While coaches, fans, players, etc. are ready for things to begin, perhaps no one is more excited about the new season than senior linebacker Antarrious Williams.
A leader on the Auburn defense last season until a wrist injury sidelined him for the final three games of the season and spring practice, Williams continued what has been a long and trying career for the Tigers that has been plagued by injuries. Now bigger (up to 213 pounds) and stronger than ever, Williams says he’s anxious to get things going with two-a-days in August.
“Health-wise I’m doing pretty good,” Williams says. “I’m still rehabbing and trying to get my wrist back to where I want it. I’m close to 100 percent now as far as going out and playing and doing what I need to do at my position. Right now everything is going fine. Everybody is out there working hard, but it can always be better. Just like Coach (Joe) Whitt’s theory, we’re always working for perfection. It’s hard to have a perfect workout or a perfect summer, but we’re trying our best and working hard.”
The summer is an important one for Williams and his defensive teammates with new coordinator David Gibbs coming into the program just in time for spring practice. Much like Al Borges did with the offense last season, Gibbs has worked to learn Auburn’s vocabulary for the defense while also adding several twists of his own to improve in some areas. Williams says that having the chance to meet with Gibbs and watch spring practice films has helped both himself and the defense get a better feel for their new coach.
“I think it (this summer) is big because you kind of get to know the coaches a lot better,” Williams says. “Coach Gibbs came in right at the beginning of the spring and now we can get into the aspects of knowing him personally as far as what he likes to do and doesn’t like to do on the field. Once two-a-days start that will carry over to what plays he does and doesn’t like to run as far as the defense goes. The summer is always a good time to get extra studying in and of course get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Antarrious Williams stands up LSU running back Justin Vincent during last year's 10-9 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Now seniors and the veterans of the defense, both Antarrious and Travis Williams have become the unquestioned leaders of the unit along with noseguard Tommy Jackson. While not as vocal as Travis or Jackson, Antarrious says that he’s becoming more comfortable in his role as a leader and hopes to show his teammates how they should do things in the Auburn program.
“It’s a little different feeling, but one of the ways I like leading is by example,” Williams says. “I just try to go out because I know I have guys looking at me, especially the new guys. They are looking for who they’re going to follow. I’m just trying to set that example and have them look at me and learn that this is how we do it at Auburn and that’s the way you need to do it to get it done. That’s how I have been going out this summer, taking it one day at a time.”
The Williams’ (no relation) along with fellow returning starter Kevin Sears and veteran Karibi Dede have a chance to set a good example for a very young but talented linebacker corps featuring redshirt freshmen Merrill Johnson and Courtney Harden as well as true freshmen Chris Evans and Tray Blackmon. Williams says even though they haven’t put the pads on yet, he sees some things he likes out of the young kids on the defensive side of the ball and he feels like the future of the defense is in good hands.
“I think Merrill Johnson is going to be a player to watch,” Williams says. “He has made improvements by leaps and bounds. I’m helping him out as far as just knowing how to play the position. All of them have been working hard this summer. Courtney Harden has been doing good. Chris Evans has been doing good. Also one of the defensive backs has caught my eye, Jonathan Wilhite. He’s looked good out there in seven on seven drills.”
This season things will be a little different for the Tigers than last year. Although they are picked in the preseason in much the same place they were last year, the expectations from opponents will be higher after last season’s team handled everything thrown its way. Williams says that while most experts don’t believe the Tigers can repeat the performance, he knows what’s waiting for Auburn each and every week on the field.
“You always have to go out and play to the best of your ability and take it one game at a time,” Williams says. “Kind of like how we approached last year’s season is how people are going to approach this year. When we went out and played against LSU they were the defending national champions. We knew we had to be ready and we wanted to be the ones that beat them. This year the shoe is going to be on the other foot because teams are going to be gunning for us knowing we went 13-0.”
Something that should play into Auburn’s hands this season while trying to break in several new starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brandon Cox, is that the Tigers play the first five games of the season at home. That begins with a Sept. 3, 7:45 p.m. kickoff against Georgia Tech to open the season. Williams notes that while it makes the end of the year tough it’s always better to have a shot at starting the season well.
“It’s always great to play at home to open the season because we have a great home winning percentage,” Williams says. “I think it’s good because we have a new quarterback and he can get some experience before going into hostile environments. We’re just trying to prepare and get ready. Hopefully through these first five games we can go out and play good.”
While most think that Auburn’s defense will carry the team early until Cox and the new running backs get into synch, Williams says that he doesn’t see it that way. After facing Tre Smith, Carl Stewart and Kenny Irons in practices the last few years and looking at the wealth of talent back on offense, the Columbus, Ga. native says that he expects the offense to do some damage early and often as the Tigers begin their year as defenders of the crown.
“I don’t see how anybody would be surprised by our offense considering the number of seniors we have on the offense,” Williams says. “We’ve six returning starters on offense and six on defense. The offense is good and they’re going to be good. I’m not really worried about the offense. Everybody is kind of questioning the quarterback and the running back situation, but I know we’ll be fine.”