Thursday, December 31, 2009

Newton commits to Auburn

Auburn might have found its new starting quarterback before spring camp even arrives.

The Tigers ended the 2009 calendar by getting a commitment from five-star junior-college QB Cameron Newton. He is expected to enroll for the spring semester and would be eligible for spring practice.

Newton originally attended Florida but left the team for stealing a student’s laptop computer and throwing it out a dormitory window when police came to investigate. He subsequently enrolled at Blinn Community College in Brenham, Tex. and led the team to the 2009 junior college national championship.

Newton, who is 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, has two years of eligibility remaining.

Though Newton committed to Auburn, he had not signed a National Letter of Intent at the time of press. He can sign at any time now because he is a junior-college prospect.

Newton is not officially on Auburn’s team until the university has accepted his letter.


This is a huge get for Auburn. I have a few immediate thoughts.

First and foremost, until Auburn accepts a letter, don't consider this a done deal. Newton has had a tendency to change his mind.

Secondly, this job is almost certainly his. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will almost certainly say it's an open competition entering spring camp, but I don't think Newton commits to Auburn without a guarantee. This must be devastating news for other QBs, like Neil Caudle.

Lastly, this move is on Auburn coach Gene Chizik regardless of how it turns out. Taking a chance on Newton, who had his charges dropped, seems like a calculated gamble. Chizik and the coaching staff must know one of two things: Either Newton is a good guy and deserves a second chance or Auburn really needed to find a starting quarterback next year. If this works out and Newton is all he's cracked up to be then Chizik should get all the credit in the world. If Newton gets into any legal situation or faces disciplinary problems then that should be on Chizik as well.

This is a big get for Auburn. It's a big deal and should boost expectations immediately.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Texas Tech administrators: AU was never interested in Leach

I found this interesting and thought I would pass it along. The Dallas Morning News obtained emails between Texas Tech administrators about former TTU coach Mike Leach. Included is a note about Auburn never having interest in Leach and Leach's agent offering for him to pay his own way just for an interview.

Leach is really not looking good these days. It's hard to say he'll never get a job again since people like Hal Mumme have, but I've got to think he's borderline unhireable right now.

On a related note, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is apparently interested in the job at Texas Tech. This is probably Tuberville's last chance at a head-coaching position this year, so look for Jimmy Sexton to try to work his magic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Speeding Up

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s attack is known for its frenetic pace.

If he has his way, he’ll step on the gas even harder next year.

“It’ll get faster, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said earlier this week. “We’re not happy with our pace right now.”

Auburn finished its first year in Malzahn’s offense ranked 39th in the nation in offensive snaps.

For Malzahn, who likes to run 70-plus plays per game, that isn’t nearly good enough.

The bulk of the problem came from inconsistency and depth issues on both sides of the ball.

Auburn often didn’t get into its fast-paced offense until earning its initial first down. That created a sometimes slower offense.

“Our tempos change a little bit,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s not always fast paced. Just from a philosophical standpoint, we try to do it at the right times because every time is not the right time for us individually.”

Once Auburn gets the players it needs in the program, though, watch for Malzahn to drastically increase the offensive tempo throughout games.

That’s something to think about considering the Tigers drew a penalty during the Kentucky game for moving too quickly – something that still angers Malzahn. The coordinator has never publicly admonished the call, but said earlier this week that it wouldn’t happen again.

FINISHING TOUCHES: Auburn held its final practice Wednesday during a warm, sunny morning.

Chizik said he was pleased with the team’s workout.

“Just a great day today,” he said. “Today was really our final preparation for the bowl. I really thought focus was sharp and they were focused and tuned in, so I think it was a great way to end practice –really our last practice of the year.”

Chizik also said the team would have a walk-through at Raymond James Stadium, site of the Outback Bowl, on Thursday.

MIDSEASON TURNAROUND: Since Auburn’s blowout loss to Arkansas, defensive coordinator Ted Roof thinks his group has shown improvement.

“I think we got better, we got more physical. At the first of the year, we were doing some good things and then throughout the course of the season there were some things that happened that we had to play through,” Roof said. “I did see a lot of improvement and I was pleased with how we became more physical as a defense. We started getting some guys healthy, getting some guys back and creating as much competition as we had considering the situation.”

At one point this season, Auburn starters Antoine Carter, Antonio Coleman, Walt McFadden, Zac Etheridge and Eltoro Freeman endured injuries that either sidelined them or nagged them for lengths of time.

All but Etheridge is healthy now and the Tigers should field a defense as close to full strength as it has been all season.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

McFadden Named Auburn 'Good Guy'

Auburn senior CB Walt McFadden has been selected as the first recipient of the "Good Guy Award," which will be presented annually by the local chapter of Auburn beat writers.

The award is meant to recognize a player who is consistently congenial and professional in his interactions with the media.

The East Alabama Auburn Beat Writers Association of America voted to give McFadden the inaugural award for his friendly demeanor, regular participation in media interviews and outstanding quotability.

"Walt is a reporter's best friend," Mobile Press-Register Auburn beat reporter Evan Woodbery said. "He could speak intelligently on any number of topics and his outstanding sense of humor never wavered."

McFadden will be presented with a plaque from the EAABWAA at a later date.

"I really do appreciate that," McFadden said when informed of the honor. "I want to thank everybody...I feel like I'm at an awards show."

Other players deserving of honorable mention include QB Chris Todd, who was always willing to speak during good times and bad, TE Tommy Trott, H-back Mario Fannin and LBs Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens.

McFadden, a native of Pompano Beach, Fla., has started 24 consecutive games for the Tigers and was an All-SEC second team selection. He is also a member of the SEC's community service team.

"You couldn't have picked a better one," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "He's a great ambassador for Auburn. He's a great person. He's a great football player. He's always the same. He never changes, so what you see is what you get. I wasn't aware of the award, but now that I am I don't think you could have picked a better one. That was a good pick."

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chizik: 'They Got Our Message'

Gene Chizik said during Monday’s Outback Bowl press conference that he thought his team had a better workout Monday than it did during the first workout in Tampa.

The first-year coach described Sunday’s practice as rusty, but thought his team rebounded well.

“I thought the tempo today was much better,” Chizik said. “I thought the focus was much better. They got our message and it was really just trying to get our team refocused after a couple of days off. I feel like we did that today.”

Chizik said the question never surrounded the team’s effort, but rather focus. He said Christmas along with a short break and traveling to Tampa might have distracted the team.

“There are a lot of moving parts coming in,” he said.

Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen agreed with the assessment that the team practiced at a higher level Monday.

“Guys flew around a lot better than it was yesterday,” he said. “Yesterday, we were kind of sluggish and you could tell guys had been off. You could tell guys were a lot more crisp, guys looked a lot more rested, a lot fresher, a lot more alert. Pleased, we still got a lot of little stuff to correct upon. For the majority of the part, it was a good day.”

DEDICATING THE GAME: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that his team is dedicating its Outback Bowl performance to defensive line coach Marty Long.

