AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley has gotten off to such a good start, leading the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss, that he has drawn some lofty comparisons.
“I’ve been in this league a long time, and he looks like some of the old Auburn defensive players — similar to his coach (Tracy) Rocker,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “He is doing an unbelievable job.”
Fairley, a 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior, has five sacks and 11.5 tackles through five games, but he has a ways to go to catch his line coach.
Rocker, an all-time Auburn great, was a two-time All-American and won the 1988 Outland and Lombardi Trophies. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
Does Rocker think Fairley compares to his younger self?
“Ahh, naw. Nick is a hell of a lot better,” he said. “He’s just so athletic.”
Rocker thinks the upcoming weeks will be important in Fairley’s development.
“People are going to start sliding protection to you,” Rocker said. “They’re going to start doubling you more. They’re going to start chip blocks. Now, can you go out there every day and still defeat those blocks and make plays and play within the structure of the defense?
“I’ve been in situations where guys have gotten frustrated, and, all of a sudden, they start doing their own thing, and here we go. That ain’t what we want.”
It hasn’t been good for your health to be a quarterback against Auburn this year.
Clemson’s Kyle Parker injured his back after a hard hit. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia left after being knocked woozy. Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning took several shots.
Rocker said that’s not the Tigers’ goal.
“I’m not asking them to go out there and can we knock the guy out,” he said. “Our job is to pressure the quarterback, sack the quarterback and contain the quarterback. After that, do your job, stop the run and keep things in front of us.”
Trotter to travel
Backup quarterback Barrett Trotter has practiced, despite a knee injury he suffered at the end of the Louisiana-Monroe game. Head coach Gene Chizik wouldn’t commit to whether Trotter would be available to play. But he said Trotter, who is integral in relaying the play calls, will travel with the team.
Junior Derek Winter has caught only seven passes in his career, but wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor thinks that might work in Auburn’s favor.
“When he’s open, he’ll be wide open,” Taylor said. “That’s the good thing. Sometimes, defenses won’t cover those guys because they hadn’t had very many balls thrown to them.
“When he does catch one, it ought to be a big shot for us.”
Winter will replace Jay Wisner, who left the team early last week for personal reasons.
He’ll try to replicate the dirty work that Wisner used to do, like “having to go dig a linebacker out or take on a guy that weighs 30 pounds more than you and run him down hill,” Taylor said.
“The biggest deal is he’s smart enough to get lined up where he’s supposed to be in a lot of different formations and know what he’s supposed to do once he gets there,” Taylor said.