AUBURN — As the Tigers still get acclimated to their new coaching staff, defensive tackle Gabe Wright summed up associate head coach/defensive line coach Rodney Garner in one word - intense.
“He’s probably the most intense guy,” Wright said. “Him and (defensive backs) coach Cheese (Charlie Harbison) are high level energy guys and 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.
“You don’t want a nice guy on the offense or defensive line and I believe we don’t have any nice coaches. On the field, off the field, they’re great men. Let me rephrase that, you want a guy who will praise you but at the same time before practice you don’t want always somebody that will baby you because that won’t be good for you in the long run.”
The lack of “nice” coaches has already set a different tone at winter workouts and spring practice starting next Wednesday. Garner’s defensive line unit returns nearly all of its starting personnel, losing Corey Lemonier to the NFL Draft and Devaunte Sigler, who was dismissed for a violation of team rules.
“We have standards set. Those standards are going to be demanded,” Garner said last month. “We’re going to hold them accountable. But we’re going to be consistent. I want to help these guys get that pride back, get that work ethic back, get that edge back. That always separated Auburn. We’ve got to have that edge; we’ve got to have that swagger, whatever it is, to get back where we rightfully belong.”
Dee Ford will be one of the players Garner will rely on most next season. The Tigers’ leader in sacks last year, Ford said Garner is exactly what he wants in a coach.
“Coach Garner is a great coach, he’s rugged - just what a D lineman needs as a coach,” said Ford, who made 34 tackles last season. “I love the whole staff, high energy, they’re big on detail and energy too. “
Ford, who was listed at 246 pounds last season, said he’s around 240 pounds now and looking to gain as the season approaches. After being hampered with an abdominal injury which slowed him last season, Ford has high goals for his last season on the Plains.
“I’m definitely expecting a big year of myself. The biggest thing for me I’m working on, just like everyone else as a team is consistency in my game,” Ford said. “The detail, focusing on a lot of things, staying healthy. I have a great plan for this fall and this spring to stay healthy and be consistent.”
In a league renowned for defensive linemen, Ford wants to be in the class of some of the nation’s elite pass rushers and be a force up front for the Tigers.
“Being a game-changer. Helping my team in every way I can,” he said. “Doing my assignment, having that trust from the entire defense that I’m doing to do my job every play and I’m going to be a game changer.”
Less than a week away from spring practice beginning, one expected personnel change will C.J. Uzomah. After spending last year at tight end Uzomah is transitioning back to his old position in coach Gus Malzahn’s offense as an H-Back and inside receiver.
“Kind of like the H-Back, Lutz’s kind of position, Kodi Burns a little bit,” Uzomah said. “(I’m) learning whatever they tell me to learn and doing whatever I need to do to help the team.”
Uzomah, who made seven catches for 136 yards with one touchdown last season, said the new coaching staff has been getting a read on the players throughout winter workouts.
“They’re pushing us mentally and physical right now,” he said. “They’re throwing a lot of stuff at us seeing how we react and we’re reacting well right now.”
Defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker spoke about the heralded incoming defensive line class, which includes three Under Armour All-Americans in Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel.
“You don’t shy away from competition, you embrace it,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker, a Warner Robins, Ga. native, said he helped recruit Adams, who is from Vienna, Ga., but he did not know what Adams’ intentions were until he announced on signing day.
The three incoming freshmen won’t arrive on campus until summer, though JUCO transfer Ben Bradley is already enrolled.