Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Another wild week

The biggest news on the Plains is that, with four games still to play, Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville's job might hang in the balance.
That's not the case if you listen to Paul Spina, who is the president pro tem of the Auburn board of trustees. Spina said today that Tuberville deserves more time to "correct mistakes." He'll also likely be required to make changes to his coaching staff.
Right now it's much ado about nothing. Nothing will happen before Saturday. In all likelihood, nothing will happen between Saturday and the Iron Bowl on Nov. 29.
That's just today's update.
On to weekly topics:
  • Kodi Burns is learning on the job as Auburn's starting quarterback. That shouldn't be a surprise. He's clearly talented, but inexperienced. As has been said several times, Burns' upside is tremendous. Burns said he is learning to go through reads better and is also learning when to tuck the football and run. Burns also said, as has been opined several times here, that he is a better runner when scrambling out of the pass game instead of on a designed run.
  • Mario Fannin is the guilty party on the third-and-goal play on Auburn's first drive against West Virginia. Fannin went right and was supposed to go left. He and Burns collided in the backfield and WVU defenders easily swarmed Fannin for a loss on the play, forcing Auburn to settle for a field goal.
  • Ryan Pugh and Jason Bosley both seem happy to return the positions at which they started the season. Bosley is far more natural at center and admits that Pugh is the better tackle. Pugh toed the program line, saying he's happy to do what's best for the team.
  • Injuries: RB Ben Tate (hamstring) is practicing. Tuberville listed him at 80 percent health-wise. CBs Jerraud Powers (hamstring) and Neiko Thorpe (ankle) have both missed some practice time this week. D-Coord Paul Rhoads said both are day-to-day. Should get an update from Tuberville this evening.
  • Defensively, several players are playing "banged up." I spoke with DT Sen'Derrick Marks and DE Antonio Coleman yesterday. Both players are working through injuries, as is much of the defensive line.
  • Marks said the defensive problems stem from "one or two guys" missing assignments. Look at where WVU made its big plays (on the perimeter) and it's a safe bet those one or two guys are outside linebackers and defensive ends.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auburn kickers Byrum, Vaughn unite

AUBURN — Embattled kicker Wes Byrum might have found a new ally — former Auburn kicker John Vaughn.
Byrum said he has been speaking with Vaughn about his struggles, which Byrum said stems from his plant foot.
Vaughn, a four-year starter, finished as Auburn’s all-time leading scorer. During his time, though, he also had his share of troubles.
“We’ve gone out and just kicked,” Byrum said. “We’ve had days where we will work on it and just work. There’s also days that you gotta go out there and just kick and talk and not be so focused on it and just get some kicking in. So we’ve talked a lot about some different things.”
Byrum has struggled through most of the season, making just 6 of 12 field goals longer than 20-plus yards.
Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville announced Sunday that he has reopened the search for a starting kicker. Morgan Hull and punter Clinton Durst are vying for the position now as well as Byrum.
That doesn’t faze the sophomore kicker.
“I think I always do better when there is more competition,” Byrum said.
Tuberville said Tuesday both Byrum and Hull made all their kicks. He also said the starter would be a game-time decision on Saturday.
• SEARCHING FOR ANSWERS: After allowing 455 rushing yards in the past two games, Auburn’s defenders are desperately seeking answers.
“We need to get our swagger back,” defensive end Antonio Coleman said. “There’s only one word that you can use. Just get our swagger back. Hopefully we’ll get that Saturday. We’ve been practicing real good. Hopefully Saturday we’ll come out and handle business.”
That swagger has disappeared after a 25-22 loss to Arkansas and a 34-17 loss to West Virginia.
During those games, Arkansas tailback Michael Smith rushed for 176 yards and WVU tailback Noel Devine rushed for 207 yards.
“I didn’t think I would see that, but they did,” Marks said. “All good things sometimes come to an end, it came to an end too early. It’s something we have to work on and get back to the basics and get back to what we were doing.”
Marks said he still has hope the defense can regain its swagger this week.
“It's something you can get back,” Marks said. “Swagger is the way you approach things. If you know all 11 guys are going to do what they’re supposed to do then you feel like you got it back or you can go out and try to get it back.”
• MEANINGLESS NUMBERS: Knee and ankle injuries haven’t slowed Coleman this season.
He has racked up an SEC-high six sacks and 10 1/2 tackles for loss this year.
Don’t tell that to Coleman, though.
“I don’t care. It means nothing to me,” Coleman said. “I just get out there and try to make as many plays as I can. Like I told you before, that’s null and void to me. Look at our season. We’re 4-4. I couldn’t care if I’m last right now. The stats and all that really has nothing to do with me and what I’m all about. I really don’t care.”
• MIX UP: During Auburn’s first drive against West Virginia last week, the Tigers put together their best drive of the season.
That drive, however, resulted in a field goal instead of a touchdown. Part of the reason was a botched play on third-and-goal from the WVU 1-yard line.
Kodi Burns took a snap, but collided with tailback Mario Fannin in the backfield. Fannin was dropped for a loss and Auburn had to settle for a field goal.
“Just a mixup of the signals,” Fannin said. “I went the wrong way. It was my fault. I thought it was 32 and it was 33. But that’s something we’re working on also.”
— Luke Brietzke

