Linebackers Dominate First Scrimmage

Second year linebacker coach James Willis discusses the strong performance by his players in Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn, Ala.--In the first scrimmage of the 2007 spring training, the Auburn linebackers dominated with hard hits and made a habit of getting into the offensive backfield. Chris Evans, Craig Stevens and Patrick Trahan in particular caught the eye of coach James Willis.

"Those guys really stand out," Willis notes. "They all played really well. Courtney Harden is improving. (Steve) Gandy also. I'm just really happy with Chris Evans. He came out and put on a show.

"He's had a pretty good camp," he adds of Evans. "Even throughout the season you could see him progress every week. For him all he has to do is get some reps to where he can understand the defense and what to do. He'll be fine."

Evans, playing at mike (middle) linebacker, delivered several jarring hits on the Auburn running backs and caused Ben Tate to fumble after catching a pass over the middle. He had 11 tackles, one for a loss.

Trahan had 10 tackles, two for a loss including a sack. Tristan Davis and Zac Etheridge had a solid collision on a run up the middle, but the hardest hit and best tackle goes to Trahan, who is looking to grab Will Herring's old job on the strong side. Tailback Brad Lester went around right tackle, tried to turn inside and Trahan buried him into Pat Dye Field.

Trahan is shown slinging Tristan Davis into the turf.

"He's getting the confidence," Willis says of Trahan. "That's the biggest thing with him, I think. He's always had the ability. He's just getting some maturity and confidence.

"He's productive and that's what we grade our guys on. We don't have a grade or number system. What we grade them on is production. If they're not making plays, what's the sense in it?"

Stevens played in three games last season as a true freshman before injuring his hamstring and taking a medical redshirt. He is playing this spring at weakside linebacker and is the backup to Gandy.

"The thing about Craig is that he's young," Willis explains. "He's got to get keeping better every day, find something positive, try to find something in his game where he's weak and try to improve that to. Day by day, week by week we try to work at that.

"Right now he's a will and for a guy his age you want to keep him at one spot and he can understand what he's doing in the defense and be comfortable with that. That's the game plan right now."

Stevens had nine tackles, three TFL and one sack. Gandy, who got the start over Stevens, also played well early in the scrimmage and snuffed out a pair of reverses. He finished with six tackles.

Merrill Johnson started in the middle over Evans, but was injured early on which left the door open for Evans and Harden.

"When we teach our defense, we teach the defense not just the position," Willis notes. "That's why these guys are able to move around if they have to. Today when Merrill went down I had to give Chris a break so I popped Courtney back inside. He lined up and did everything correctly. They understand the defense and that's important."

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