Long underwent emergency surgery to remove a growth. The team has not commented on the growth’s nature or location. Long, 45, did not make the trip to Tampa with the team and will not be at Friday’s game.

Fitzgerald said Long got “some great news” on Monday.

“He’s getting better and improving every day,” Fitzgerald said. “(He) had a little bit of double vision. That’s now gone away. As I said yesterday, we’re going to dedicate this game to him. It breaks our heart that he cannot be here with us, but we’re thinking about him and praying for his speedy recovery. We fully expect and anticipate him to recover. Us not having him here, it’s like not having one of your family here.”

Fitzgerald said the defensive line has continued working hard without its coach. Senior Corey Wootton has run position meetings.

THIGPEN EXPECTS MEYER TO RETURN: Florida coach Urban Meyer’s retirement and subsequent reversal to “leave of absence” caught Thigpen by surprise.

Thigpen worked for Meyer at Bowling Green and understands how the coach’s passion could cause him to burn out.

Still, Thigpen doesn’t expect the leave to be permanent.

“I worked with Urban when he was with Bowling Green and we know he was passionate at a young age,” Thigpen said. “I never thought that he would be resigning at this point in his career. But if I know Urban, take some time off and he'll be back.”

NO COMMITMENT: Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba is likely Auburn’s greatest junior NFL prospect.

If he has considered jumping to the pros instead of returning for his senior season, he isn’t letting on.

“I’m focusing on the bowl game right now,” Ziemba said. “That’s something that’s in the future that we’ll have to look at but I’m not focused on that right now. I’m focused on playing Northwestern and beating them.”

Asked to specify if that leap is under consideration, the second-team all-SEC lineman again avoided a direct answer.

“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to be thinking about. I’m thinking about beating Northwestern right now.”

Ziemba has started every game since coming to Auburn as a true freshman in 2007.

ROCKY RIDE: Chizik has said all week that he wants his team to keep a business-first approach while also enjoying its time in Tampa.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor has apparently taken that message to heart. Minutes after stepping off the practice field, Taylor had already switched gears to thinking about the afternoon events.

Monday that meant a team outing to Busch Gardens.

“They're going to have to dynamite me out of there,” Taylor said. “My son (Blaise) has called me about three or four times this morning to see what time we're going to be out there. The receivers are going to meet as a group and we're going to see who can ride the most roller coasters. The money's on me, I'm telling you. We're going to stick together as a group and see how much fun we can have.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from Sunday

The University of Tampa, where Auburn will practice this week, did its best to give Auburn a warm surprise welcome Sunday.

Auburn players were surprised to see a team logo – albeit a bit off on the colors – painted next to one of the end zones. That allowed the Tigers to follow their pre-practice ritual of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall breaking down the team on the AU logo.

“Everybody was talking about that,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “We heard coach Yox say we were going to break it down on the AU but we thought that was just wherever he was at that's where we were going to break it down.”

The paint wasn’t exactly perfect. The orange and blue more closely resembled the colors of Florida than Auburn, but the gesture nonetheless made Auburn feel at home.

As for the first practice itself, Auburn coach Gene Chizik was not thrilled by his team’s performance. He described the opening workout as “a little rusty.”

“You could tell they've had four days off and the effort was good but I just think that we were a little bit sloppy, a little bit rusty,” Chizik said. “We obviously need the next four days. We'll get back to work tomorrow and we'll try to get some of these things shored up. Overall, the effort was good. You can just tell that we've had some time off and we just have to get back into the rhythm of practice and the football rhythm.”

SENDING PRAYERS: Florida coach Urban Meyer’s retirement and subsequent decision to take a leave of absence created an understandably large commotion the last two days.

Chizik, a Florida alum and former player, said it came as a surprise.

“Well, my first thought was to really say a lot of prayers. My prayers are off to him,” Chizik said. “Obviously he is a great football coach. He loves the game of football and nobody knows all the details and the ins and outs of what – the only thing that came to my mind was to say a lot of prayers for him and his family. It's a tough situation.

“He's obviously the best – one of the best at what he does. It's tough on everybody, it's tough on families and it's tough on obviously the coaches themselves. So again, our prayers are with Urban and his staff and everybody involved in his family.”

Meyer sited health and stress reasons for his one-day retirement.

Chizik said he understands how coaches could be overwhelmed by the stresses that come along with the job.

“It's so competitive that you feel such an allegiance to your university and your players and your coaching staff and that's before you even get to the outside pressures of the world,” Chizik said. “I'm very cognizant of it and it's just a tough, tough business and a lot of stress that goes along with it.”

NEW GAME: Stevens and CB Walt McFadden said they enjoyed their first hockey experience Saturday night.

Auburn and Northwestern were honored as guests at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Tampa Bay won 4-3.

“I just know out there, especially when the fights happened and they started hitting each other was pretty neat,” McFadden said. “It was kind of funny that we're like, some of the DBs sitting together, these guys are skating backwards. When we first started off to get with coach (Phillip) Lolley running backwards we were falling and these guys are skating backwards.”

Though the players were impressed by the hockey players’ athleticism, McFadden and Stevens were equally intrigued by the foghorn that bellows after a goal.

“Every time they scored it was really loud,” McFadden said. “I wish I could (have one). I'd blow the horn every time they didn't score a touchdown. Any other play, even if I didn't make the play, I'd push the horn. If I get a horn that big, you're going to know I'm around somewhere.”

SEEKING HEAT: Florida natives McFadden and Stevens took plenty of heat from teammates Sunday for the cool weather in Tampa.

Auburn players expected warm weather once they got to town, but instead practiced in overcast weather in the mid-50s.

“All the guys were getting mad,” McFadden said. “‘I thought you said Florida was going to be hot. The Sunshine State, the Sunshine State.' But I was like 'this is not my part of the state. I'm three hours farther.' I don't know about this too much. Hopefully the sun will come out and bring a little sunshine back.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chizik: Assistant Coaches All Expected Back

Just finished up a nice free meal from the kind folks of the Outback Bowl. Free steak and cheesecake is never a bad thing.

We also caught up with Gene Chizik. He didn't have much to say before taking his team to tonight's Tampa Bay Lightning NHL game, but he did say he expects his entire coaching staff to return next season.

"Unless there's something out there that I don't know about, but right now I don't think there is," Chizik said. "Everything should be intact."

He also did not know about any contact safeties coach Tommy Thigpen might have had with Florida.

"Must be an Internet rumor," Chizik said. reported Wednesday that Thigpen interviewed with Florida coach Urban Meyer, who is making plenty of news of his own right now. With Meyer out, it seems more unlikely Thigpen would immediately head to Florida.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Catching Up On the Weekend

As I said a few days ago, I am off visiting the in-laws for pre-Christmas for the next few days. The travels took me to Maryland, where we encountered a wee bit of snow. Proof is to the right, where I'm trying to dig out my car. It took the better part of an hour.

Anyway, there has been some news worth catching up on since I left.

