Dede Handles New Assignment, Willis Says

James Willis talks about the changes the Tigers made to the linebacker corps.

Auburn, Ala.--Linebacker coach James Willis says the move of senior Karibi Dede back to the middle proved to be a good one for the Tigers as they knocked off Florida in a key SEC showdown.

With redshirt freshman Tray Blackmon able to play for the first time at Auburn after serving a six-game suspension, Dede was moved from weakside linebacker to the middle, opening the door for Blackmon so see significant action at the weakside spot. That is what happened as the Tigers outlasted the Gators 27-17.

Willis, Auburn's first-year linebacker coach, notes that he wasn't surprised that Dede handled himself well in the different assignment.

"It went as well as we thought it would," Willis says. "It is a good spot for him. Actually, anywhere we move Karibi is a good place for him. He is that kind of player who can adjust to any place we put him."

Dede, who has also started at safety, isn't a rookie to the middle linebacker spot. Willis coached him at that position in spring training and early in preseason practice before the senior was moved to the middle spot.

I think right now he is the most instinctive linebacker we have as far as reading the runs and seeing the flow of the play," says Willis, who was a standout linebacker for the Tigers in the 1990s before playing in the NFL.

Merrill Johnson, who had been the number one middle linebacker, returned to his former position, weakside linebacker, and started there vs. the Gators, but Blackmon got the majority of playing time on Saturday.

"It was good to see him back out there," Willis says of Blackmon. "He served his time and was really excited about getting out there...He was patient and got a lot of support from the staff and from his players and teammates."

Although Blackmon wasn't officially credited with a tackle, he had perhaps the biggest play of the game when he pressured Florida QB Chris Leak and forced a fumble that he returned 22 yards to the Auburn 38 just when the Gators had an opportunity to regain the lead in the fourth quarter with Auburn up 18-17.

"He was really excited to get back out there," Willis says. "I think we put him in the right position where he could kind of let loose and be Tray Blackmon and he did that. He went out and made some plays. He got after the quarterback a few times and just played hard. It looked like he had fun out there."

Tray Blackmon (10) emerged from spring drills as AU's number one weakside linebacker.

Willis says he is looking for the linebackers as a group to step up and make more big plays like the one Blackmon made starting with this Saturday's homecoming game vs. Tulane. He says the linebackers were solid against Florida, but adds, "We just didn't do anything special."

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