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Byrum will face competition again

AUBURN — Tommy Tuberville said Sunday that he reopened the kicking competition after Wes Byrum missed another costly field goal.
This time, punter Clinton Durst is in the mix along with Byrum and Morgan Hull.
“We looked at three kickers today,” Tuberville said. “(Durst) kicked. Pretty good kicker. We’re going to throw him in the mix.
“We’ve got to start making field goals. It’s just become a point now where somebody’s got to step up and do it. That’s just one area that we just haven’t had any consistency, so we’re trying to adjust that.”
Byrum tried a 44-yard field goal that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter against West Virginia. Instead, Byrum’s kick sailed wide left.
WVU scored on the ensuing possession and went on for a commanding 34-17 victory.
Byrum has connected on just 8 of 14 field goals this season.
This isn’t the first time Byrum has been pushed for the starting job. He outplayed Hull in practice a few weeks ago to keep his spot.
Tuberville said the trouble is carrying Byrum’s practice success into games.
“He never really has had a bad day in practice,” Tuberville said. “He gets in the game and for whatever reason, his plant foot gets turned wrong, he over-strides. And he’ll be the first to tell you, he’s so much of a competitor, he tries to drive the ball and it just hasn’t worked. We’ve just got to settle him down.”
That confidence might be dwindling as Durst gets more practice reps.
Durst has never kicked field goals before and has only attempted them in practice a few times.
Still, he had never punted before last fall either.
Durst said he has made a 60-yard kick with the wind at his back.
He doesn’t doubt that he could make a contribution to the team as a kicker, but seemed hesitant to make a move for Byrum’s spot.
“We’ve got a great kicker right now in Wes,” Durst said. “So I’ll just do it. They called me today and I thought we were meeting about punting, and they talked to me about kicking field goals. I’ll just do whatever they ask me to do.”
Tuberville said he hopes to have Durst game-ready soon.
“I want all three of them ready,” Tuberville said. “It’s not that we’re trying to put pressure on Wesley. We’re trying to see if anybody else can do it that we can say, ‘OK, you kicked good in warmup, go, kick.’”
• CHANGING LINES: Auburn made three lineup changes to its offensive line against the Mountaineers on Thursday.
Mike Berry played for injured right guard Byron Isom (concussion). Jason Bosley moved back to center, sliding Ryan Pugh to right tackle.
Tuberville said moving Bosley back inside was a simple matter of health.
“He’s a lot healthier than he was,” Tuberville said. “The communication is a lot better when we go two-back and the quarterback is under center. He felt a little bit more at home. I thought he worked pretty good for us.”
Pugh said the move was a seamless adjustment. Between the two, Bosley said Pugh is probably the better tackle anyway.
Berry stated this week as the first-team right guard, but that could change depending on Isom’s health.
• INJURY ROUNDUP: A pair of defensive backs loom as the biggest injury concerns facing Auburn right now.
Jerraud Powers played the entire WVU game with a sore hamstring and is expected to play again this week against Ole Miss.
Tuberville described Powers as playing “on one wheel.”
Powers’ primary backup, true freshman Neiko Thorpe, injured his ankle during the first half. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said Thorpe is day-to-day.
Neither player practiced Sunday.
Tailback Ben Tate (hamstring) practiced, but Tuberville listed him at 80 percent healthy.
— Luke Brietzke

