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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bynes boosting Tigers defense


When Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads was asked about Josh Bynes' seemingly increased role, he sought to put an end to the discussion.

In each of this season's first two games, Bynes has played significantly more than a backup middle linebacker normally does. In fact, Bynes played more than starting middle linebacker Tray Blackmon (LaGrange) in both games.

"I think people are trying to make something out of that, and there's really nothing there," Rhoads said. "Tray's playing well. Josh is playing well. I don't think I've backed off the fact that we like to play a lot of people. People deserve to play, and if they're not hurting our football team, we're going to play them.

"There's nothing there, other than as the rotation goes and a lead exists, Josh might be playing a couple more snaps over two games than Tray has. But there's no reflection there on either one's play. They're both playing good."

While Bynes might not have surpassed Blackmon on the depth chart, he certainly has taken on a larger role than he had last year.

Bynes said the extra playing time has surprised him as well.

Blackmon doesn't seem affected by Bynes getting more playing time, either.

"I think he deserves the right to play," Blackmon said. "Through camp and through the summer, he worked very hard. He knows the plays, and the coaches give us a chance to roll in, give each other a break."

Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville offered a slightly different take than Rhoads' explanation.

"Our pass drops (Saturday) were pretty good," Tuberville said. "Tray, that was one thing that was concerning and even Merrill."

In each of the first two games, Auburn faced teams that passed more than ran.

Blackmon is known as a run-stuffing linebacker with good blitz skills, but he isn't known as a great coverage player. Through the first two games, Bynes has spelled Blackmon especially in passing situations.

Tuberville seemed to reiterate that stance during his weekly Tuesday afternoon press conference.

"Games like this coming up, where people are more two-back teams, I think Tray's a lot more effective because he's a true middle linebacker, inside guy," Tuberville said.

Auburn will play Saturday at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs operate a run-oriented offense with two backs most of the time, which is the kind of formation in which Blackmon thrives, as he did against Arkansas last year.

Blackmon was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in that Arkansas game.

Bynes and Blackmon have played well through the first two games. Bynes has seven tackles, two more than Blackmon, but Blackmon has a sack and a quarterback hurry to his credit as well.

In Rhoads' scheme, the middle linebacker is in charge of setting the defense. It's something which Blackmon prides himself. It's also an area where Bynes still is trying to improve.

Rhoads noted a play during Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi where Bynes had positioned the defensive front incorrectly. Before the play, though, Bynes reset everyone.

"That's the kind of command that that position's got to have, and he understands that," Rhoads said.

Rhoads classifies Bynes as a strong tackler and a physical player with improving pass-coverage skills.

More importantly, Bynes has given the Auburn coaches enough confidence in him to replace Blackmon for a few series. That's something both players said would help throughout the year.

Still, when Bynes gets in the game, he doesn't worry about trying to play like Blackmon.

"We can't play the same -- we can't act the same -- so, of course, we've got to come out differently," Bynes said. "That's how I see it."

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