News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Coleman stealing spotlight from Groves

By Ross Dellenger ∑ 340-2462

AUBURN — Antonio Coleman's eyes were blinded by the bright lights of the TV camera. He sat in the interview chair squinting, trying to adjust to the spotlight.

He better get used to it.

A sophomore defensive end, Coleman has been the most-talked-about player since taking over for the injured Quentin Groves more than three weeks ago. Now, he is no longer just a reserve filling in for a wounded starter.

He is the starter.

On Tuesday, the news broke: Groves is switching positions, moving from end to linebacker.

"It's really no different," Coleman said. "It's no big deal."

It is, in fact, a huge deal.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has officially replaced a preseason first-team SEC selection and the guy who's just a sack shy of being the school's all-time leader.

Coleman's stellar play this month was the primary factor in Groves' unexpected position change. Coaches couldn't let Coleman's talents stay bottled up on the sideline.

"It's hard to hold out a guy that's probably playing better than anyone else on defense," coach Tommy Tuberville said.

The 21-year-old Coleman had maybe his best performance of the season in Auburn's 17-3 win over Ole Miss on Saturday, leading the defense with 30 production points on 43 snaps.

He sniffed out a reverse, dropping Ole Miss speedster Dexter McCluster for a 6-yard loss. He finished the game with two sacks and caused a fourth-quarter interception that sealed the victory for the Tigers, who face Tennessee Tech in a homecoming game Saturday.

Ironically, it's Groves who is moving to linebacker and not Coleman, who was recruited as a linebacker by many schools, including LSU.

Even more ironic, Will Muschamp, while serving as LSU's defensive coordinator, recruited Coleman in 2004 out of Mobile's Williamson High. Muschamp insisted that Coleman go to Baton Rouge, La., as a linebacker.

But he wanted to play defensive end, and Auburn promised him that spot. In a weird way, Muschamp is thankful Coleman didn't commit to LSU. After the 2004 season, the coordinator left LSU, following coach Nick Saban to the Miami Dolphins, where he stayed for one year before coming to Auburn.

Coleman and Muschamp were happily reunited, even if he was an end and not a linebacker.

"He's accepted the opportunity that's been presented in front of him," Muschamp said.

"He's cashed in on being not just a good pass-rusher, not just a good space player, but he's really playing the runs well."

Muschamp calls Coleman "a fast-twitch guy," someone who can school offensive tackles, even if they out-weigh him by 70 pounds.

"His strength, power and quickness," Muschamp says, helps him do that.

He obviously has done it better than Groves or the move would not have been made, but don't think that creates bitter exchanges between the two.

Joking is a common aspect of Coleman and Groves' odd friendship.

Although they are competitors, the two produce constant banter. Groves finally recovered enough to return to the field against LSU, but Coleman still started.

That week, the sophomore said to the senior, "What's up Q you ready? You ready to come back?"

Groves responded: "Yeah, I am going to have to get that spot back."

Coleman continued: "Nah, check the depth chart. I'm still No. 1."

And he may be for a very long time.

Colemanís defensive domination

Defensive category Total Team Rank

Tackles for loss 12.5 1

Sacks 6 1

Quarterback hurries 14 2

Tackles 26 9

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