As Rocker heads up Donahue Drive for his first Tiger Walk since his playing days in the 1980s, he says, "Everybody keeps asking, ‘Are you excited about it?' If the players are excited, I am excited because I know what Tiger Walk is, I know what the spirit and passion are all about."
Rocker notes that he has coached at Jordan-Hare Stadium from the visiting sidelines as an assistant at both Ole Miss and Arkansas. "It has been a long time since I have stood on the home side," he says, remembering his playing days.
"I was nervous," he notes, recalling his collegiate debut game as a freshman. "I was probably in awe of all of the people."
Head coach Gene Chizik's defensive line coach inherited returning starters at the end spots in All-SEC senior Antonio Coleman and junior Michael Goggans. Inside at tackle, junior Mike Blanc was a part-time starter last year splitting reps with Tez Doolittle, who has graduated. The Tigers' other starting tackle, Sen'Derrick Marks, is trying to make a living in the NFL this season.
Newcomer Nick Fairley, a sophomore juco transfer, is expected to see a lot of playing time at tackle as a backup to Blanc.
The backup ends are raw with junior Antoine Carter out with a knee problem. Both Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford are true freshmen and are ahead of redshirt freshman Cameron Henderson on the depth chart. "Cam is not quite ready yet," Rocker points out. "We will we see what happens. I feel good with what we have got."
"So far so good," Rocker says of the freshman ends. "I think they are practicing with confidence. That is the thing I see. Now it is just a matter of transferring over there (to Jordan-Hare Stadium) on Saturday. I feel good about it. I have already spoken my piece to them earlier. This is an important week. Just practice and act normal.
"One thing I made clear is it is natural to be nervous," says Rocker. "You should be nervous, it is nothing new. All I ask is that all of the mistakes you make are on me, but your effort, that is on you. That is the way we live with it."
Rocker is shown during his playing days at Auburn.
Rocker has also coached at West Alabama, Troy and Cincinnati in the collegiate ranks, but notes that the football atmosphere at Auburn is special. He says it will be exciting for his newcomers. "Some have never seen that stadium when it is packed. They have just seen it empty. It is going to be pretty neat."
Commenting on coaching freshmen, Rocker says, "The biggest thing when you are that young is that you want to make sure you can eliminate the missed assignments. The thing we are stressing is fundamentals--using your hands and knowing where you are supposed to go."
Rocker adds that it is important that the rookies keep a positive mental attitude to avoid frustration. "I keep stressing you are going to be fine," he says. "Keep battling and keep battling and we will see what happens."
Rocker notes that he wants to keep fresh players on the field throughout the game. "Everybody plays," he says. "I don't know when, I don't know where, I just know everybody plays. The biggest thing is just play hard and do your best. That is the most important thing."
In 1988 Rocker was the first player in SEC history to win both the Lomardi Award and Outland Trophy. Rocker made 354 tackles in four seasons with the Tigers.
Even though the former All-American says the focus will be on his players on opening night, he admits he is excited to be home. "For me it is a great moment," he says, adding, "I don't know if it is a dream, but it is something special."