CLEMSON -- Brandon Maye approached reporters with an index card in hand Tuesday, ready to deliver a premeditated message.

Was the Clemson linebacker going to lash out at those who criticized his play last season? Did he have a message for Auburn quarterback Cam Newton? Was the Mobile, Ala., native going to guarantee victory against Auburn in his homecoming?

It turned out the index card was an innocuous thank you note. Listed on the card were a number of medical personnel who had helped with Maye's arthroscopic knee surgery last month and quick rehab, allowing the junior to make his first start of the season Saturday at Auburn. His return comes in time for a meeting with a talented Auburn backfield after Clemson allowed 193 rushing yards to North Texas.

Maye did have another message. He's motivated to improve the run defense and his play.

"I know I made some mistakes last year in some of the reads and stuff like that," Maye said. "I'm here this year to try and change that. I don't worry about what this person said or what that person said. Half the people that (criticized) have never played football before and sit on the couch watching us play, eating doughnuts."

Admittedly, Maye has a chip on his shoulder after being criticized last year for quarterbacking a defense ranking 67th against the run.

After posting a team-best 190 tackles the last two years, Maye also had to change positions in the offseason. He's listed as the starting weakside linebacker.

"I could have easily sat back and pouted," Maye said of the positional change. "But I went to work."

Perhaps no Clemson positional group will be under more scrutiny Saturday than the linebackers.

When asked about how he felt about the group Tuesday, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele said: "Same as always. Get them prepared, get them ready to go."

Auburn was 13th in the FBS in rush offense last year, averaging 5 yards per carry, and returns four starting offensive linemen. When taking out sack yardage, Clemson allowed 4.9 yards per carry to North Texas.

While most of the focus centers on Auburn's super-sized athletic quarterback, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Newton is hardly the lone threat in the Auburn backfield.

"As soon as you get lulled to sleep on (Newton)," Swinney said, "(Auburn running backs Mario Fannin), (Onterio McCalebb) and (Michael Dyer) are really good backs and are ready for a big play."

Auburn might have its own Marcus Lattimore in Dyer, a true freshman who has rushed for 143 yards on 23 carries this season. Dyer could have his role expanded Saturday as starting back Mario Fannin is questionable with a shoulder injury.

Dyer was rated by Scout.com and Rivals.com as the No. 2 running back in the 2010 class behind USC's Lattimore, and was rated above Lattimore -- fifth overall -- by ESPN.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday that Dyer is "ready for his role to expand. We coaches trust him."

Dyer was the feature back in the fourth quarter at Mississippi State. He rushed for 48 yards on nine carries.

To stop Newton, Dyer and company is a Clemson linebacker corps that includes a middle linebacker making his fourth start, Corico Hawkins, and Maye, who is making his first start at a new position.

Maye is the bulkiest Clemson linebacker at 6-2, 235 pounds, unless defensive end Andre Branch plays some at the position, as he did against Presbyterian. Maye, who was never offered a scholarship by Auburn, said he was never upset about being asked to switch positions, and feels the weakside better fits his personality and will allow him to play more instinctively. "At the middle linebacker spot you have two different personalities," Maye said. "You have the type that's very laid back and can make all the calls. Then you have guys that are wired and sometimes may miss calls."

The fiery May falls into the latter category.

"From the vision standpoint at middle linebacker, it's the whole picture," Maye said. "From the weakside, it's just that side. Just being able to focus on that side and read the guards pulling, it's a big difference."

Maye noted his career began against Alabama in the Georgia Dome with ESPN's College "GameDay" on site two years ago, and how his debut at a new position also begins against an Alabama-based team with "GameDay" on campus. It's a new start, with Maye hoping for different results.

Auburn injury update

Auburn left tackle Lee Ziemba returned to practice after leaving the Mississippi State game with a knee injury. Fannin (shoulder) is also practicing.