Over the next few weeks, SEC Country will take Auburn football fans to Summer School. Each session will focus on one position on Auburn’s 2018 roster, finding answers from spring practice and looking ahead to what might be the biggest questions for the fall.
After already looking at the strongside and middle linebackers earlier this week, we end the week with a glance at the weakside linebackers.
- Montavious Atkinson (senior)
- Richard McBryde (junior)
- Josh Marsh (freshman)
- Zakoby McClain (freshman — summer arrival)
Answers from spring practice
How will Auburn replace Tre’ Williams at linebacker?
Tre’ Williams manned Auburn’s weakside linebacker position for several seasons, although injuries limited him in his final campaign last fall. Williams, a former 5-star recruit, was a strong, veteran voice for Auburn’s defense and helped the Tigers bring back some of their glory days on that side of the ball.
Montavious Atkinson was Williams’ backup at weakside linebacker and will move up to the starting spot this season. Atkinson, a converted safety, was viewed as a “fourth starter” by linebackers coach Travis Williams in 2017, and he’ll be the No. 3 man in the group following Tre’ Williams’ departure.
What are Montavious Atkinson’s strengths heading into his senior season?
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele once referred to Atkinson as “a rolling ball of butcher knives.” He also could be described as a rolling ball of Swiss army knives. As a former defensive back, Atkinson is right at home in pass coverage, but he also has the speed to get into the backfield on blitzes.
“[Atkinson] is kind of a guy that is so physically tough and plays with such a high motor, he runs so well, we can use him in some different ways,” Steele said this spring. “He’s a good pass rusher, he’s a good blitzer, good open-field tackler, but he also can cover. We can steal some snaps with him.”
Number to know
12: Auburn had 12 defensive players average at least 3 tackles per game last season, with Atkinson rounding out the dozen at an average of 3.07. He also added 4 quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a forced fumble as a rotational linebacker last season.
Questions for fall
How much will Auburn use Atkinson this season?
Atkinson, who said in the spring he is continuing to contribute on special teams, is in an interesting spot this fall. Auburn almost always lines up with two linebackers on defense, and Darrell Williams has the edge of experience over Atkinson next to Deshaun Davis. Those two most likely will be the Tigers’ go-to combination in 2018.
But Atkinson is a weapon, especially in certain packages. He can cover as a dime linebacker and could find a role coming off the edge behind specific defensive line groupings. Auburn needs three strong linebackers to succeed defensively, so don’t overlook Atkinson if he fails to play as many snaps as Williams and Davis.
Who is the next man up at weakside linebacker?
The backup situation at weakside linebacker gets interesting quickly. Richard McBryde has experience there, and Chandler Wooten looks like the better fit in the strongside role. Freshmen Josh Marsh and Zakoby McClain could get some snaps in light of the new redshirt rule — provided Marsh recovers from his knee injury from earlier this season.
Auburn can get creative with its experienced linebacking corps, especially with the usual combination of a middle linebacker and an outside linebacker. But Atkinson will leave for the next level after this season with Davis and Williams, so Auburn could benefit greatly from developing a replacement.