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Auburn’s star defender Quentin Groves has moved from defensive end to linebacker, beginning with Monday’s practice. He says linebacker will be a better fit for him in the NFL.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Auburn’s star defender Quentin Groves has moved from defensive end to linebacker, beginning with Monday’s practice. He says linebacker will be a better fit for him in the NFL.

AU’s Groves adjusting to life as a linebacker

By Ross Dellenger · 340-2460

AUBURN — Quentin Groves woke up Monday morning as a defensive end.

He crawled into bed that night as a linebacker.

“I’ve taken on a new role. I’m a linebacker now,” the senior announced Tuesday to a group of reporters.

Although Groves claims he’s relishing the new role — “It shows versatility,” he said — his melancholy mood conveyed a different message.

“I like it. I found out (Monday). I was like, ‘OK,’ ” Groves said quietly with a shrug of his shoulders, his eyes darting about the room.

Groves points to several factors that led to the move.

He blames his own injury — dislocated toes — as a catalyst.

The injury, suffered against Florida, gave reserve Antonio Coleman an opportunity to start the last four games. Coleman’s success in those outings has led partly to the change.

“I think they want to keep me out there because I am playing so good,” said Coleman, a sophomore who has a team-leading six sacks and 12 tackles for loss.

Groves also said an injury to linebacker Craig Stevens further induced the move, but the key factor was getting Auburn’s “best players on the field,” said coach Tommy Tuberville.

Tuberville said coaches wanted to make the shift during the Arkansas game, but Groves’ sore toes kept him sidelined.

Tuberville and Groves both insist the move isn’t that much of a change for the Greenville, Miss., native, who was sometimes playing a linebacker-type role, while at end.

Groves’ most difficult obstacle may be the switch from the weak side to the strong side. Groves will be head up on the tight end.

“He’s played some linebacker,” Tuberville said. “Now, it’s just on the other side. It’s just a little bit different scheme.”

This week, Groves said, is a good time to make the switch with No. 19 Auburn (6-3, 4-2 SEC) hosting Tennessee Tech of the Football Championship Subdivision — formerly Division I-AA.

Although Tech runs a triple-option wishbone attack, Groves would rather begin playing linebacker against the Golden Eagles “before the bullets really start flying against Alabama and Georgia,” he said.

In high school, Groves played defensive tackle. Upon coming to Auburn, he dabbled some at middle linebacker before making a permanent transition to end, where he has wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks ever since.

But this year is not at all like he envisioned it playing out. From the injury, to the sack record and now this, a position move?

“Different meeting room, different set of film study,” he said.

Groves is just a sack shy of being Auburn’s career sack leader. Tuberville thinks the move will give him more of an advantage in that category.

“In some of those areas, I think he’s probably better blitzing from standing up than he is down,” the coach said.

Groves will return to his end position on pass-rush down, usually when the opponent faces third-and-long. The 6-foot-3, 255-pounder said he prays every night that he gets that elusive sack.

Coming into the season, Groves was just four sacks shy of breaking the record. Nine games into the his final year at Auburn, he remains just short.

“It’s the hardest thing ever to get,” he said. “It’s something I work for, wish I had, but I don’t.”

As far as his toes, Groves said the cold weather hasn’t helped, but he said “during the games it feels fine.” According to Tuberville, Groves still has “a little bit of a limp.”

Tuberville looks at the position change as a springboard to the NFL. Groves’ future in football will most likely be at linebacker anyway, he said.

Although Groves didn’t seem quite cheery about the move, his teammates and coaches have tried to put a smile on his face. Coleman said defensive ends coach Terry Price at a meeting Monday joked with Groves about the switch, telling him to “go over there with the linebackers.”

“We sit around and joke about it,” Coleman said. “It’s all fun and games.

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