March 20, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- New Auburn assistant coach Rodney Garner will need no introduction to two prominent members of the Tigers' defensive line when spring practice begins next week.
Jeff Whitaker? He was recruited by Garner when he was an assistant coach at Georgia. Gabe Wright? Ditto.
"It's just like old times in a way. He hasn't changed. He's a great guy," Whitaker says. "He's a man of his word. We're buying into it. With any kind of relationship, it takes time to grow. But for myself, and guys like Gabe, it's kind of an easy transition."
Easy to know, but that doesn't mean practices will be easy.
Wright says that's OK with him.
"He's probably the most intense guy," Wright said. "He and Coach Cheese (Charlie Harbison) are just high-level energy guys. It fits this team well. I think this team needs that. This team likes that. If anything, I want a guy to be on me all the time.
"Coach Garner, I can vouch for him... You don't want a nice guy on the offensive or defensive line at all. We don't have any nice coaches. Off the field, they're great. But you don't want somebody who is going to baby you."
Will it be so different than last year?
"When you ask me two weeks from now, I'll be able to give you a lot more details," Whitaker said with a laugh.
Whitaker and Wright agree on this about Garner, too.
"This is his home. He's smiling every day. He's happy to be back," Whitaker said.
Auburn will be looking for a bounce-back season, and Wright and Whitaker say the Tigers have been on the right path during off-season workouts.
"It's very important. That's why the offseason has been so much different," Whitaker said. "It's a new day for us. It's a new staff. We'll try to forget about it the best we can. We have to move on. You can't keep harping on it."
Said Wright, "I hold myself to a high standard, and I know those guys in the locker room feel like it, too. I know we talk about it all the time. "If it's physicality, we're going to work on every day."
Wright has already gotten a taste of what may happen during off-season workouts.
"I praise the strength and conditioning staff," he said. "This conference has turned into an up-tempo conference. I feel like the workouts have been more uptempo. I'm not saying it wasn't like that last year, but you now never have a chance to catch your breath, and that's exactly what Coach Malzahn's offense is like. The defense side has to be exactly the same to match the other teams in the conference."