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Auburn sophomore Jeff Holland: ‘We are trying to be great’ on the defensive line

Auburn defensive lineman Jeff Holland practices on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 at the university's athletic complex.
Auburn defensive lineman Jeff Holland practices on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016 at the university's athletic complex. mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

The fierce competition along Auburn’s defensive front isn’t creating any divisions in the position group’s meeting room.

Players on both sides of the ball are in awe at the level of talent the Tigers have competing for playing time on the line. The linemen have banded together as they strive to provide the team with an identity.

“We just want to be great,” sophomore defensive lineman Jeff Holland said Tuesday night after practice.

The Florida native came to the Plains as a four-star prospect out of Trinity Christian High School. He made former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp’s rotation last year at defensive end, but didn’t perform up to the lofty expectation levels for an SEC lineman.

Holland’s father told his son to take the game more seriously as the true freshman struggled to learn the playbook. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder’s level of focus hasn’t been an issue since.

“I think I made a lot of progress,” Holland said. “I just got more focused, got in the playbook. It was a process. I had to follow along the process and listen to the coaches.”

It helped having Carl Lawson in the locker room as a worthy role model. Lawson’s attention to detail has rubbed off on everyone around him.

“He wants to see us be great,” Auburn junior college transfer Paul James III said. “He’s a student of the game and he wants us to be a student of the game also. Everything, whether it’s watching film or going over this or that, he takes us with them. We’re joined like a chain.”

The “blessing” of having Lawson as a teammate as helped underclassmen like Holland and Byron Cowart see where they need to be.

“I’m just trying to be like Carl,” Holland said.

Holland is equally as complimentary about the guys he’s supposed to be competing with for reps. The lineman described Cowart as a brother who has a bounce back year.

“He’s working extremely hard,” Holland said. “He’s getting better every day we can see it in the meeting room. He’s straining, he’s getting more physical and that’s all he needs to do.”

James, who was “thrown into the fire” as one of Auburn’s nine early enrollees, loves working alongside the former five-star prospect.

“He’s very physical and strong,” James said of Cowart. “We lift together. He shows me a lot in the weight room. He’s also very good at picking things up on the field so we work side by side.”

The positive vibes on the defensive line has the group eager for the start of the season.

“Hundred percent I’m looking forward to it because I feel like I’m going against the best of the best,” James said. “When I go out there and do what I do best nobody can’t compete with that.”