Freshman Navigating the Learning Curve

Spencer Pybus has seen his playing time increase as a member of the Auburn defense.

Auburn, Ala.--Spencer Pybus figured he would probably redshirt this fall, his first season on the Auburn campus, but the linebacker from Northview High in Dothan has played in all five games for the Tigers.

Paul Rhoads, Auburn's first-year defensive coordinator, says he likes what he sees from the strongside linebacker, who is backing up Craig Stevens.

"He is an ever-improving guy," Rhoads tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "I thought he looked comfortable in whatever his responsibilities were in the Tennessee game. A week ago I didn't feel that way.

"Not only did I think he looked comfortable in what his responsibilities were, he looked very confident on the sideline," the coach says. "When it was his turn to go in, it was okay. It was just a matter of fact, ‘alright, it's my rotation.' It wasn't, ‘Oh, gosh, here I go.' His play was reflective of that.

"He had two tackles in 13 defensive snaps," Rhoads adds. "That is pretty dang good production."

Counting his play on special teams, Pybus finished the Tennessee game with three solo tackles and an assist.

"I feel like I am getting better," Pybus says. "I am still not perfect, but everybody is going to make mistakes. You just have to go out there and do the best that you can."

Pybus, who has been clocked at under 4.5 for the 40-yard dash, has been pushing hard since he arrived on campus this summer. He is currently 6-0, 203 pounds and is trying to add some weight.

"I want to get back to 210 by the end of season," he notes. "I am a small sam linebacker."

He notes that the team's training staff is giving him protein shakes. "They are trying to keep the weight on the best that they can," Pybus says.

This week Pybus and the Tigers will travel to Nashville to play the 4-0 Vanderbilt Commodores. The Auburn defense has been strong during its 4-1 start, but isn't satisfied, the freshman notes.

"We have been going out hard working in practice and that has carried over to the games," he says. "We are not giving up too many points."

Pybus says he expects the 19th-ranked Commodores to try to get physical with the Auburn defense. "We have watched them in meetings and I have watched them at the house a little. Their offense runs a lot of zone. They pretty much try to run the ball at you and their passing schemes are pretty straight-forward."

Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson, a senior, has been a key figure in the 4-0 start with his running as well as his passing. "I know he is from Pike County, just up the road from me," Pybus says. "I know he was a good high school player. He is a threat in the zone when he keeps the football and he is a real good scrambler."

Pybus agrees with Rhoads that he is becoming more comfortable in game situations. "I was a little nervous at first, but the more you get in the more comfortable and relaxed you get. You just relax and play ball and have fun instead of playing all tense."

At Northview High, he opened his senior season at strongside linebacker. "I played the first three games at strongside and then they moved me to the middle," he recalls.

Pybus says that two other players at his position, starter Craig Stevens and backup Courtney Harden, have gone out of their way to help the freshman make the jump to college football. "A lot of the older guys have been very helpful," he says. "If I don't understand something very well, Courtney and Craig have been very good at sitting me down and helping me."

Pybus says that even though the defense has been playing well, that group is eager to get better this week for a nationally-televised test vs. the Commodores.

There is always room for improvement," he says. "You can't ever be satisfied with what you have done as a team. You just have to try to keep getting better every day and every game."

Personally, he has a point of emphasis for improvement. "I bite up a little too much on play-action," he says. "I am sure that will come. I am also working on my footwork and a lot of the little things."

Pybus notes that the Tigers will head into Nashville with respect for their opponents. "Vanderbilt has stepped up this year," he says.

Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. with TV coverage on ESPN. The freshman adds that he is looking forward to getting back on the field. "It is fun knowing that there are so many people watching."

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