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tuberville's press conference

Tommy Tuberville spoke with the media approximately 90 minutes ago. During his opening statement, Auburn's head coach wanted to address several rumors. Here's what he had to say:
"One thing I want to talk about and I don't talk about rumors that much but over the last week or so, obviously, there's been a lot of things said in the papers or magazines or whatever. I get people email me that.
"I just want to let everybody know that everything is going good. I did not have a stroke. I am completely healthy. As a matter of fact, about three months ago I had a full physical.
"I'm not tired of coaching. I'm fired up as ever. You know, I've been here 10 years as head coach, this is my 30th year to coach, and I feel as good right now as I ever had about coaching football and young guys. I still have that drive. You pretty much have to, 14-, 18-hour days this time of year. I read that my drive was gone.
"No, we did not negotiate a contract last week. That's another one that came out. I don't like recruiting anymore. Well, I went 2500 miles last Thursday and Friday and covered a lot of high schools and talked to a lot of coaches and I loved every minute of it. Our recruiting is going great.
"It's just amazing the rumors that go around when things are not going as good as you would hope. No matter what happens anywhere, you're going to have years that things are not going to go perfect. That's my job to get it straightened out.
"The one thing I will tell you about our football team is that will all these distractions from the outside, I can tell more about our football team when things go like this then I do at any other time. A good football team is made from within, not from without. We've got some great kids on this team that have busted their tail and they have hurt immensely. And you should as much time and effort as they put into it.
"Every fan out there, you can put them together. They really love their football and I'm proud of that. But you can put every fan together and it wouldn't come near the hurt that it hurts one of these kids to lose a football game, the effort and time they put into it. I'm proud of it.
"I just wanted to let you know. I've been here 10 years. I plan on being here 10 more. I'm looking forward to it. All these rumors get started. I'm 10 years an Auburn man and I'm 10 years more of an Auburn man than most because I put my heart and soul in this thing and we ain't going to stop now. We're going to keep working and striving to get better because we do have a good football team.
"We're not playing good right now. This is a transition year but we're going to get better. I don't know whether we'll win any of these last five games but I'll tell you one thing, all you got to do is look back at the first seven. We led every game at halftime. Some things didn't work out in the second half but we fought hard in every game. We played well. We hadn't been beat by 30 points. There's time when you'd think we'd lost that game by three or four touchdowns and it came down to basically the last play or so.
"That's just this football team. I'm proud of how they've worked, how they put it together. The coaches, how they've done it. Good football teams don't win every game. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks and seeing how much we improve.
"We put in seven principles of what we want to do for the next five games in terms of winning. We're going to base this football team on that. Your football team is based on more than how they play on Saturday. I base them on a lot more things around the program, how they handle themselves, how they do things, classes, all those things together. And we're going to have some guys get in trouble. We're not perfect but we take care of those problems.
"We've got a great program here that's going to get stronger, that's going to get better. All the detractors from outside that keep throwing stones at us, that's fine. I love it. It makes us work harder.
"So we're looking forward to this Thursday, coming back this weekend getting ready for the next conference game the next week and on and on.
"Again, I appreciate the sympathy cards for my illnesses and all that but please don't send any flowers. Save your money til Christmas. It looks like the way the economy is you're going to need it.
"That's a paid political announcement my Tommy Tuberville, by the way."
Normally Tuberville swats away questions about rumors. That wasn't his style today.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back to work

