"I think I have done good, but I still have a ton of room to grow," Bates said. "I have to develop my mental aspect of the game and my football IQ. Things will get better. I'm just ready to play and show people that I can play."
While he admits he's got a long way to go at the position, Bates has shown a big improvement from week one to week five and that was evident against Ball State last Saturday night. Flying to the football, Bates had several big hits and finished with seven tackles. For the season he's sixth on the team with 17 tackles and he said with each passing day he feels like he gets better as a player.
"I know where my teammates are going to be and I have trust in them," Bates said about what experience does for him. "It helps me get to the ball quicker knowing I don't have to worry about anything else."
Someone that has seen Bates grow before his very eyes is junior safety Zac Etheridge. Helping the freshman along through the early part of the season, Etheridge said he sees a bright future for his running mate at Auburn.
"He's grown a whole lot," Etheridge said. "Right now he's playing like a veteran and that's good to see. He's grown up fast. He's flying to the ball and making some big hits. He knows his role and he's playing outstanding football right now. He's playing like a veteran.
This week Bates and the Tigers will face a different type of test on defense than they've had at any point this season. While they've faced good running games, Tennessee brings a physical attack to the game led by explosive running back Montario Hardesty and freshman sensation Bryce Brown. The two have combined for 700 rushing yards in four games this season with five touchdowns. Bates said Auburn is looking for a challenge in the running game, something they're excited about.
"I think we can be physical with them," Bates said. "We like to be physical. We have physical players at linebacker and at the defensive line. It plays into our hands actually. We will have to man up with them and play physical with them."
This game takes on even more importance for Bates as he'll have the chance to play against several friends on the Tennessee roster. Even though he played football at Olive Branch (Miss.) High last year as a senior, Bates calls Memphis home. He said that makes this game a special one for him and he's looking forward to playing in front of friends and family.
"It's big," Bates said. "I get to go back to the state and play against my old teammate Chris Walker and some of my rivals like B. J. Coleman and Greg King from back at home. It's a big game. We'll be playing in front of 100,000 people. My family will be there. It's on ESPN. It's just another big game for us."