First and foremost, H-back Eric Smith is, as expected, academically ineligible for the spring semester. That means no Outback Bowl and could mean no spring practice if he hasn't straightened out his grades. With a fairly obvious strike against the sophomore, this is not good news. Auburn seems to have no intentions of saying who will play H-back with Smith out. TE Tommy Trott said OL Bart Eddins, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen and FB Jason King all worked in the role on Wednesday.

Secondly, the scare for G Byron Isom and his knee seems to be just that -- a scare. According to his Twitter account, he underwent some tests. They all came back negative.

WR Tim Hawthorne has played his final game at Auburn. Gene Chizik told reporters about Hawthorne's departure late in the week. Hawthorne had another year of eligibility remaining, but has already graduated. The former five-star recruit finished his career with 10 total catches. His final season was a fitting way to close the season because it -- like so many other years -- began with so much hope. Hawthorne was expected to start over WR Darvin Adams after spring practice, but broke his foot during summer workouts. He never regained the starting spot and struggled just to break the rotation, finishing with one catch for 3 yards.

Want an uneducated guess as to a sleeper candidate for the 2010 quarterback competition? How about Cameron Newton. The JUCO prospect visited Auburn over the weekend and could easily choose on the Tigers as early as the end of this week. He told the recruiting services that he was "on cloud nine" during his visit. Read more here. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback first went to Florida where he backed up Tim Tebow as a true freshman but was suspended from the team for stealing a student's laptop. Subsequent charges were dropped because he fulfilled pretrial intervention requirements designed for first-time offenders. The Newton camp contends the entire situation was a misunderstanding. In the aftermath, Newton left Florida and enrolled with Blinn (Tex.) College. ranks him as the top JUCO recruit. Newton still has two years of eligibility remaining and could enroll in time for spring semester, meaning he could participate in spring practice. Newton could count toward the 2009 recruiting class.

Auburn also landed another recruit this week when ATH Ryan White committed. He will likely play defensive back. White's commitment gives 22 toward the 2010 class. The Tigers can sign as many as 28 players.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof told reporters that LB Eltoro Freeman will be ready to play against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. You can read the report at my colleague Andy Bitter's blog here.

That's it for now. Be safe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SEC Pride Prompts Boasting

RB Ben Tate wasted little time in providing ammo for an SEC-Big Ten dominance debate.

Tate’s intentions didn’t seem to be giving Northwestern material for its bulletin board, but he certainly did so by questioning its team speed.

“It's good to be out there playing those Big Ten guys,” Tate said. “They're not as fast as the guys we're used to seeing. They're a four-down team – a 4-3 typical team – just a typical Big (Ten) team on defense. They're not too fast but they've got a pretty solid defense.”

DE Antoine Carter was more understated when asked the difference between the two conferences.

Yes, the junior thinks the SEC is better. At the same time, he seemed to have respect for Northwestern.

“A lot of players come from the Southeastern part of the states, so you know, in my opinion, I think that’s where the best talent is,” Carter said. “But you can’t look down at the Big Ten. This is my first time playing them, so I don’t know what to expect.”

Though Tate caught some attention with his early week comments, coaches have downplayed any confidence Auburn has. Tigers coach Gene Chizik has been effusive in his praise of Northwestern and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn went out of his way to talk about how tough its defense has been.

Tate might find out about the Wildcats’ physicality.

That is, of course, assuming they can catch him.

BREAKING OUT: Carter considers the 2009 campaign to be his breakout.

It’s hard to argue.

The junior posted decent numbers down the stretch after spring knee surgery caused a slow start to the season. Carter finished with 4.5 tackles for loss and 27 total tackles.

He also earned a starting job for the final half of the season.

One of the biggest differences this season has been Carter’s ability to play the run. He came to Auburn as a pass-rush specialist, but has since added 20-plus pounds.

“You can look at the film and tell it’s a big difference from my previous years,” Carter said. “…Just being more physical.”

Though Carter has flourished in his new role, he looks forward to returning to his more natural pass-rush end once Antonio Coleman leaves this year.

When Carter does make the switch, he will do so with a modified look.

Carter is something of a tattoo sommelier, sporting an untold number of them. He plans to have two regrettable tattoos removed by the spring, though.

When Carter was a teenager, he had “HOT” inked under his right eye and “BOY” under his left eye. Carter’s father, a former military man, was not pleased with the development. Carter now refers to the decision as a “youthful mistake.”

He said the procedure to get the tattoos removed will be expensive, but worthwhile.

“It’s just professional reasons,” Carter said. “I’m going into the business world. Just people make their thoughts about you when they first look at you, so I don’t want anybody getting off to a wrong start about me.”

The good news is that when Carter gets the tattoos removed he said reporters, fans and teammates can still refer to him as “Hot” Carter.

LUTZ ON THE MOVE: Philip Lutzenkirchen will have a chance to win the starting tight end position this spring after Tommy Trott graduates.

During bowl preparation, though, the true freshman has taken time to become more familiar with the H-back spot.

Trott said with H-back Eric Smith missing Wednesday’s practice, Lutzenkirchen worked exclusively at the spot.

“I was happy to see him out there and really delivering blows,” Trott said. “He's not afraid of being physical.

“I guess it's because he's competing for time at a new spot where it really lit a fire under him (Wednesday) and he had one heck of a practice."

Chizik said Smith was “finishing up some academic appointments” Wednesday. He declined to clarify the status any further.

It seems Auburn might be looking for alternatives in the event Smith can’t play in the bowl game.

Lutzenkirchen isn’t the only option. Trott said Auburn also worked walk-on Jason King at the position as well as reserve OL Bart Eddins.

Though Eddins might seem like an illogical choice, Trott said he was impressed on Wednesday.

“He looked pretty good,” he said. “He's always been good as a pulling guard. He laid somebody out in the Tennessee game coming around there. Bart knows how to throw his weight around pretty well and move his feet pretty good.”

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I am leaving town for about a week to visit the in-laws and enjoy some pre-Christmas vacation before Outback Bowl preparations hit the road. I'll be here to give some updates.

Something to prove

My story for today's Anniston Star examined the players I think have the most to gain over the next few months.

There were a few more guys I wanted to mention but couldn't because of space issues. Heck, you guys were probably ready to quit reading after the whole Neil Caudle/Bart Eddins portion.

Anyway, here's a quick read on why I think certain players have plenty to gain over the next six months.

1. QB Neil Caudle: Duh. This is it for Caudle, a formerly well-regarded recruit. He has been a career backup labeled as injury-prone at one time and interception-prone lately. Caudle should have an edge in the early race. He's competing against two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman. Chris Todd had a strong senior season and Caudle would love nothing more than to follow in his footsteps.

2. OL Bart Eddins: Very much in the same boat as Caudle. Career backup has one final chance. It won't be nearly as easy for Eddins. He needs to play very well in spring and hope a starting guard, most likely Mike Berry, can impress line coach Jeff Grimes enough to justify a position switch. Incoming JUCO players Roszell Gaydon and Brandon Mosley won't make Eddins' task any easier -- especially if Gaydon can get into school in time for practice this spring.

