Auburn, Ala.--It has been a long three weeks for Auburn linebacker Tray Blackmon. Injured on the last play of the first half against Kansas State in the season opener, the sophomore had been forced to watch from the sidelines as the Tigers struggled out of the gate with losses to South Florida and Mississippi State. Back for the Florida game but still not 100 percent, Blackmon says it just felt good to get back on the field and help the team to a victory.
"It felt real good," Blackmon says. "Especially because of that atmosphere at Florida. The stadium was going wild. It was a big game on ESPN and my first game back off an injury. Coming away with the win was huge."
With an ankle injury that wasn't thought to be severe when it happened, Blackmon had been bothered enough to keep him out of practices and games each of the last three weeks. Close to playing against New Mexico State, Auburn's coaches gave Blackmon another week to make sure he was closer to full speed and Blackmon says the ankle responded well once he got back in action.
"It felt pretty good," Blackmon says. "It held up for me. I got about 24 snaps in. It felt pretty good. I was able to execute on my assignments. It's feeling good now. I'm looking forward to more snaps this week. It felt good to get out and stretch it out on Sunday."
One of the biggest competitors on the Auburn team, Blackmon made the switch from the weak side to middle linebacker following last season and seemed to find a home in preseason practices because of his instincts to the ball and aggressive style. Now that he's back in the playing rotation he says he can't wait to get back on the field this week against Vanderbilt for even more action.
"It's always exciting when you get an opportunity to go make a play," Blackmon says. "That's what I'm here for. Any chance I get to go out and play or even get one snap in then I'm going to take advantage of it."
This week the Tigers will again face a challenge on defense, this time from a Vanderbilt offense featuring two of the league's most explosive players in quarterback Chris Nickson and wide receiver Earl Bennett. Following a superb effort against the high scoring Gators last week, Blackmon says the defense is gaining confidence with each and every outing and that continued last week.
"As a defense we like the challenge," Blackmon says. "When talking about opportunities, we take advantage of every opportunity we get to go out there and make a stop. That's our job. That's what we do. Regardless of any situation or however we end up getting back on the field we've got to do our job and we look forward to that. We just go out there and try to play flawless. We had to rise to the challenge and we came together as a defense. We communicated and were solid on our assignments. We executed in practice and took it to the field. That's what it's all about."
While the defense has been solid this season, problems on offense contributed greatly to the two losses this season. Against Florida though, the offense, defense and special teams all contributed to the victory in huge ways. Blackmon says that is the key to becoming a complete football team and they were just that for the first time this season.
"This is a team sport," Blackmon says. "You're going to need all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. We feed off each other. We're going to need everybody to pull together to be a solid team. In some of these games it's going to take a solid team to win so we're going to need everybody, even the guys that don't play and the scout team. We need everybody."
Almost to a man following the Florida win, Auburn players talked about a new beginning for this Auburn team in 2007. Blackmon says that while it's a new beginning, it's not a new team because this group has been there all along.
"I feel like we're the same team but we see what we really have," Blackmon says. "It took a real big challenge like Florida down there at their place to get us to rise to our potential. We're the same team but we now know what we've got and how we should use it."