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Auburn's Eric Brock (33), tackling New Mexico State's A.J. Harris (18), has moved from safety to linebacker.
AP photo by Dave Martin
Auburn's Eric Brock (33), tackling New Mexico State's A.J. Harris (18), has moved from safety to linebacker.

Auburn's Brock pitches in to help depleted linebackers

Eric Brock always has considered himself a physical player. So when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp asked him to move to linebacker, he did so.

Ross Dellenger
Ross Dellenger
Auburn Beat
Normally, Auburn's backup strong safety, Brock was needed on a depleted linebacker corps. Auburn has been without two of its starting linebackers since the second game of the season because of injury, and reserve linebacker Steve Gandy quit the team during preseason.

Following the loss against Mississippi State — when the Bulldogs ran for 172 yards — Muschamp knew some shuffling had to be done.

"He just came in and told me, 'We've got a lot of guys down. We need somebody who has been out there and has played a lot of games for us,' " Brock said. "It was my decision. I was willing to help the team with any kind of spark I could give."

Brock's move to linebacker is not permanent. The Tigers are expecting to get one of their starters, middle linebacker Tray Blackmon, back from injury this week, but outside starting linebacker Merrill Johnson may be out for several weeks.

Junior Chris Evans has replaced Blackmon for the last three games. Craig Stevens is the only starter from preseason who remains. Courtney Harden and true freshman Bo Harris are the reserves. Brock joined them Saturday, making four tackles.

He says strong side linebacker is similar to playing strong safety.

"As a safety you play down (at the line of scrimmage) half the game anyway," Brock said.

Stevens said Brock learned quickly and that the senior has "got most of it down pat."

Linebacker coach James Willis compared Brock to Auburn's former linebacker Will Herring — a versatile player who could cover receivers as well as play the run.

Muschamp has been impressed with Brock's skills close to the line of scrimmage, or in the "box."

"We felt like that was something we needed to do after the Mississippi State game — continue to get more playmakers at that position," Muschamp said.

Four weeks into the season and Auburn is looking for playmakers at other positions, including receiver.

Auburn continues to shuffle its starting receivers. The new one this week? Sophomore Montez Billings.

"We'll continue to rotate guys through," receivers coach Greg Knox said. "We'll continue to play all seven."

Knox said before the season that there would be a six-receiver rotation — three starters and three backups — but seven receivers have played during the first four games.

Dropped passes have plagued the Tigers.

Junior Rod Smith has been the only receiver to start the first four games and has been the go-to guy lately. He caught three passes for 86 yards and scored two touchdowns last week. He will get the start again this week against Florida.

Senior Prechae Rodriguez and redshirt freshman Tim Hawthorne also have started for the Tigers.

Rodriguez caught eight passes during the fist two games, but his drops in the second week against South Florida got him benched. He returned to the starting lineup against New Mexico State. He didn't catch a pass. Hawthorne started against Mississippi State and didn't have a catch.

Junior slot receiver Robert Dunn was moved to flanker for the last two games to get more passes thrown his way. He did, and he dropped two Saturday: one for a touchdown and one for a first down on a third-and-long. Dunn has been shifted back to slot, where he is expected to start against Florida.

"I have a lot of confidence that Robert will make those plays — and all the rest of the receivers," Smith said recently.

Billings replaces Dunn as the flanker. Billings had a good spring and was expected to be a starter before suffering a hamstring injury days before the opener.

Junior James Swinton and true freshman Chris Slaughter are the only two receivers in the seven-player rotation to not start so far this season.

Auburn at Florida

7 p.m.

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