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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

James Willis Q/A

Auburn linebackers coach James Willis talked to a group of reporters after Monday evening's practice for about five minutes. Here's what he had to say:

Thoughts on the scrimmage?
It’s a good starting point. Our guys came out and they competed. The biggest thing we were looking for in that first scrimmage is how guys respond under pressure. Alignments, understanding formations, understanding coverages and just overall effort getting to the ball and I think our guys came out and did a pretty good job of that. It’s just a starting point. We’ve got a long way to go.

And today?
Here’s what I feel about a feel of the defense. I feel like our guys are right now in the whole swing of training camp, getting hot, getting tired and sore and all that stuff, but they come out every morning and they compete. They understand what’s ahead of ‘em, they come out and they attack the task at hand. So that’s what we’re really proud of.

Anybody really improve since spring practice?
I think a lot of guys have. I’m very proud of Adam Herring. He’s really come out and paid great attention to detail. His assignments, his technique, his fundamentals, everything is right on track with where he should be right now. I really take hats off to him. Also Josh Bynes is coming with a tremendous job also.

Bynes and Herring still at (middle linebacker)?
Yes sir.

On the importance of Bynes following a strong spring with a strong fall:
The key word is consistency. That’s one thing we’ve challenged Josh with from day one is being consistent. He’ll come out one day and be all over the place and the next day you might not even hear his name being called. That’s what we kinda gave him a challenge as, as far as coming out to this training camp and seeing if he can improve in that area, and I think he has.

On the competition between Evans and Johnson for the starting job:
It’s a great problem to have. Right now, again, if you gave me a starting roster, they’d both be on the first team. That’s a great problem to have.

On the play of Stevens and Blackmon:
They haven’t missed a day. They’ve both come out with some nagging injuries here or there, but they both come out, they line up and they perform every snap, so I’m very proud about that.

On how many guys he needs to be game-ready:
You’d rather have six, but right now we have seven. That’s a good thing. I mean, Pybus has really stepped up and he’s one that I’m gonna keep my eye on. If he’ll keep pushing and keep pushing, he may have a chance to help us this season.

On who would be the seven:
Of course, Craig Stevens and Courtney Harden. Tray and Merrill. You’ve also got … Chris and Evans. And now Adam Herring and Pybus both are giving a push for that seventh spot. … and Bynes also. So we’ve got some depth now and that’s a great thing for us right now because for the last few years we haven’t had that at linebacker, so right now we’re pretty strong in the depth category.

On what he saw in Pybus, who wasn’t especially highly recruited:
That’s the thing. He came to camp for two strong years and he came and competed. Every year I saw him get better and better. The kid can run fast, he can jump high and he can cover. Things like that kinda show up, plus he loves Auburn. He’s one that every year he came back, he was loyal, he came to camp every time we had a camp. And that’s one thing that means a lot to us.

Is he making plays?
He’s making plays. If you go back and watch the scrimmage, his name was called several times – a lot of times in one series. So that’s outstanding.

When did you start seeing the light come on as far as doing that?
I think the second day of pads. The first day of course everybody looks good in shorts. The first day the pads came on, I think he kinda hit a wall. Coach Tub (?) put some more defenses in and we gave him a challenge as far as coming out and seeing if you can push past that wall, and he did. He came out when the bullets were live just making plays, so that was very good to see.

Is he still gonna redshirt?
Hard to say. Hard to say. I mean he’s doing some good things out there. We don’t recruit guys to redshirt. He came in and he has a chance to play if he can come out and keep getting better.

On Craig Stevens:
Here’s what we gave him. Craig is the kind of guy for us at linebacker that he does all the right things. He’s always in the right spot, always doing the right thing in his assignments. Our challenge to Craig was doing something special. Making that special play, that tremendous play. And I think he’s done some of those things in camp now, so he’s definitely improved in that area.

On the changes he’s seen in Tray Blackmon:
Every year, he gets better and better. You see maturity. He matures right in front of your face. This year he came out and again, Tray’s been the kind of guy where maybe every day he doesn’t show up. Well he’s been showing up every day in practice, fighting through some soreness. He’s one of those tight-muscle guys and he gets sore pretty fast, but he’s been pushing right through, and I’m proud of that.

On whether this could be Tray’s breakout year if he stays healthy:
I think he can and he deserves it. He’s been through a lot and he’s put in the hard work and a lot of sacrifice, so we’ve got high hopes for him.

On whether he’s been around another linebacker with such a special collection of tools:
Myself, none. I was here as a graduate assistant when Dontarrious was here and Karlos Dansby and those guys were special. Tray’s got that potential to be special.

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