We had a short sit down with Tommy Tuberville this afternoon.
It was a short meeting because Tuberville was hesitant to talk about his QB situation until after today's practice. As you might recall, Tuberville was supposed to announce his backup quarterback today. It sounds like that situation is still very murky.
Here's what Tuberville said earlier today:
"We need another day. It didn't go as well as I would have hoped in terms of mistakes from all of them. We need another day in looking at all of them and kind of figure out who can do what."
Tuberville did say Burns won't come out because of inefficiency. Instead, he will come out so the backup quarterback, whoever that might be, could fill a role off the bench.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Ready for a slow Saturday

It's hard to tell right now who will back up Kodi Burns during the West Virginia game.

Coaches aren't saying much about Barrett Trotter and Chris Todd could potentially reenter the fray when he returns to practice on Sunday.

Receivers talk about Trotter and Neil Caudle in the same breath, but comment on Trotter's arm strength.

Receiver Rod Smith, though, might have had the most telling response:

"He looks like he's a guy just going through the learning phases right now, trying to get everything down," Smith said. "It's tough on a guy just to be thrown in at the middle of the season. It's a lot to ask for a young guy like that to try to come in and take over the offense."
Smith also said that Burns has practiced with much more confidence now that he has been named the starting quarterback. That has apparently translated into more accurate passing and better decision-making.
MLB Tray Blackmon (wrist surgery) might not really be out for the season. Sen'Derrick Marks, who is Blackmon's roommate, said Blackmon is hopeful that he could return as quickly as three weeks after the surgery.
Blackmon started Auburn's first four games before breaking his wrist. He has tried to play in the last two games, but has been restricted mostly to special teams duties.
Even when Blackmon returns to full health, though, he might have a hrad time reclaiming his starting position. Josh Bynes has played very well in Blackmon's stead.
HC Tommy Tuberville also had this mildly encoded comment about Bynes yesterday:
"The big thing about a middle linebacker is they have to know just about what everybody does in terms of alignment," Tuberville said. "He has to get everybody lined up. In the LSU game, we made several mistakes in terms of getting people lined up after they'd make a movement and then the next week, Tennessee did the same thing and that didn't happen."
Here's what makes that quote important: Blackmon started against LSU. Bynes started against Tennessee.
Tuberville and six assistant coaches will be out of town recruiting during Auburn's bye week. is reporting that three recruits have reopened their commitments recently.
At least one of Tuberville's destinations is known: Fort Meade, Md., where he will evaluate QB commit Raymond Cotton.
De facto offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger said Thursday that receivers coach Greg Knox "really kinda handles the passing game."
Ensminger, OL coach Hugh Nall and RB coach Eddie Gran collaborate on run calls.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday update

Tommy Tuberville said there will not be a new offensive coordinator hired during the season.

He also said Steve Ensminger, who has coached receivers this season, will take over play-calling duties. Ensminger served as co-coordinator in 2003 with Hugh Nall, yielding mixed results. Auburn finished the 2003 season 7-5 and Tuberville was nearly fired after Jet-gate.

The way it worked in 2003, Ensminger called passing plays and Nall called running plays. Tuberville made the ultimate decision on whether Auburn would run or pass on every given play.

This time it will be Ensminger's show.

No QB has been named as of yet. Tuberville said the staff would decide between Kodi Burns and Chris Todd within the next 24 hours.

Get ready for a very interesting final half of the 2008 season.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Franklin fired

Tony Franklin has been fired as Auburn's offensive coordinator, several sources have confirmed.
There will be several more updates as they present themselves. As for now, Franklin's out and it's yet to be determined who will replace him.
Tommy Tuberville is currently meeting with players to explain the situation.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Big Tuesday

Let's get straight to business, shall we?
  • Three days after WR Rod Smith was "confused" by the offense, he found great excitement from OC Tony Franklin's newfound enthusiasm. Franklin apparently brought a completely different energy level to practice on Tuesday. He was showing receivers how to run routes. He was showing tailbacks what to do. He was working with linemen and quarterbacks. Franklin was also orchestrating a high-paced, high-intensity practice. That will be my story for Thursday's paper. Will it translate into results? We'll see.

  • HC Tommy Tuberville said he and Arkansas HC/former Auburn OC/Jetgate participant Bobby Petrino have a good relationship and that their families used to be very close. Read more in Saturday's Anniston Star.

  • QB Kodi Burns wants his chance to play a full game. He wants his chance to shine. He really wants a chance to play on an equal stage with QB Chris Todd. Will it happen? Well Tuberville says Burns will get an extended role during the second half of the season. Burns has struggled to get into a rhythm, but part of that is the fact that Burns has tried just 24 passes this season in comparison to Todd's 146. Burns' biggest criticism from Franklin has been his propensity tuck the ball and run after only one read. Burns said he knows he runs when the play breaks down, but borderline scoffed at the idea that he doesn't go through enough reads. Read more in tomorrow's Anniston Star. Burns and Franklin aren't buddy-buddy. It makes sense. Burns is Tuberville's guy and has been forced on Franklin (see: Tennessee game). Todd is Franklin's guy. I've heard some say too much is made of that. I don't think enough has been made of the Burns-Franklin relationship. Burns said he and Franklin haven't had one-on-one meetings in a few weeks. Burns said that's not a big deal because Franklin is so blunt that he will say what he needs to in position meetings. One question: Do you think Todd meets one-on-one with Franklin?

  • Tuberville wants players to speak their mind. They have certainly done so early this week. Still, Tuberville delivered a definitive message on Tuesday: Auburn will run the spread offense. The Tigers might run some other formations (including an expanded Ace formation package), but the spread will be their base formation. There's plety of reason for Tuberville to be sincere in this sentiment because the current recruiting class is so spread offense oriented. If he is being sincere, that's obviously bad news for fans that want to see a more smash-mouth brand of football.

  • Injury update: Tuberville said most players currently nursing injuries would play this week. I think that will change as the week goes along, as it usually does, but we'll see. The one player that sounds unlikely to play is CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Interesting day

As you might imagine, today was a big day for the Auburn beat writers -- less than 24 hours after Auburn's humbling 14-13 loss to Vanderbilt.

Lots and lots of interesting comments. We'll start with Tuberville.
Here are the highlights:

Re Tony Franklin: "He’s the offensive coordinator. And I think Tony’s done a good job of adjusting. I don’t know whether we’ve done a good job of adjusting to what we’ve gone to. But, he’s our offensive coordinator. He’s worked harder than anybody here, and he’s as disappointed as anybody here. And he takes as much of the blame. He probably takes more blame than he should.

"We’ve got to find some answers. He knows he’s the guy who needs to find the answers and he’s looking hard, along with the other coaches. As long as we get the effort, and he continues to get the effort from these players like he is, we’re going to get better and we’re going to win more games.

"There’s no panic. We just got to look ourself in the eye – all of us, not just Tony – and find ways to score more points and win games."

Re Kodi Burns: "I think you'll probably see a lot more of Kodi as we go through the second half. The first half we're kind of finding out what he can do, what Chris Todd can do. The upside on Kodi is huge. He hasn't thrown the ball as well as we've liked but neither has Chris Todd. The quarterback usually they get scrutinized more than others and I scrutinize them more on the ability to run the offense as far as how they execute.
"Both Chris and Kodi have to play better for us down the stretch. We've got to improve at the quarterback position for us to have a chance to win games going through the rest of the year."

