Auburn, Ala.--For sophomore linebacker Tray Blackmon, this year's season opener presents a different feeling for him than last season. Suspended for the first six games of the 2006 season, he had a strong run in the second half of the year for the Tigers included several big plays in wins over Florida and Ole Miss before being suspended for the Cotton Bowl to close out the season.
Now firmly entrenched in the middle of the Auburn defense after playing on the weak side last year, the LaGrange, Ga. native said that he's excited about the opportunity to be the central figure of the defense for the Tigers this season.
"I have a better idea of how this defense works now," Blackmon said. "Being in the middle, moving from Will (weak side linebacker) to Mike (middle linebacker), I have kind of caught on to it more. I kind of have more of an idea how defensive schemes are supposed to work. I'm more comfortable with it than I was last year."
Playing in just six games and starting four, Blackmon finished his freshman season with 18 tackles and three fumble recoveries. His biggest game came in his last effort as he had six tackles against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Now a year older and in his second year of the defense, Blackmon said he sees a different feeling on this year's unit as compared to last year.
"We've got more guys on there that are closer, we're more like a family now," Blackmon said. "The guy next to me feels like he's playing for me and I feel like I'm playing for him. We're all going to give 100 percent out there on the field. I feel like it's going to be better because we're tighter on defense than we were last year."
Blackmon is an intense competitor that has looked at home in the middle this preseason.
Something else Blackmon said is that this defense is even faster than the one the Tigers put on the field last year. From Quentin Groves on the weak side at defensive end to Aairon Savage at safety, Blackmon said this defense has the ability to make plays all over the field.
"With Quentin on the edge and all of our linebackers can run pretty good and the big guys up front can run good and the secondary can run pretty good," Blackmon said. "I think there's a little more speed out there, especially at the linebacker position."
Groves and the linebackers will get a chance to do some different things this season than they've done in the past thanks to a very multiple defense utilized by Coach Will Muschamp. Although Auburn worked in both the 4-3 and 3-4 fronts last season, Blackmon said they've become more adept in doing both this preseason and he believes it should make for some fun times on defense.
"It gives us a chance to give some different looks and some different people a chance to make plays," Blackmon said. "It's more of the secondary and safeties with the linebackers running to the ball. Maybe it's a defensive end breaking out of the huddle and making plays. It gives different looks and different guys a better chance to make plays."
It's no secret that Blackmon is a major football talent that almost gave it all away by making some bad choices his first year on the Plains. Saying he's got his life in order and ready to move forward, Blackmon could just be the key to Auburn's defensive success in 2007.
"I feel like I've got a base for my life now," Blackmon said. "Everything is like it's brand new and I'm starting all over going into this season and into this fall semester. I feel like I've got a good chance to be successful.
"I just want to stay consistent and contribute something to the team," Blackmon added. "I just want to make some big plays and hopefully win a national championship and win the SEC. I just want to finish up strongly this fall semester in school also. It's going to be hard work but I'm looking forward to it."