3. RB Dontae Aycock: I couldn't quite spell it out in my story because no one will say it directly, but this might be it for Aycock. Auburn is clearly recruiting past him having already landed RB Michael Dyer and putting itself in great position to potentially nab RB Marcus Lattimore as well. RB Onterio McCalebb said Wednesday that he's hungry to shake theories that he's not durable enough to shoulder the load of a feature back. Aycock is only a redshirt freshman, but he had better have a breakout spring. He might not get those same chances come August.

4. DE Cam Henderson and WR Philip Pierre-Louis: These two players have battled off-the-field issues resulting in missing playing time. Henderson missed the entire 2009 season while Pierre-Louis saw time strictly as a punt returner -- a role he proved incapable of handling during his redshirt freshman season. Both will be sophomores next year and neither is close to seeing regular playing time. If they can't make a move this spring, they might never see the field.

5. WR DeAngelo "Voodoo" Benton: An easy way to guess whether Auburn was running or passing in 2009 was to look and see if No. 3 was in the game. If he was, the Tigers were more than likely preparing to run the ball. That's not a good sign for Benton, a former five-star recruit. WR coach Trooper Taylor defends Benton whenever asked about him. He says Benton would have played more if WR Darvin Adams hadn't been so productive and he still expects Benton to "re-write" the record books before he leaves. Well, Adams is just a sophomore, Terrell Zachery is a junior and has established himself and fellow freshman Emory Blake has apparently taken a bigger role in the offense than Benton. Now Auburn is preparing to land a talent-heavy receiver class that includes Trovon Reed. Benton might have a ton of potential, but he'd better start showing it soon because it could just as easily go to waste on the sideline.

6. DE Nosa Eguae: The current redshirt might be a household name by now if he hadn't been slowed by a foot injury. Instead he's entering the 2010 season with four years of eligibility remaining and a year of college life under his belt. That might not be such a bad thing. Eguae has a chance to be a four-year starter. He will probably be more of a strong-side end. On the surface that seems like a tough position to crack, but Antoine "Hot" Carter should move to the pass-rush specialist spot once Antonio Coleman leaves. That would pit Eguae in a position battle with Michael Goggans, who was demoted from a starting role this season. The coaches love Eguae. Don't be surprised if he shows why next year.

7. DB Demond Washington: It didn't take long for Washington to emerge as a big-time presence for Auburn. Now he needs to do so at cornerback. Neiko Thorpe struggled badly at times in 2009 and Auburn desperately needs a lockdown corner with Walt McFadden leaving. Before Washington moved to strong safety, he was starting to split time as a regular corner with Thorpe. Washington should have a real chance of winning the top corner spot this spring.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Four sign with Auburn

Gene Chizik said during the season that his team needed to address considerable depth concerns when early enrollees could sign with the program.

Auburn did so Wednesday, signing four players that count back to the 2009 class.

“Today was a great start to what we feel like is going to be a very good signing class,” Chizik said.

All four will count toward last year’s signing class instead of the 2010 class because the Tigers had five open spots available.

Included among the signees is a pair of potential offensive tackles to compete for the starting position this spring.

Roszell Gaydon will certainly be a contender for the spot. rated him as a four-star offensive tackle. He played the last two years at College of the Sequoias and has two years of eligibility remaining. EDIT: It isn't clear if Gaydon will be able to enroll in January or this summer.

Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College product Brandon Mosley could also contend for a starting spot. He is also rated as a four-star prospect and could play either tackle or tight end. Mosley has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“We signed two junior college young men that we’re extremely excited about,” Chizik said. “Roszell Gayden, who we are really excited about what he brings to the table.

“Brandon Mosley is a great athlete that is a huge tight end/offensive line prospect who we think his potential is unlimited. We think he has some great days ahead of him. He’s such a good athlete he can bring a lot to the table as a tight end or an offensive lineman. We really feel like those two junior college signees have really helped our football team.”

DE Craig Sanders and LB Jessel Curry graduated early. They signed with Auburn on Wednesday from their respective high schools.

Sanders is a four-star defensive end from Ariton High School. Curry is a three-star linebacker from Buford (Ga.) High School.

Three signees -- Curry, Sanders and Mosley -- will enroll for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 11, and be available for spring practice. Gaydon is still working toward that goal.

Chizik wasn’t allowed to talk about either player because of NCAA rules, but he did say early enrollment can be a big help to incoming freshmen.

“It’s a great proposition in terms of them getting a degree and getting an early start on their education,” Chizik said. “It helps for a young man that does that to be able to participate in spring practice. You’re seeing it more and more now with a lot of kids because they do want to get a jump. Those situations are great for the University.

“The young men are usually excited about but they give up a lot. They sacrifice a lot because they’re missing half of their senior year.”

SMITH’S STATUS UNCLEAR: H-back Eric Smith did not practice with the team when Auburn resumed workouts on Wednesday.

Chizik said the sophomore was “finishing up some academic appointments today.”

Smith’s absence has left questions about his standing with the team. Chizik did little to qualm the rumors when asked further about Smith’s situation.

“Well, that’s what he was doing today,” Chizik said.

Chizik wouldn’t divulge any further information about Smith, but said he should know his players’ academic standings by Friday.

Big day for Auburn recruiting

Auburn has already signed DE Craig Sanders, LB Jessel Curry and OL/TE Brandon Mosley today and should also get an official National Letter of Intent from OL Roszell Gaydon.

All four would be available this spring and would enroll in classes that begin in January.

Curry and Sanders are high school prospects and will have four years of eligibility. Mosley and Gaydon have two years of eligibility remaining.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Taylor hopes all-SEC snub motivates WR Adams

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he was surprised and a little disappointed when upon getting word that WR Darvin Adams didn’t make the all-SEC teams.

Adams caught 48 passes for 855 yards and 10 touchdowns during his breakout campaign. He finished fourth among SEC receivers in receiving yards and receptions per game and tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions.

Yet when the all-SEC teams were announced, Adams’ name was nowhere to be found.

Taylor said he now hopes the snub will fuel Adams’ motivation while preparing for his junior season.

“We knew going into it that they didn't know their names, they weren't on any list going into the season, but I think he felt OK just about the idea that if you look at his stats they're better,” Taylor said. “You like to know that that's going to motivate him. He had been catching 100 balls, and you talk to our strength coach, and he says, 'Coach, he's been lighting it up out there' as far as doing extra work.’ Whatever it takes to motivate him.

“Like I told him, we couldn't control that. It wasn't just on us. But I was disappointed because I thought he played well enough to be all-conference.”

TEAM AWARDS: Auburn held its team awards banquet Saturday night and honored a few 2009 top performers.

RB Ben Tate took home the most prestigious award, netting team MVP honors for his breakout senior season. Players and coaches also voted that his year garnered Offensive MVP accolades.

DE Antonio Coleman, who led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks, was named co-Defensive MVP. LB Craig Stevens earned the other co-Defensive MVP spot for posting 89 tackles – good for second on the defense behind Josh Bynes.

