For Etheridge the most challenging part of preseason has been the grind of getting through nearly a month of practices and meetings before the first game.
"It's very tough," Etheridge says. "You know it's getting close to that time. Once camp is over you're like, ‘yes, camp is over,' but you've still got a long way to go until the game. It has been great just going out there and practicing and getting ready for ULM."
Zac Etheridge was an outstanding performer last season as a freshman for the Tigers.
While many of his duties remain the same under Rhoads as they were with former coordinator Will Muschamp, there are differences for Etheridge in 2008. The biggest is that he is now a free safety instead of just the left or right safety that Muschamp employs. Etheridge notes that even though the defense isn't as tricky, he's expecting big things out of the unit this season.
"As a whole I feel great about this defense," Etheridge says "It's very basic. There's not a lot of thinking so we can all play fast. I think we'll make a lot of great plays in this defense."
Another change for Etheridge is that he's now one of the veterans in the secondary for the Tigers despite being just a sophomore. With more time logged on the field than anyone returning in the secondary other than Jerraud Powers, Etheridge says he has had to become more vocal this preseason and it's something that has taken some getting used to doing.
"I have been doing well and I think I can handle it through the season," he says. "At first it wasn't easy. Coach Rhoads talked to me telling me that I've got to talk. Jerraud kept staying on me telling me that I'm the safety and I have to talk.
"If you make a mistake you live with it and keep learning from it," he adds. "That's what I did. I just took that to heart and kept talking out loud even though some things I probably didn't know what I was saying. I was just talking to communicate."
Part of his job this preseason has been getting the younger backup players up to speed in the defense. Among them are redshirt freshman Mike Slade and true freshmen Christian Thompson and Drew Cole. Etheridge says all three have done well and he thinks Thompson will have a chance to make some noise this season.
"He's coming along fine," Etheridge says of Thompson, who played on a state championship team last season at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "He's looking good right now. He's getting a lot of reps with the twos. He's looking good. He's going to have a chance to play a lot this year and make an impact as a freshman."
Now less than a week away from the season opener, Etheridge and his teammates are busy working on Louisiana-Monroe in scout team preparation. While that changes the routine of practice, Etheridge says in the end there's one thing that keeps him going every day and that is the thought of that first game and getting the season started.
"I'm ready to play," Etheridge says. "It's that time. It's time to play. We've been practicing for way too long. It's time to get on the field now."
The safety and his teammates will be able to do that Saturday at 6 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium as the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe come to Auburn.