AUBURN, Ala. — Montavious Atkinson knows what his Auburn football coaches and teammates say about him.
He was defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s famous “rolling ball of butcher knives” last season. Fellow linebacker Deshaun Davis said he’s never seen Atkinson get tired in practices. Senior Tre’ Williams said the same at the start of preseason camp last week.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Williams said. “A lot of energy. It doesn’t matter if we’re in the first quarter or the last minute of the fourth quarter — he’s going to bring the same energy.”
PRACTICE REPORT: One 5-star freshman returns, another sits out on Day 7
But Atkinson, a junior from Fairburn, Ga., wants to expand his game beyond the high-energy label. He wants a bigger piece of the rotation Auburn’s linebackers had last season with Williams, Davis and Darrell Williams.
It’s been a long journey for Atkinson, who had just 1 tackle in 2015 as a freshman. Last season, he jumped up in the rotation and contributed 30 tackles, with 4.5 of them going for a loss. He was a super sub, coming in and often rushing the passer.
“I just have to come here and learn the fundamentals and all that,” Atkinson said Tuesday after Auburn’s seventh practice of camp. “But I’ve always been a fly-around-type guy.”
Atkinson is in the mold of his linebackers coach, Travis Williams — Auburn’s last All-SEC linebacker.
“I’m a high-energy guy myself,” Atkinson said. “I just like to run around, hit, be loud. Being able to be coached by somebody like that is really good.”
Travis Williams said in spring practice Atkinson was on the same level as the Tigers’ three returning starters at linebacker.
A lot of that comes down to his effort at practices. While he doesn’t have the in-game experience of the two Williamses or Davis at linebacker, teammates look at him as an example to follow.
“Coach Steele says no matter your age, you can still be a leader, no matter how young or old you are,” Tre’ Williams said. “And Montavious is a leader by example. He goes out and works hard in everything he does. You can just see him grow every day, and it’s really exciting to watch.”
The junior, who has worked alongside Davis as the second-team linebackers in practices, said the biggest difference for him in 2017 has been his vision. In his first two seasons with the Tigers, the young linebacker felt overwhelmed at times.
“The areas I think I improved were my eyes,” Atkinson said. “I think I improved my eyes. … I felt like I slowed the game down. My biggest thing is confidence. When I’m out there, I’m comfortable. I’m not out there panicking. They give me the play, I get in and I execute.”
Combine those improved eyes with that relentless energy, and Darrell Williams thinks Atkinson has the potential to be a top-notch linebacker.
“He’s a freak athlete, he runs to the ball, he has a motor that just doesn’t stop,” Williams said Saturday. “All that, if you’re a player like that, it takes your game to a completely different level — from separation from other players. He’s going to be good.”