AUBURN, Ala. — There were noticeable differences for Auburn at linebacker Saturday.
For starters, there were the new faces replacing veterans Kris Frost, Casanova McKinzy and Justin Garrett. Sophomores Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams made their first career starts. Junior Tre’ Williams saw the most kickoff-to-horn action of his career.
The production improved, too.
The trio of Davis, Darrell Williams and Tre’ Williams accounted for 15 tackles, 3 quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. It marked a sizable leap from last season’s linebacker efforts — and in expectations for this new group going forward.
It’s a change that Auburn’s linebackers said was imminent since the offseason transition at the position.
“Our linebacker crew this year is much closer, and we do a lot in the offseason together that really brought us together,” Tre’ Williams said, “so when we got out there on the field, didn’t much change. We all knew our stuff and we all played together.”
Where does that start?
The players point to linebackers coach Travis Williams, who has encouraged them to extend their friendships beyond practice, games and the film room. That’s come naturally for longtime friends Tre’ Williams and Davis, but the tight-knit culture has extended beyond them.
“Everyone really has just bought into the system.We’re really playing not only for ourselves or Auburn, but we’re playing for each other,” Davis said. “Off the field, we have cookouts on weekends. We might go to the swimming pool or watch movies or anything like that. Small things like that make a team closer. It’s different when you’re playing for somebody that you know really has your back off the field.”
That’s not to say last season had a top-to-bottom disconnect.
Rather, it’s a sign of a newer, younger group building upon relationships created in previous seasons. The linebackers seem to think their position group isn’t the only one showing signs of greater camaraderie.
On Saturday against Clemson — for the linebackers at least — it showed.
“We were a good group last year, but it’s something about this team, something about this unit,” Davis said. “On the offensive side and the defensive side of the ball — the team as a whole is just very different. It’s just a special feeling.”