Willis Looking For Consistency From LBs

Coach James Willis talks about the play of his linebackers early in preseason camp.

Auburn, Ala.--While there are several positions that have questions heading into the 2008 season on the defensive side of the ball for the Auburn Tigers, one spot that appears rock solid is the linebacker group.

With starters Chris Evans, Merrill Johnson, Tray Blackmon and Craig Stevens all returning as well as senior veteran Courtney Harden, Coach James Willis has a load of experience and talent to work with in preseason camp and he points out that so far things are going as expected.

"It's going well," Willis says. "The one thing I do see is that we are athletic. We can run. I haven't seen yet how tough we are. That's my biggest question. The guys come out and compete every day. In the first day of pads everybody flew around and made plays, but they lacked control and discipline. Now we'll see how they can fight through it with the pads on and really play football."

With so many guys who have played football at Auburn, the linebackers are easily the most experienced position on defense for the Tigers. Because of that Willis says he depends on his guys to give him feedback and also coach each other on the field.

"My group pretty much moderates itself," Willis notes. "That's a luxury to have because we've got a lot of old guys, guys who have been here and been through the battles. They can kind of teach and coach themselves. It's really a luxury to have."

The only position battle at linebacker comes on the weak side with Evans and Johnson locked in tussle to see who the starter is going to be on opening night against Louisiana-Monroe.

Willis says while there is a competition, right now he looks at both as starters. "No doubt about it. In my mind they are both first-team. I wish we had a spot for four linebackers because I would put them all out there at the same time. Right now we're going to let them rotate back and forth each day. Week by week we'll find out who starts."

Josh Bynes and Tray Blackmon

With Bo Harris no longer with the team after having academic issues, Harden is a solid number two behind Stevens on the strong side. In the middle Blackmon is the man, but Willis says that sophomore Josh Bynes continues to play well behind him and is improving each day.

"What he's done in the offseason is worked on all those things he needed to work on," Willis says of Bynes. "He's worked on his reads, his footwork. His weight is down right now where it should be. He's playing some pretty good ball right now so we'll see how it goes through camp."

The only true newcomer at the position this fall is Spencer Pybus from Dothan. An athlete with good speed and strength, Pybus will get a look at both outside spots before camp is up and so far Willis said he likes what he's seen out of his new addition.

"He's very athletic," Willis says. "He can run and he can cover. In the first day of pads he was just like any other freshman because they're going to be kind of wild and out of control. That's what he was. We'll see how he gets later on in practice when he gets the full pads on and gets in a real team situation."

With the first day in full pads on Wednesday and the first scrimmage on Saturday, as Willis likes to call it "real football" is getting ready to get cranked up. He notes that because of that he's looking for several things out of his linebackers in the coming days and weeks, but one thing in particular is important to him.

"Consistency is the main thing," Willis says. "I think these guys are getting a good understanding of our defense. It's everything we've always done. My biggest thing is I want to see them come out every day and do the same things every day and get better every day."

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