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Auburn’s Bynes settling into starting role

AUBURN – The news that Tray Blackmon will miss the rest of Auburn’s season means replacement Josh Bynes won’t have to look over his shoulder wondering when he’ll be forced to give up the job.

Then again, the Tigers’ middle linebacker wasn’t doing that anyway. Blackmon’s season-ending wrist injury leaves the post in the hands of the same player who has held it the past three games.

“It ain’t no different at all,” Bynes said. “I take every game like I’ve been taking them all season. I’ve been starting the last three games. Him coming back or whatever the case may be, doesn’t change my outlook on things.”

Blackmon figured to be one of Auburn’s defensive stars but has been limited by a cracked bone in his wrist, and coach Tommy Tuberville said last week he wouldn’t play again this season.

The Tigers haven’t appeared to have much of a dropoff with Bynes. He is third on the team with 31 tackles and returned an interception 31 yards against Arkansas.

Bynes has also drawn praise from coaches and teammates for his on-the-field managing of the defense, another key job for the middle linebacker. That could be even more key than usual Thursday night when the Tigers (4-3) visit West Virginia and its dangerous dual-threat quarterback, Alabama native Pat White.

Tuberville said Bynes has been a bright spot for the defense. Linebackers coach James Willis quizzes him by flashing formations on a screen and making Bynes call the defense. His emergence hasn’t just been physical.

“Mentally, he’s a lot further along than I would have ever expected. He works at it. He watches film,” Tuberville said. “He studies with coach Willis.

“Middle linebackers are like your quarterback. You’ve got to know where everybody lines up and what the defense is made for. He’s got to recognize. He’s done real well. He’s going to be a lot better as he goes along.”

Bynes saw limited action in five games as a freshman, making 10 tackles. He had one more stop than that in his first career start against Tennessee, and added nine against the Razorbacks.

While that experience cost him a potential redshirt season, he said it has been valuable during his suddenly increased role.

“Last year, it was a get-adjusted season,” Bynes said. “It was just trying to get back into it. It was a new thing to me. Going into this year and all of a sudden starting is overwhelming. I’m just taking it one game at a time.”

Fellow linebacker Craig Stevens said Bynes has come a long way from that quiet freshman.

“Last year he didn’t really talk that much on the field and stuff,” Stevens said. “But now he’s more of a leader.”

Senior Courtney Harden and redshirt freshman Adam Herring could also see increased roles at middle linebacker. The pair have combined for just six tackles this season, and Herring’s one stop came on special teams.

Herring didn’t play against Arkansas and Harden didn’t have a stop.

Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said that was largely a credit to Bynes.

“Josh was playing awfully well,” Rhoads said. “And the tempo of the game was such that he needed to ride it out. The kids are very confident in him in what I refer to as running the show. There’s no doubt when he’s out there telling somebody to go right, to go right. Plus, his production in the game was something we didn’t want to take away.”