Linebacker Chandler Wooten is taking advantage of opportunities in spring practice after opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns.
His last game for the Tigers was the 2019 Outback Bowl loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers, so Wooten’s biggest adjustment will be adapting to the changes that have occurred since.
“It’s been a transition for sure, coming back from being gone for a substantial amount of time. Getting back into winter workouts was a very good feeling for me and transitioning to spring ball has been pretty good, so I’m excited to be back,” Wooten said. “Getting back into that playing shape would probably be the toughest thing so far.”
In the 2019 season, Wooten had 18 individual tackles and assisted in nine, giving him a total 27 on the season. He had an interception against Arkansas and 4.5 tackles for loss, but there has been an eight-month, football-free dry period in the time since then.
“Being gone for that amount of time, it was definitely strange, so getting back out there on the field is definitely a transition period. I’m not where I want to be yet, so I’m trying to get better every day,” Wooten said. “With Coach Schmedding, just the way he pays attention to the details every day, I can see myself and feel myself getting better on a day-to-day basis.”
With defensive coordinator Derek Mason’s new approach across the board, the linebacking position has been host to numerous adjustments, as with any staff change.
“It’s definitely a different scheme than what we’re accustomed to, with some different aspects to it. Of course, with the defense being multiple, we’re going to be asked to do some different things and so we’ve all got to continue to get bigger, faster, stronger, just be able to play inside, outside, whether we’re blitzing, dropping into coverage, whatever it may be,” Wooten said. “It’s a lot of moving parts. That’s why, especially in our room, we’ve got to continue to be leaders.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Players have repeatedly pointed out that attention to detail has been a major focus for the new staff, particularly with Mason and Schmedding.
“I feel like we’re growing every day in our footwork, our eye progression, our hand placement, getting off blocks, on and off blocks,” Wooten said. “The future is bright.”
Although Wooten has not taken the field with any newcomers to the linebacker room, he recognizes the successes made in his absence. Four sophomores are rostered who will be new to Wooten’s playing time: Desmond Tisdol, Wesley Steiner, Cam Riley, and Kameron Brown.
“That’s a very talented group. Obviously, they’re raw with it being their first and second year here, especially going into a new system now,” Wooten said. “They want to learn, are eager to learn, hard workers, so they’ve got a bright future.”
Wooten was especially complimentary of Riley’s work ethic and on-field talent.
“I think he has a lot of potential. Of course, he’s very lengthy, long arms, a lot of range, a lot of speed, so as long as he continues to keep his head down and work, Cam can be as good as Cam wants to be. The sky is the limit,” Wooten said.
Returning leaders Owen Pappoe and Zakoby McClain will also be a factor in Auburn’s success this season. The duo combined had 113 solo tackles for the 2020 season, so their efforts will be essential.
“Those dudes are monsters. I’m telling you, they’re special. Just the way that Zakoby finds a football and the way he’s physical at the point of attack, and Owen with his speed, he’s so smart,” Wooten said. “To see how they’re continuing to develop now, in 2021, we’ve got a chance to be very good, especially with those young guys, so I feel like we’ve got a pretty good room.”
The NFL was an option available to Wooten, who had been rostered with the Tigers for three years going into the 2020 season, but he says the decision to return for 2021 took no time to make.
“My whole plan was to come back at the end of the day and it didn’t really have anything to do with the coaches. I love Auburn. This is where I wanted to be the entire time, so when we did get a new coaching staff, I sat down and had a great conversation with Coach Harsin and Coach Schmedding,” Wooten said. “We just made a transition. It’s been smooth and I love it, so I’m enjoying it.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman