On the Job Training For Football Freshman

After getting his first collegiate playing time, this redshirt freshman says he still has plenty to learn.

Auburn, Ala.--While games against Ball State and Western Kentucky are the match-ups that most veterans on the Auburn team don't look forward to, it is an opportunity for younger players like linebacker Courtney Harden to see the playing field and get some live action.

"It has been a great learning experience," Harden says of the last two games. "Coming from the practice field going to the game, the speed is a whole lot faster. I'm enjoying it right now, but I still have space for myself to improve even more. I'm trying to find any way to contribute to the game to get better."

Harden, a strongside linebacker from Leighton, Ala., made two tackles in his collegiate debut in Auburn's 28-0 win over Mississippi State. Although he did not record a tackle against Ball State, he received valuable playing time with two other redshirt freshman linebackers, Chris Evans and Merrill Johnson.

Starting middle linebacker Travis Williams, who returned to practice Tuesday after missing the Ball State game with a turf toe injury, says that the redshirt freshman trio of linebackers have great potential.

Courtney Harden runs one of linebacker coach Joe Whitt's drills in practice.

"They have shown the willingness to learn and they pay attention to detail," Williams says. "They have still got a long ways to go, but they are improving every day at practice.

"Courtney has got to understand that he needs to slow down and react to what you see. You can't ever think. If you think you're always a step behind. You have just got to react. With our linebackers we're so fast where we can read everything up."

Harden admits that he needs to slow down mentally, but that will come with more experience. "I'm getting all of my alignments, but I'm still missing some of the other small things like fitting the right gaps and all of that," he says. "It's coming along slow. It is just fitting the right holes or fitting the back the right way or not wrapping up on the tackle.

"I know my alignments, but being out there beside Travis he calms me down because I'm nervous out there sometimes," he adds. "Travis calms me down and gets my head in the game so I can do the right play."

Harden recorded 33 solo tackles in an injury-shorted senior season at Colbert County High School and 83 tackles as a junior. He redshirted last season while recovering from a knee injury and says he is still in a transition of playing more as part of a team on defense rather than the way he played in high school.

"They stress that so much," Harden says. "We just had a meeting about that Monday. That is a big part of our defense is everyone doing their job to help the team out and playing as one unit. In high school it was basically see ball, hit ball. It was just go play, but now it's more of a team thing. It is something I had to get used to over the spring."

Under linebacker coach Joe Whitt, Harden has continued to learn and progress, but says that gaining weight and experience are two things he needs to add to in order to improve his game.

"I would like to get faster and bigger," he notes. "I have lost a lot of weight since the spring and I'm down to 220 now. I would like to get more weight back on, at least 225. In the spring I was 240. I'm moving a lot faster, but I want to gain some more weight back.

"Playing teams like Western Kentucky we can get in and get the learning experience," Harden adds. "Down the road we'll be able to help out with the SEC schools. Coach Whitt wants us to get in and help those guys out as much as possible."

On Saturday Harden is expected to get significant playing time again soon after the 1:30 p.m. kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium as his Tigers take on the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky.

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