K Wes Byrum converted 14 of 15 field-goal attempts to earn Special Teams MVP honors.

Coleman and QB Chris Todd were named team captains for their leadership throughout their respective senior seasons.

FINDING THE POSITIVE: Taylor spoke about his four-month off-campus recruiting ban for the first time Sunday night and took a positive spin on the penalty.

The Auburn receivers coach was slapped with the strongest punishment from Big Cat Weekend – a high-profile unofficial visit weekend for Auburn recruiting. Auburn admitted to violating a handful of rules during the late-May weekend and the SEC handed down various penalties for the secondary violations.

The fallout from Big Cat Weekend left Taylor barred from recruiting off campus from July 31-Nov. 30.

Taylor said it wasn’t difficult to refrain from recruiting, one of his hallmarks.

“It really wasn't because I was with the football team and being able to be on the phone,” Taylor said. “Let me tell you, if you don't have relationships with your recruits and they're not calling you, you're down by seven anyway. So that doesn't bother me a bit as far as that part is concerned.

“I really did enjoy being around the football team as an assistant head coach, given those duties when the head coach is not around and being able to do that gives you experience so when that opportunity comes, you're ready. Before I would have been on the road, so I wouldn't have had those kind of deals. So I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. That was a really good experience for me.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rollison out for Outback Bowl preparation

One of Gene Chizik’s goals during bowl preparation is giving younger players extended looks heading into spring practice.

Redshirt freshman QB Tyrik Rollison won’t be among them.

Rollison will not practice with the team during bowl preparation nor will he travel with the team to Tampa, Chizik said Saturday after Auburn concluded its first bowl practice.

Though Rollison wouldn’t have played anyway, his suspension is a big deal because he is one of four or five quarterbacks vying for senior Chris Todd’s starting position this spring.

Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter already have an early advantage because they went through spring practice last year. Now fellow redshirt Clint Moseley could have an advantage as well if he gets extra reps with the top two offensive units during bowl preparation.

RETURNING TO PRACTICE: LB Eltoro Freeman was back at practice when Auburn started preparation for the Outback Bowl on Saturday.

The sophomore linebacker missed Auburn’s regular-season finale against Alabama with an ankle injury. He was not available for comment after practice.

Chizik said Freeman looked “much better” than during preparations for the Iron Bowl.

“I think he’s made some strides – he’s got a ways to go,” Chizik said. “He’s not a full 100 percent, but compared to where he was a couple of weeks ago I think he’s made significant strides. He needs to continue to do that if we’re going to play him in that bowl game the way we need to play him.”

Freeman’s injury is a big deal because Auburn lacked depth at linebacker to start the year. Now the Tigers are without scholarship LBs Adam Herring, Spencer Pybus and Harris Gaston. That means Auburn is down to four scholarship linebackers, including Freeman and true freshman Jonathan Evans.

The depth situation has meant Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes have played an inordinate number of plays this season.

Stevens said Freeman looked good on Saturday.

NO CONTACT: Mario Fannin partook in Saturday’s practice, but did so while sporting an orange non-contact jersey.

The H-back is still recovering from a stinger he suffered during the Alabama game.

Fannin suffered the injury toward the end of the first half when he caught a short pass and LB Rolando McClain immediately met him with a big hit.

Fannin didn’t go down, but looked like he might have gotten knocked out on his feet.

“I didn't get knocked out,” Fannin said. “It was just more when I got my stinger on my left side, it just kind of made me stop and I wanted to make sure I still had the ball until they blew the whistle.”

The rest of the Auburn team got at least some physicality in the first day back.

“Just trying to bang some of the rust off and kind of get back to work in a shorter version of practice,” Chizik said. “We got some work in on both sides of the ball, and special teams.”

DAVIS COMMITS: Woodlawn athlete Chris Davis committed to play for Auburn on Saturday, giving the Tigers 23 to date.

Davis is likely to play cornerback and will also probably get chances as a return specialist as well. He chose Auburn where he will almost certainly play defense despite getting looks elsewhere, from schools like South Carolina, to play receiver.

WILDCAT TWIST: Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made a surprise move in the Wildcat formation against Alabama when Ben Tate took snaps as the triggerman.

There might be more alterations on tap when Auburn plays Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.

RB Onterio McCalebb took a few snaps as the Wildcat triggerman, working with both Mario Fannin and Ben Tate in the formation.

Kodi Burns, a converted quarterback, has taken virtually all the Wildcat snaps this season, giving Auburn a throwing presence out of the formation as well.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Four-star WR Reed commits to Auburn

A week after Auburn landed one of the nation’s top tailbacks, the Tigers also grabbed a commitment from a top receiver on Friday.

Trovon Reed, a receiver from Thibodaux (La.), announced his attentions to play for Auburn on Friday after agreeing to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game. ranks Reed as a four-star prospect and the No. 5 receiver nationally.

Reed’s commitment gives the Tigers 21 this year. Auburn plans to count five signees in the 2009 class, enabling the Tigers to sign a total of 33 players this year – five more than the maximum of 28.

Auburn has now gotten four commitments from receivers – Reed, Jeremy Richardson, Antonio Goodwin and Shaun Kitchens.

Before Reed’s announcement, listed Auburn as having the No. 10 recruiting class. Reed’s decision will likely give the Tigers a boost in the rankings. Five SEC teams, including Alabama, are currently ahead of Auburn in the team rankings.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Game ball and helmet stickers from Auburn's 63-31win over Furman

QB Chris Todd
Line: 17-18, 256 yards, 4 TDs
Todd's one incomplete pass sailed between Kodi Burns' hands. Saturday's game could have been huge for confidence and momentum heading into next week's game at Georgia. If Auburn's passing game is clicking the way it did this week, the Tigers will be in good shape next week. They will need something from Todd, though. Auburn won't be able to line up and just run right at the Bulldogs.

WR Darvin Adams
Line: 6 catches, 115 yards, 3 TDs
All year, Adams has proven to be the receiving presence Auburn had in Rod Smith for the past few years. Only Adams has been even more productive than the former walk-on. In a league full of high-profile receivers, Adams, a no-name to start the season, ranks fourth in receiving yards per game. He can emerge as a real presence if he finishes with good games against Georgia and Alabama. Though Adams has had a few huge games, he hasn't always produced in Auburn's biggest games. He has a chance to dispel that thought this week.

RB Ben Tate
Line: 12 rushes, 75 yards, 2 TDs
The senior didn't top the 100-yard mark during his one half of play, but he performed very well when he was in the game. His two touchdowns give him eight on the season -- just two shy of what seemed like especially lofty preseason goals. Tate has established himself as the next in line for Running Back U and has almost certainly improved his draft status significantly.

