AUBURN, Ala. — From the moment Cameron Toney’s football career began, he’d never been too far away from the action.
That’s what made Auburn’s 2013 season “the toughest thing” he had ever gone through. Yes, he carried wound from his high school days — what he called “a little ankle injury” — with him to Auburn. But the reason he redshirted last season had more to do with inexperience than any affliction.
Because of that unfamiliarity, he could do nothing more than watch as the Tigers embarked on a remarkable turnaround season, which ended just 13 seconds short of their second BCS title in four years.
“Just sitting out that whole year really told me I needed to get better at things,” he said. “(I) needed to work on a lot of things and it was just tough watching those great games last year (knowing) I wasn't playing.”
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Sitting out last year did more than just get him back to optimum health. It also helped the linebacker improve every aspect of his game. Now going through his first spring with the Tigers, Toney believes the 2014 campaign will give him an opportunity to showcase his abilities. Since the spring began, he’s taken reps with the first-team defense at both linebacker spots, rotating with Cassanova McKinzy in the middle and Kris Frost on the weakside.
Consider Toney humbled.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It means the coaches got their eyes on me and they're really expecting a lot out of me.”
In McKinzy and Frost, Toney has a junior duo to lean on for advice whenever he needs it.
“They're great leaders. I look up to them,” he said. “When I first came here they basically told me what I was going to go through — if I get redshirted. ... I basically look up to those guys and I'm in a great position to help those guys out this year.”
The way Toney sees it, he’s merely one small piece of a defense looking to take the next step; despite making it to the BCS title game, the defense gave up far too many yards and explosive plays over the course of the season.
Once the fall arrives, Toney said, people will see how much Auburn’s defense has changed for the better.
“We're a lot stronger,” he said. “ Our goal is to get stronger every year and that's what we're accomplishing right now.”