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Friday, August 29, 2008

Coleman a changed man

Antonio Coleman says he is a changed man.

The Auburn defensive end typically isn't one to back away from a preseason practice brawl, but he now is trying to keep his temper under control with the season starting Saturday.

Coleman knows the penalties could be harsh if he loses his cool and engages in a fight in an actual game.

"I've just been chilling," Coleman said. "I've got to cool down from that because if I fight Saturday, I'll probably be suspended, and we can't have that. I just have to bite the bullet."

Coleman was involved in two offseason practice scuffles this year that drew media attention: The first was in spring drills with offensive tackle Lee Ziemba and left Coleman with a sprained neck; the other was toward the end of preseason camp with offensive tackle Ryan Pugh.

Blame went around in each case, but Coleman said he plans to turn the other cheek if a similar situation arises in a game -- even if it's out of character for him.

"It's hard for me. That's why I got in so many fights," said Coleman, a junior who turns 22 Monday. "I injured my neck, and any time a hand gets around my facemask or something like that, I just snap. But I learned to control it because the season's starting and we can't have no fights because they need me out there on the field."

Instead, he would like to channel that anger into his on-field performance. Maybe a little healthy competition might help him do that.

The second-team preseason All-SEC honoree joked that he and fellow weakside defensive end Antoine Carter plan to wager on who might accumulate the most sacks this season, although they'll probably wait until after Saturday's opener against Louisiana-Monroe to finalize the terms.

Coleman led the Tigers with 8.5 sacks last season, while Carter totaled 1.5 in spot duty as a true freshman. Each is sure to rank among the team's top sack men this year.

"They're probably our two best, so there's a good chance you could see them on the field at the same time during certain situations," said Auburn defensive ends coach Terry Price.

Coleman came into last season as the backup to Quentin Groves and with little hype after a quiet redshirt-freshman season in 2006. That changed in the fourth quarter of last year's season opener. Coleman recovered Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman's fumble after Groves' crushing sack and returned it 34 yards for a win-sealing touchdown.

That play set the tone for Coleman to start eight games in place of the ailing Groves. Coleman finished fourth in the Southeastern Conference with 18.5 tackles for a loss and fifth in sacks (8.5).

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville said Coleman was overlooked by not being named an all-conference performer, but Coleman won't have to worry about anonymity this season. And, true to form, he doesn't plan to back down from the extra attention he likely will receive.

"Even if they're aiming for me, I can still get out there and make plays," he said. "It's no big deal to me. It don't scare me. When you get on the field, you'd better bring it, because I'm coming 110 percent."

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