CB/WR/RB Anthony Gulley
Line: 5 rushes, 77 yards, 2 TDs, 1 tackle
All year, Gulley had lined up exclusively at receiver. That's a change from his high school days at Brantley, when he played tailback and cornerback. Now he's playing all three spots. Gulley only had one tackle, but gives Auburn some depth at corner, which it desperately needs. He also proved capable of playing running back at the next level. Gulley broke TD runs of 14 and 50 yards, helping Auburn run out the clock in the second half.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Dyer commits

Auburn landed a huge commitment Friday when RB Michael Dyer announced his intentions to play for the Tigers next year.

Dyer has already set an Arkansas state record with 7,566 career rushing yards playing with Little Rock Christian. ranks the 5-foot-8, 200-pound back as the 17th overall prospect in the country and the third-best running back. Both Rivals and rate him as a five-star recruit, which is the highest ranking given by both scouting services.

Dyer told that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, an Arkansas native, played a pivotal role during his recruitment.

With Dyer’s commitment, Auburn now has 20 players that have pledged to play for the Tigers next season. Dyer is the first tailback to commit.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Looking at the bowl possibilities

Bowl eligible
No. 1 Florida, 8-0
Remaining schedule: vs. Vanderbilt, at South Carolina, vs. Florida International, vs. Florida State
Best-case scenario: Florida runs the table, beats Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and goes to the BCS National Championship Game.
Worst-case scenario: Florida flops at South Carolina and loses to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. The Gators would still probably go to the Sugar Bowl.
Prediction: 12-1, Sugar Bowl

No. 3 Alabama, 8-0
Remaining schedule: vs. No. 9 LSU, at Mississippi State, vs. Tennessee-Chattanooga, at Auburn
Best-case scenario: The Crimson Tide runs the table, beats Florida in the SEC Championship Game and goes to the BCS National Championship Game.
Worst-case scenario: Alabama drops games to LSU and either Mississippi State or Auburn and doesn’t qualify for the SEC Championship Game, landing instead in the Capital One Bowl.
Prediction: 13-0, BCS National Championship Game

No. 9 LSU, 7-1
Remaining schedule: at No. 3 Alabama, vs. Louisiana Tech, at Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas
Best-case scenario: LSU finds more stability from the offense and runs the table, starting with an upset win at Alabama. A 4-0 finish would put LSU in the SEC Championship Game. LSU then gets a BCS bid.
Worst-case scenario: QB Jordan Jefferson returns to erratic form and LSU can’t get any more production out of its run game. The Tigers lose three of their last four and fall to Cotton Bowl.
Prediction: 9-3, Capital One Bowl

Auburn, 6-3
Remaining schedule: vs. Furman, at Georgia, bye, vs. Alabama
Best-case scenario: Auburn’s defense plays like it did against Ole Miss, QB Chris Todd keeps defenses honest and the Tigers find a way to win out. That situation would put Auburn in the Cotton Bowl, maybe even the Capital One Bowl.
Worst-case scenario: The Tigers drop both remaining SEC games and end the season 7-5. Auburn then goes to the Gaylords Hotel Bowl.
Prediction: 8-4, Cotton Bowl

South Carolina, 6-3
Remaining schedule: at Arkansas, vs. No. 1 Florida, vs. Clemson
Best-case scenario: South Carolina finds a way to sneak out of Arkansas and beats Clemson in a rivalry game to finish 8-4. That would put the Gamecocks back in Tampa for the Outback Bowl.
Worst-case scenario: The Gamecocks drop all three games and barely qualify for a bowl game. That would put South Carolina up for possibly the Independence Bowl or the Bowl.
Prediction: 7-5, Liberty Bowl

Work to do
Ole Miss, 5-3*
*-Since Ole Miss has two Division I-AA teams on its schedule, only one of those wins will count toward its bowl eligibility. That means the Rebels need to get to seven wins to become bowl eligible.
Remaining schedule: vs. Northern Arizona, vs. Tennessee, vs. No. 9 LSU, at Mississippi State
Best-case scenario: Ole Miss gets more consistent play out of QB Jevan Snead and wins out to put itself in great bowl position.
Worst-case scenario: The Rebels manage to beat only Northern Arizona and miss out on a bowl game altogether.
Prediction: 7-5, Gaylords Hotel Bowl

Georgia, 4-4
Remaining schedule: vs. Tennessee Tech, vs. Auburn, vs. Kentucky, at No. 10 Georgia Tech
Best-case scenario: The Bulldogs continue their dominance over both Auburn and Kentucky and pull off an upset against Georgia Tech to finish the season 8-4.
Worst-case scenario: Georgia drops home games to both Auburn and Kentucky, loses to Georgia Tech and misses a bowl game altogether.
Prediction: 7-5, Chick-fil-A Bowl

Tennessee, 4-4
Remaining schedule: vs. Memphis, at Ole Miss, vs. Vanderbilt, at Kentucky
Best-case scenario: QB Jonathan Crompton continues his strong play and the UT defense only grows stronger. The Volunteers win out.
Worst-case scenario: Tennessee loses its two road games and finishes 6-6, going to the Liberty Bowl.
Prediction: 7-5, Outback Bowl

Kentucky, 4-4
Remaining schedule: vs. Eastern Kentucky, at Vanderbilt, at Georgia, vs. Tennessee
Best-case scenario: The Wildcats find stability from one of their two quarterbacks and find ways to upset both Georgia and Tennessee. That could result in Kentucky going to the Outback Bowl or at least the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Worst-case scenario: Kentucky loses its last two games and finishes the season 6-6, landing in the Bowl.
Prediction: 6-6, Bowl

Arkansas, 4-4
Remaining schedule: vs. South Carolina, vs. Troy, vs. Mississippi State, at No. 9 LSU
Best-case scenario: The Razorbacks defense plays like it did against Auburn and Florida, lending enough support to a potent offense to help Arkansas win out and go to the Cotton Bowl.
Worst-case scenario: Arkansas drops a game it shouldn’t and finishes the season 6-6 and playing in the Liberty Bowl.
Prediction: 7-5, Liberty Bowl

Tough road ahead
Mississippi State, 4-5
Remaining schedule: bye, vs. No. 3 Alabama, at Arkansas, vs. Ole Miss
Best-case scenario: The Bulldogs steal two wins and play in the Bowl.
Worst-case scenario: State loses out and finishes 4-8.
Prediction: 4-8

Game ball and helmet stickers from Auburn's 33-20 win over Ole Miss

DE Antonio Coleman
The senior turned in easily his best performance of the season, recording five tackles, four for loss, two sacks and a blocked extra point that Demond Washington returned for a defensive 2-point conversion. Coleman also had four quarterback hurries and a forced fumble, though Ole Miss recovered the loose ball. Auburn's pass rush was a big reason the Tigers turned in their best defensive performance of the season. Coleman played a critical role in the turnaround.

RB Ben Tate
Line: 25 rushes, 144 yards, 1 TD
The senior workhorse went for 100-plus yards for the sixth time in nine games this season. He again carried the load for the Auburn offense and averaged 5.8 yards per carry while doing so. Tate knew he would get an extended role in the offense this season and has risen to the challenge. He has established himself as a likely first-team all-SEC back this season and topped the 1,000-yard mark on Saturday.

