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Junior linebacker Owen Pappoe sounds like he is ready to take the next step and be a real leader on the Auburn Tigers defense this season. Since he got to Auburn, Pappoe has gone from a 190-pound nickel linebacker at Grayson High School in Georgia to a player who weighs 227 pounds heading into the 2021 season. He has been a starter since his freshman year, and he put together a big 2020 season with 93 tackles. For his career, Pappoe has 142 total tackles, six sacks and nine tackles for a loss.
Because of his versatility and speed to run with backs and receivers, Pappoe figures to take lots of snaps in newly-hired DC Derek Mason’s 3-4 defense. At SEC Media Days last month, he gave some thoughts on the new look of the defense, as well as some other aspects of Auburn’s new team.
‘’We’re going to be a 3-4 defense, so we’re going to be in our three down stuff a lot more,” Pappoe said. “We also do have some four down stuff too. It’s going to be something similar. Even with the 3-4 stuff, as far as coverage goes, just a lot of similarities between and (DC Derek) Mason’s defense and (former DC) Kevin Steele’s defense. As far as transition goes, guys pick up on stuff really fast. It’s not going to be too different, but there still are some differences.”
The biggest change for Auburn, though, is the new head coaching regime. After seven seasons with Gus Malzahn, former Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin now steps in for the Tigers, and he’s clearly already bonded with the players he has inherited.
Pappoe commented on introducing himself to Harsin and forming a relationship with him early:
“It’s just a respect thing, man. He’s going to be our new head coach. I wanted to go over there and personally meet him myself and let him know who I am. Me and Harsin, we’ve got a lot of respect for each other. Outside football, he’s a really good man, has a lot of knowledge.
“In our team meetings, we really talk about life a lot, not even necessarily football sometimes. We have a thing we do called Real Life Wednesdays where speakers come out and talk to us or even he’ll talk to us himself. Really sharp guy, man, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
All in all, it sounds like the team is coming together and developing confidence in each other. As we all know, the SEC competition won’t care whether they’re still working out chemistry tweaks come game time. But if this group can come together and buy into the culture that Harsin brought from Boise, they could still contend for an SEC West title. They certainly have the raw talent to do so, at least.
“I finally found that confidence that I needed to go out there and make plays,” Pappoe said. “I feel my confidence is through the roof. I feel it’s a different energy coming in this off-season from preparation, film study and all that. I’m really excited to see what happens this season, and I feel really good about it.”
Auburn starts the season with Akron on Sept. 4, but their first marquee game will be two weeks later when the Tigers head north to Penn State for a massive non-conference clash in Beaver Stadium on Sept. 18.
Cover photo thanks to Jason Caldwell, 247Sports.