Re coaching roles: "Everybody's in the same roles. Nothing's changed and I haven't even talked about it. That's not our problem right now. Our problem right now is figuring out what we can do and what's best for the team. It's not anything in terms of relationships or guys not working together. All that stuff gets started when you lose a game or two but there's none of that.
"These guys are professionals and we're all in it together. Not one guy is running this offense, five of them are. They've all got the same responsibilities and they've all got the same input. Most of that stuff is Internet talk. I'm anxious to see what we can do the next six weeks. We've got to have some positive things happen to us."

Re abandoning Ace formation: "We did go back to it some. We went back to it a few plays. We wanted to come back with a few different things in the second half because they had adjusted and we didn't have a lot out of that formation. When you don't have a lot out of a formation, they pretty much know what you're going to run. That'll steadily get better. That's always been a good formation for us."

Re QBs: "There are some things that I don't think either quarterback has taken advantage of. They haven't improved. There's no doubt about that. They're missing some reads. ... That's what these guys are having to learn as it goes – when to get rid of it. The spread offense is snap, throw. You don't see us snap, throw very often. You see us hold the ball. That's because they're both still a little bit unsure."

Re starting QB: "Both of them are getting pretty much the same amount of reps. ... I don't think there's any doubt, if you look at last night, I don't think you can grade either one of them high for what they did. They didn't throw very well. We made mistakes.
"I can't give you an answer how much either one of them's going to play. I don't think you can say there's a true guy that's going to be the starter. Chris has been that guy and we'll start as we go this week with him being the starter, but by the end of the week it might change, depending on what our gameplan's going to be."

Re injuries: Probable - DT Sen'Derrick Marks (ankle), RB Brad Lester (knee), LB Craig Stevens (turf-toe), LB Tray Blackmon (wrist), OT Jason Bosley (various), DE Antonio Coleman (leg muscle), DE Michael Goggans (ankle), RB Ben Tate (hamstring).
Questionable - CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring), WR Robert Dunn (ankle).

Franklin and DC Paul Rhoads were both off-limits. It sounds questionable whether Tuberville will allow them to speak with the media any time soon.

RB Ben Tate and C Ryan Pugh were today's media all-stars with an honorable mention reference to WR Rod Smith and his comedy act.
Here's the notables, starting with Tate:

Re why Auburn went away from run: "Your guess is as good as mine. I don't know. I guess that's what the coaches felt like was the best thing to do."

Re returning to smash-mouth football: "It felt really good. The offensive line was loving it. We were loving it. I'm pretty sure the fans loving it. We were marching right down the field. It was good overall."

Why not continue to run? "I don't know. I really don't. I don't know. I don't know. I couldn't have an answer for that."

Re offensive identity: "We're definitely trying to find our identity. As an offense, to be truthful, we're just awful. There's no other way to put it. Your numbers don't lie. When you look at yourself on film, that doesn't lie either. Other teams are probably just licking their chops. We're just not good on offense right now. We just have to find a way to get better."

Here's Pugh:

"We came out in the first quarter and rushed for about 100 yards and looked like the Auburn of old. We got our confidence going and then all of a sudden we completely go away from it. As a player, it's frustrating. As someone watching the game, I'm sure it's frustrating. To come out like that and then come out and lay an egg in the second quarter and the second half is really embarrassing on offense."

"I just want to do whatever works. No one likes to go out there and lose. Whatever gives us the best chance to win as a player. It doesn't really matter if we throw it every down or run it every down. We just want to go out and win, whether it's 3-2 or 50-2."

Most players aren't really admitting this, but it's growing rather obvious that the frustration level is reaching very high levels. With that said, Auburn should be favored in each of its next four games. It is already a 19-point favorite against Arkansas.

If Auburn can find some offense, the Tigers could play a major spoiler role when the Amen Corner rolls around.