AUBURN, Ala. — First-year Auburn linebackers coach Travis Williams has his players performing at a high level and dreaming even higher.
Auburn’s linebackers entered the 2016 season with only one returning contributor, junior Tre’ Williams. But Travis Williams’ inexperienced group has stood out since Week 1, setting the tone for a much-improved defense that ranks 15th nationally in points allowed per game.
Sophomore starter Deshaun Davis, one of Williams’ prized pupils, says his position coach sees the potential for greatness in the game-changing unit.
“He’s really been telling us that he believes someone in our room can be an All-SEC linebacker,” Davis said Sunday night. “We believe him. Our confidence is really high.”
Williams, who hasn’t spoken to reporters since fall camp, would know what it takes to be an All-SEC linebacker. He was the last player to ever earn that honor in an Auburn uniform when he did it in 2004 and 2005.
Over the last decade, Auburn’s linebackers have featured a small number of notable players, but none of them ever reached the heights of what Williams accomplished on the Plains.
There’s a chance of that changing with Auburn’s current linebackers, most of whom have at least one more year of eligibility. Williams has taken that group of preseason question marks and turned them into eye-opening, hard-hitting playmakers in his own image.
“I told them in this room we’re going to be a group of overachievers, and that’s OK,” Williams said earlier this year. “You have to have that mentality that outside this room nobody thinks you’re worth a crap. You have to go to work every day thinking that.”
The inexperienced unit has exceeded expectations. The three top players in the main rotation — Tre’ Williams, Davis and sophomore Darrell Williams — are among the top-five tacklers on the team through the first five games of the season.
Tre’ Williams and sophomore Montavious Atkinson, who came to Auburn as a safety, have recorded 2.5 tackles for loss on the season. Both of the Williamses have forced fumbles in 2016.
“All praise goes to our coaching staff,” Davis said. “Coach T-Will and (defensive coordinator Kevin) Steele, they’ve done a really great job with just molding guys … We’re just really playing with a lot of confidence. We’re really flying around to the rock.”
Of Travis Williams’ young, talented linebackers, Davis appears to have the best chance to break Auburn’s drought of All-SEC players at the position. He leads Steele’s defense in snaps at linebackers and took over as the leader of the position after Tre’ Williams’ ejection in the first half of the LSU game.
Davis has looked like Auburn’s best player in the back defensive seven for most of the season, and he continues to grow in confidence as a linebacker finally getting his chance to shine for his beloved coach.
“When we found in the spring that he was going to get the job, we already knew what type of coach he was,” Davis said. “He’s really just trying to pass the torch to us and show how great Auburn linebackers should be … We just have to keep making plays in the system.”