickens has had opportunity after opportunity to show the coaches what he can do. He has split his time working with the first and second units.
"I am pleased with my spring," Dickens says. "You know, I'm trying to get in the playing rotation and start rolling and just make the best of where I'm at right now. As a defense, we are depending on the line to step up this season so I need to step up right now."
His position coach, Don Dunn, says that the redshirt freshman is far from a finished project, but says the 6-3, 285-pounder has shown enough improvement this spring to be counted on for prime time action this fall. "We are counting on Wayne to be a major contributor for us," Dunn says.
Head coach Tommy Tuberville agrees and says, "Wayne has been doing fine. He has learned a lot in spring practice. It is awful tough for a defensive lineman in spring practice whether you are a fifth-year senior, much less a redshirt freshman. He has played with the first team quite a bit and learned a lot. He has gotten patted on the back and got hollered at a lot. That goes with the territory when you play for the first year like all the rest of these guys. He is going to be a player for us. He is going to have to make plays for us this year.
"He has really been a pleasant surprise," the head coach adds. "I knew he could get the job done, but I didn't think he would show up as much as he has done early in his career. He has kind of been the Carnell Williams of defense. You never see him say a word. He comes out, works hard and improves every day. There have not been many days he has not made good strides. He has a long way to go, but he is going to be a factor."
Wayne Dickens is shown in action during spring practice.
With spring training coming to an end on Saturday with the annual A-Day Game finale, Dickens has been working on improving his stance and says that he has made progress in that area. "Now, I just need to get into better shape so I can give 100 percent every play," he says. "I think that's my major weakness right now."
Dickens says that after spring training ends and before two-a-days start in August that he plans to do a lot of individual workouts. His goal is to report in August at around 290 pounds with improved stamina and all-around strength. That would be substantially more than he weighed last summer when he arrived on the Auburn campus from Lake Gibson High in Lakeland, Fla., weighing 272 pounds.
"If I can cary 290 real well, then I will keep the weight, but if I can't I will stay at 285," he says. He says the strength and conditioning program he started last fall and continued throughout the winter is making him a better football player. "Oh, most definitely it has helped," Dickens says. "The biggest jump was when I first got here, from about August to December, when I was working out with the redshirts. We just worked out constantly and that has helped me a lot. I'm nowhere near as strong as I want to be, but I can see myself getting stronger every day."
Dunn says that Dickens is a natural noseguard in Auburn's 4-3 alignment because he has natural strength, is tenacious inside and is man enough to handle the double-team blocks that he sometimes faces.
"It is a pretty simple position," Dickens says. "I feel pretty comfortable with the way I am playing. I have got two assignments--protect my gap and if the ball is going the other way I need to get down the line."
When Dickens was a high school senior, he won numerous accolades for his performances on football Fridays. "It was a lot easier than in college because I was stronger than my opponents," he says. "I could just bull rush them and run through them. You can't do that in college. You have to play with technique and the game is a lot faster."
In addition to skill and technique, other factors enter into the equation for becoming a successful college defensive lineman. Playing noseguard in the SEC is no place for the faint of heart. "It is pretty tough in there," the redshirt freshman says. "You just have got to get in there and grind everyday. That is the way to get better."
At his current stage of development, Dickens is better defending the run than rushing the passer, which he calls "a weakness for me." He says, "I don't have a lot of technique so I'm working on that daily, just trying to put more in every day."
Tiger Ticket Extra: It has been a good overall spring for the defense. Tuberville has had plenty of positive things to say about the linebackers, secondary and some of the defensive linemen like Dickens. The redshirt freshman says that he likes what he is seeing from his teammates on the practice field. "Our defense is doing great," he says. "You know, if we keep getting better, there won't be a defense better than us in the SEC this year. We've always been tough on defense. It is just simplified now and the coaches are letting the athletes play in the positions where they are supposed to. We're just getting started. There's no telling what we can do. We've got power at every position. So, if we just come together as a team, and just work every day, we'll be a defense to remember."...Dickens, who earned All-State honors in high school, was considered one of the top defensive line prospects in the country in the fall of 2000 at Lake Gibson High. Combine lots of size and athletic ability with good grades and it is easy to understand why he was such a highly regarded recruit. So far, he is making the adjustment to college life with no major problems on the field or in the classroom. "School is going great," Dickens says of his freshman year. "I'm trying to finish up with a 3.0 GPA. That's what my mom is always stressing about. I didn't have a problem getting in because I was qualified (on his test score) my junior year so academics have never been a problem for me."