AUBURN, Ala. Angelo Blackson has steadfastly refused to set any team goals for the coming season.
Its a stance that puts him at odds with a few of his Auburn teammates. Many Tigers notably Robenson Therezie and Ricardo Louis have expressed how the agonizing loss in the BCS championship game has motivated them during the offseason. Anything short of matching last years accomplishments, both said, wont be tolerated.
Blackson, on the other hand, has taken a more grounded approach.
Were going to come out every day and work to get better, he said. Its not going to be handed to us. Were not the hunters anymore. Were the hunted, so were going to come out with the mind-set to get better and get better every day.
Coincidentally, the senior defensive tackle will have to show hes made gains since last season ended to prove worthy of more playing time this year. Hes at a position thats loaded with talent and includes fellow seniors Gabe Wright, Jeff Whitaker and Ben Bradley as well as sensational sophomore Montravius Adams. By the time fall camp begins in August, two more junior college transfer Devaroe Lawrence and freshman Dontavius Russell will join the fray.
Not that Blackson is worried about a little competition.
Theres jobs to win. At the end of the day were cool, but were just looking to get jobs and be in the lineup, he said. Weve got a lot of seniors on the defensive line. Weve got a lot of veterans now, so weve just got to play together. Were going to get after it and push each other. At the end of the day were going to play the guys who want to fight and try to get a win.
Its not as if Blackson didnt contribute in 2013 he was in the starting lineup in the first four games. But as the season wore on, his snaps began to fall off. He finished with 16 tackles (three for loss) and half a sack.
It was a far cry from his 2012 campaign.
Then a sophomore, Blackson was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak 3-9 season. Blackson finished with the 10 more takedowns (26) than he did last year and he was far more disruptive in the backfield, recording a team-high seven tackles for loss.
In an effort to get back to his 2012 level, Blackson cut weight this offseason, saying hes down to 305 pounds.
I feel good, he said. I feel faster but theres a lot of stuff we need to work on as far as hands and technique.
When asked where he needs to improve the most, Blackson didnt hesitate.
First I have to get better at rushing the passer, he said. Im a first- and second-down guy, but I need to get my third down steps right and get after the quarterback.
After losing their top pass-rusher from last season in Dee Ford, its an area of need for the Tigers. Though its been out of necessity more than experimentation, both Adams and Wright have had reps at defensive end this spring. It hasnt happened for Blackson yet, however.
He wont mind if it stays that way.
Ill stick in the middle, he said. Thats what I know best. I know my job on this team is defensive tackle.
As long as he and his fellow linemen do their jobs, Blackson said theres no telling how good the unit could be this fall.
Weve got high expectations this year, he said. Were going to try to follow through and become one of the top defensive lines in the nation.