WR Terrell Zachery
Line: 2 catches, 83 yards
Zachery only made two plays on Saturday, but both gave Auburn's offense the spark it lacked throughout the three-game losing streak. He proved he can be the big-play threat Auburn's offense has lacked since Onterio McCalebb suffered an ankle injury during the Tennessee game. Neither of Zachery's catches went for touchdowns, but they both set up touchdowns and helped focus more Ole Miss attention on the passing game.

CB Walt McFadden
Line: 2 INTs, 1 TD
Auburn coach Gene Chizik knew the key to his team reversing its recent fortunes rested in creating more turnovers. McFadden had a pair of interceptions. His first came in spectacular fashion when an Ole Miss receiver bobbled a ball into the air and McFadden picked it out of midair and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown. His second interception sealed the game for Auburn.

Etheridge update

Zac Etheridge’s season is likely over a day after he suffered a neck injury from colliding with a teammate, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Sunday.

Chizik said he is “very hopeful” for the junior safety’s full recovery from the neck injury Etheridge suffered Saturday.

Chizik didn’t shoot down talk that Etheridge’s football-playing career could also be over.

“I don’t know where that goes,” Chizik said. “We’re talking about full recovery as a person.”

Chizik said he did not feel comfortable going into further detail on Etheridge’s injury.

Etheridge suffered the injury when his head collided with DE Antonio Coleman’s shoulder.

Etheridge lay motionless on the field for several minutes before medical personnel immobilized him. He was carted off the field, but gave a thumbs-up sign to the crowd on his way to the locker room.

An injury update later in the game said he was being taken to a local hospital for examinations on his neck. The same report said Etheridge had movement in all his extremities.

A picture on Etheridge’s Facebook page showed him wearing a neck brace in a hospital bed with a couple that might be his parents. ...

More to come in tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Auburn offense needs early spark

On the heels of three consecutive losses, Auburn C Ryan Pugh thinks the Tigers need something positive to happen early Saturday against Ole Miss.

The offense has been entirely out of sync during the three losses. Auburn hasn’t consistently strung together long drives, nor has it produced the numerous big plays it did through the first five games.

With so much talk surrounding the wounded offense, Pugh said it’s imperative to get an early spark.

“It’s something where we have to build our confidence back up, and get a big play early in
this game and get something going on offense,” Pugh said. “I think it’s something we have to have early, something that happened often in the first five games.”

In losses to LSU and Arkansas, Auburn has been outscored 44-3. The Tigers scored first during a loss to Kentucky, but their initial touchdown came on Neiko Thorpe’s 69-yard blocked field goal return.

Pugh said the team’s spirits are “down a little bit,” but reminded reporters that Auburn is 5-3 and not 3-5. That said, Auburn was 4-1 when it started its dash to mediocrity in 2008.

“We know we can play. That’s not the problem,” Pugh said. “We’ve just got to cut out the mistakes we’ve been making the past three weeks that we didn’t make the first five. The competition is getting better, so we have to play better.”

GOOD RESPONSE: After watching his team drop a 31-10 road game to LSU, Auburn coach Gene Chizik thought his team needed a day off.

So Sunday, instead of returning to the practice field, Chizik gave his team a physical break and had them work more on the mental aspects.

“I thought that the timing was really good,” Chizik said. “They were excited about really looking at the film. Their response was great, and I think that the timing was just right.”

The way Auburn’s schedule sets up, the Tigers don’t have a bye week until 12 weeks into the season. That is troublesome for a team that lacked depth in late August and certainly lacks healthy players now.

“We’ve been practicing three straight months, and we haven’t had a day off,” Chizik said. “I thought it’d be a great time to take more time on the film and the mental aspect of the game and just trying to go over in more detail just taking our time. Our practice time is short on Sunday’s anyway. So, I just thought it’d be a good time to work on our mentality – why we were good at times, why we were bad at times.”

MENTALLY TOUGH: In his one-plus years at Auburn, QB Chris Todd has walked the spectrum of fan reaction.

The message boards clamored for Kodi Burns, and not Todd, to start last year when Auburn struggled. Disgruntled fans admonished Todd as then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s golden child, arguing that’s why he earned the starting spot.

Todd won the starting job again in the preseason this year and started the season with remarkable statistics. That led to a mea culpa of sorts from the message boards that now sided with Todd.

Three sub-par performances in losses later, the fans have seen enough again. Many message board posters are now clamoring to see backup Neil Caudle or one of the various freshmen alternatives, like Tyrik Rollison.

Chizik said during his Tuesday press conference that Todd is strong enough to withstand the public outcry for his benching.

“Really and truly I just think that a quarterback has to be a tough-minded person,” Chizik said. “It all comes with the territory and they all mentally have to be prepared for it. If you’re
not mentally tough enough to get through those things then more than likely you shouldn’t be a quarterback in this league. That’s just the way it is.

“It’s no different than coaching, right? You get the good and you get the bad and it all comes with the deal.”

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday notebook: Chizik sticking with Todd

Here's a peek at tomorrow's story for The Anniston Star:

AUBURN – Five games into the season, Auburn’s offense averaged 41.4 points per game. That same offense has scored 47 total points during the three-game losing streak.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Sunday that he plans to look at every aspect of his team’s struggling offense this week.

One change he won’t make, he said, is the starting quarterback.

Chizik said the blame shouldn’t be directed entirely toward QB Chris Todd.

“We're not going to make a change this week,” Chizik said a day after his team’s 31-10 loss at LSU. “After going back and looking at it, obviously we would have loved for the offensive production as a whole to be better than it was.

“We still think Chris gives us the best chance to win. It's not that our offense has not done it, but we are obviously again against competition in this league that's at a higher level.”

Todd started the season red hot and was a big reason for the Tigers’ 5-0 start. Over the last three games, he has completed just 33 of 66 passes for a total of 260 yards. During those games, he has been intercepted twice and lost a pair of fumbles while failing to throw for a touchdown.

Todd said he understands the quarterback takes most of the heat after losses – especially when the offense struggles as it has recently.

“You kind of have to have that sense when you go out and practice, that you're always competing for your job,” Todd said. “You're going out there and battling every day, because that makes you better. But any time things happen, you have to be, as a quarterback, you have to take that on your shoulders and take some blame when things are going bad. When things are good you get some credit for some stuff, and when things are bad, you take that too.”

For more, pick up a Monday copy of The Star.

On to the notes...

Chizik gave his team a physical rest Sunday, a day after Auburn’s 31-10 loss to LSU.

For the first time since Labor Day weekend, the Tigers didn’t practice on Sunday. That week they practiced on Monday, something they won’t do this week.

Auburn instead opted for additional meeting time and film time.

DE Antonio Coleman said the day off from practice came as a pleasant reward for a team that has played eight consecutive weeks.

“We're beat up. We're banged up defensively,” Coleman said. “We don't have that much depth. Today helped us and tomorrow is going to help us.

