Auburn, Ala.--For Auburn junior linebacker Tray Blackmon this spring has been a different time than any he can remember as a football player.
Always a guy who led by example on a football field, Blackmon has been called on to become a vocal leader for Auburn's defense this spring under new coordinator Paul Rhoads.
Not a very loud person, Blackmon is trying to become the guy Rhoads and position coach James Willis are looking for on defense.
"They kind of assigned me a role of calling the defense," Blackmon says. "I feel like it's my huddle now. A lot of those guys coming up are sophomores and freshmen that are playing. It makes us kind of feed off each other and encourage each other.
"If I see Zac Etheridge get beat at safety I know he's better than that and if I feel like he's selling himself short then I'll tell him.
"I told them in our first team meeting that if they see me doing the same to tell me," Blackmon says. "We just have the respect of the team that if somebody is checking you to respect them as a man and as a teammate that they probably see something that could help you. It's all about everybody pulling together. We're a family."
Tray Blackmon has been a physical presence in the middle of the Auburn defense this spring.
While the defense finished as one of the best in the country statistically, there were times when things didn't go as planned last season such as in losses to LSU and Georgia. Working to become a complete unit, Blackmon says that he's got several goals in mind for the defense as it heads towards the end of spring practice.
"I want the defense to continue to go up and not rollercoaster or go down," he says. "My plans for us as a defense is just to grow. For myself it's just to get better at the things I'm not good at and the things I'm good at to continue to be good at them."
In two seasons Blackmon has shown flashes of brilliance mixed in with the normal learning involved for a young linebacker in the SEC. With 63 tackles in 15 career games, including 44 in nine games in 2007, Blackmon has yet to live up to his enormous billing so far in his career. He says that this spring is just another part in his growth at the position that he hopes culminates with him being one of the best to ever play at Auburn.
"I feel like I have accomplished a lot, but I'm nowhere near where I want to be," Blackmon says.
"I'm just going to continue to work hard and try to get better at the little things. There are certain things I don't have to work hard at like once I get there being physical and running to the ball, but the technique of tackling and fitting where I'm supposed to be, those are things I've got to focus on.
"I need to work on my pass drops and stuff like that. This is the time to put your work in so when you get to the game it's easy. That's why I like Coach Rhoads. He focuses on the little things, the technique. I just want to be good at what I'm good at and work harder to be good at what I'm not."