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'Quarterback the defense': Auburn fills in, keeps winning
Darrell Williams, left, and Jeff Holland helped Auburn beat Vanderbilt
Nov. 7, 2016

By Charles Goldberg

AUBURN, Ala. Darrell Williams didn't know how much of the defense would revolve around him, but there he was last Saturday, playing all three linebacker spots, quarterbacking the linebackers and playing on a defense that changed on the fly.

The Auburn do-everything linebacker did just fine.

"That's a full plate," said defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. "That's the first time that's happened to him and he grew up. For a sophomore, this is basically his ninth game playing, he did some good things."

The two guys who usually call the linebacker shots, Tre' Williams and Deshaun Davis, couldn't add much during Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. Williams was out with an injury and Davis was ejected in the first quarter on a targeting call.

Auburn adjusted, allowed three points in the second half and won 23-16. The Tigers will be looking for that kind of play in Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game at Georgia.

There were headlines that flashed before the Vandy game when Sean White didn't start at quarterback for Auburn. But Steele didn't have his quarterback, either.

"We have a quarterback, too, and that quarterback is at the linebacker position," Steele said. "When the top two quarterbacks are out of the game everybody is having a stroke. But nobody ever thinks that two quarterbacks are out of the game and that might be an issue."

Exit Williams and Davis. Enter Darrell Williams and T.J. Neal.

"It's not that they can't do it, because the guys are fully capable and did a nice job of doing it, but their training and reps are not as much," Steele said. "We had to get them settled down and they did a good job of that."

Williams had a game-high 11 tackles. Neal was next with nine. Fellow linebacker Montravius Atkinson, who made his first start, had five.

Williams said Steele tried "to make it as simple as possible, and that helped." And that helped Williams do what he was taught by linebacker coach Travis Williams. "That was the biggest part. And getting everybody lined up at the linebacker position. Coach T-Will tells you you've got to quarterback the defense all the time so I was just trying to step and do that as best I could."

But Saturday, he was doing more, making the calls for the linebackers.

"I feel like it wasn't too much of a big deal for me, but it was definitely a challenge playing three different positions," Williams said.

Neal, a transfer from Illinois had waited for extended playing time.

"He did well," Steele said. "He got out there and he's kind of progressed through that he understands what we're doing, the concepts of what we are doing. He got guys lined up. He did a good job. He was active."

"I feel like he stepped up," Williams said. "His performance showed that how much he has been waiting just to get that opportunity. I feel like he took advantage of it."

That's not all. Derrick Brown stepped in with more playing time, moving from the interior of the defensive line to share time at end with Marlon Davidson.

"He's big, he's strong, he's fast," Steele said. "We had really done that because Marlon was limited in his reps, although he did practice last week, but very limited in his reps."

And there was Maurice Swain, who deflected a pass.

"He's told me he got a pass breakup at the line of scrimmage about eight times today. He's pretty excited about that," Steele said with a smile after Sunday's short practice.

"Those guys up front, it's kind of a fraternity. They got to compete within themselves and I think that's what makes them who they are. They're so competitive in that room to get snaps and then when they do get snaps, try to be factors. Swain is one of those guys who loves to compete. He loves to compete with his teammates as much as the guys he's playing against. That makes you a better player."

Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:



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