The five stars attached to Byron Cowart’s name didn’t help the defensive lineman get off to the best of starts on the Plains last year.
Cowart openly discussed his struggles during Auburn’s fall camp in a series of tweets he quickly deleted.
"Being penalized because i was number 1 player but I'm struggling i don't care about the stars,” Cowart tweeted. “So why when i struggle its thrown in my face. How about help me huh? I came in humble ready to learn man not bragging and flashy. I just wanna learn."
Auburn’s coaching staff brushed off the training camp incident, but the headlines from Cowart’s tweets drew more attention than his play on the field as a freshman.
With a full season of football under his belt, Cowart is ready for his play to do the talking in a resurgent Auburn defense led by new coordinator Kevin Steele.
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247 Sports and ESPN both ranked Cowart as the number one overall player in the Class of 2015 coming out of Armwood High School in Florida. The top ranking came with heavy expectations that Cowart struggled to meet as a true freshman.
Cowart averaged a modest 20 snaps per game for former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The 6-foot-3, 277-pounder finished the season with six tackles, one solo, in 13 games, but his lack of production wasn’t a cause for concern for Auburn’s coaching staff.
“I think his production has been really good,” Muschamp said. “He's a true freshman in the Southeastern Conference. I think it's been really good, in my experience.”
Muschamp compared Cowart to one of his former defenders at Florida Jon Bullard.
“Jon was a really good player at Florida who is having a great year,” Muschamp said. “He (Byron) played more snaps than Jon did as a true freshman. Expectations are measured on different levels by different people. My expectations have been very good for what Byron has accomplished and where he is right now.”
One of the opening questions Auburn’s new defensive coordinator Kevin Steele dealt with during his first press conference this spring was about Cowart’s progress.
After the Tigers first padded practice of the spring, third overall, Steele was reluctant to pass judgment on individual players, but noted a few observations he’s had seeing Cowart on the field.
“He’s a physical talent with great attitude,” Steele said. “He’s still young. Those things I just talked about being physically dominate player, being physical, playing with great effort, he’s bought into that.”
Steele identified Cowart as a one of the team’s young players trying to assert themselves as a leader.
Cowart’s teammates are also bullish on Cowart’s prospect for the 2016 season with fellow defensive lineman Montravius Adams labeling the sophomore as the line’s most improved player since Auburn closed out a 31-10 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl.
“I would say probably Byron the most,” Adams said. “Just coming from his struggles last year a little bit and at the end of the season he started picking it up. Like I said he’s trying to run with it.”