“It was a good thing in the sense that we watched film, sat down and saw all the mistakes we made and how the correct those. We had a lot of time and need to watch film.”

The break came a day after Auburn’s losing streak extended to three games.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said the break from the Tigers’ weekly routine was helpful.

“I think the change of pace is always good and coach Chiz knows what he's doing and made a good decision and I think we got a lot of good work done today,” Roof said.

QUARTERBACK CLARITY: Backup QB Neil Caudle said he is “absolutely” prepared to start if called upon, but stands behind Todd despite the senior’s recent struggles.

“We’re handling it the right way. We believe in Chris. We believe he’s a good player. He’s showed that numerous times,” Caudle said. “Things aren’t clicking on offense right now but we’re going to get it fixed and we know Chris is going to do a good job for us.”

Todd threw for a season-low 47 yards Saturday against LSU.

Caudle entered the game on the final drive and led Auburn to its lone touchdown, passing for 34 yards on the way.

Even with the offense’s recent struggles, Caudle isn’t thinking about a change at the top of the depth chart.

“I don’t think about that kind of stuff,” he said. “I’m just going to go into this week like I have every other week – learn all the new stuff we’re doing and prepare mentally and physically for the game.”

Todd said Sunday night that he’s confident the offense will bounce back.

“We have a really good football team now,” he said. “The thing is when we play well, we play really well. We have to get to that.

“We've had a few weeks here where we haven't executed as well as we can and I think people see that. I think they see that we're so close on some things, but we're putting ourselves in bad situations and it's just hit-or-miss on a lot of things. I think if we get back into that and still continue to prepare like we were and get ready for each week, I think as teams are adjusting to us, we still need to adjust to that.”

TOUGH CALLS: Chizik took the high road Sunday when asked about a couple questionable calls during Saturday’s 31-10 loss to LSU.

One of those penalties, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty against S Zac Etheridge, came after an incomplete pass on a third-and-long. The penalty gave LSU a first down and the Tigers scored on the next play.

Another questionable call came when Auburn was flagged for a defensive delay of game. Chizik didn’t explain the penalty, but said it was the first time one of his teams had been called for it.

Instead of complaining about the penalties, Chizik praised the league officials, which have drawn ire for questionable – and sometimes incorrect – calls in recent weeks.

“They're doing the best they can do,” Chizik said. “Officials do a good job and they do the best they can do.”

BATTERED: The LSU-Auburn series is known for big hits and close games.

The close game part didn’t come to fruition on Saturday, but there were certainly some big hits.
Wildcat triggerman Kodi Burns’ mouth is proof.

The junior took a big shot in the first quarter that momentarily knocked him out of the game. Chizik said Sunday that the hit knocked a couple teeth out of Burns’ mouth. He also needed stitches in his lip.

“(He) went right back in there and played the whole game – just one of those tough guys,” Chizik said. “I've got to give him a lot of credit. He went out there and continued to play for the whole three quarters.”

TURNING AROUND: Though Auburn has fallen on hard times lately, Chizik’s former team, Iowa State, is off to its best start since 2005.

That year also marked the last time the Cyclones played in a bowl game.

Former Auburn defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads led Iowa State to a 9-7 upset win at Nebraska on Saturday.

Chizik has noted his former team’s success.

“I'm really happy for them,” Chizik said. “They had a huge win yesterday and that's great. Those are great kids and they deserve some good things to happen to them for sure.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook: CB Adams dismissed from team

Auburn confirmed Thursday that sophomore CB Harry Adams has been dismissed from the team for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Adams' departure means the Tigers have just three cornerbacks that have played all season. With starter Walt McFadden already playing on a bad knee, that could spell trouble from a depth standpoint.

When McFadden came out of the game against Arkansas, Adams saw some playing time with the first-team defense. He has also played as a dime defensive back and had eight tackles on the season. Demond Washington has served as the team's nickelback.

With Adams gone, the Tigers will likely turn to either T'Sharvan Bell or D'Antoine Hood for depth. Both players started as cornerbacks before moving to safety. Neither has played any meaningful minutes on defense this season. Hood made his lone career start at Ole Miss last year.

Adams moved from corner to receiver during spring practice, but moved back to corner when Aairon Savage suffered an Achilles injury and three players were kicked off the team for violations of team rules. Christian Thompson, a safety, was one of the players booted from the team. That prompted Hood and Bell to move to safety permanently, and created a need at cornerback.

Adams played sparingly as a true freshman last year.

ON THE MEND: One injured Auburn player is ready to make a bigger impact, another is returning to practice and a third might not play at all this season.

WR Tim Hawthorne, who has seen limited playing time since starting the West Virginia game, is finally getting back to 100 percent, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday.

Now it’s a matter of getting him more practice time to rebuild his arsenal as a playmaking receiver.

“I think Tim's getting to the point where he's back, obviously much more healthy than he was a month ago,” Chizik said. “But again, the reps and the things need to build up. We're getting close, but he is healthy and he's one of those guys that I'm talking about that needs to help us. Not just offense but wherever on the team, special teams and things of that nature, to help us. He needs to.”

That’s the best prognosis Chizik gave on a player with a lingering injury on Wednesday.

He did, however, say that QB Barrett Trotter has returned for limited practice repetitions. Trotter has missed several months after he suffered a serious knee injury toward the end of spring practice. Before suffering the knee injury, he was in the quarterback competition with Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle.

“He's practicing some. Barrett's coming along real well,” Chizik said. “He's out there and he's running around. Again him, day-by-day with his injury is really where we're at. But he's back out there doing more than he did a month ago.”

Chizik also said Trotter is not currently game-ready – or at least that’s not the plan for him to need to be game-ready.

The news isn’t as good for S Mike McNeil.

The junior started every game last year as a sophomore, but broke his leg during a spring scrimmage. Chizik didn’t say if he has returned to practice, but he did say a redshirt is a possibility for McNeil.

“He and I have had some good conversations. We're going to play it by ear,” Chizik said. “We're going to play it week-by-week. He's not ready to play this week, obviously. And of course the hourglass has been turned over. So we're coming down into the last quarter of the season, certainly after this week. So we won't rule anything out. There's possibilities both ways.”

GOING HOME: True freshman WR DeAngelo Benton is already familiar with LSU’s Tiger Stadium even before he plays his first collegiate football game there.

That’s because Benton signed with LSU twice out of high school. Both times, however, he failed to qualify academically. After the first attempt, he went to Hargrave Military Academy. Another failed attempt later, Benton instead chose to finish his qualification back at Bastrop (La.) High School rather than going the junior college route.

Benton again leaned toward LSU throughout his recruiting process this year. During the final hours before National Signing Day, though, LSU rescinded his scholarship offer.

The next day, Benton signed with Auburn.

Now he’s preparing for his first game as a Tiger at LSU – only he will be wearing an Auburn jersey instead of donning an LSU uniform.

“I'm sure he'll be excited to go back to the state and play as anybody would be,” Chizik said. “I don't think that that's something that's got him uptight or anything of that nature.”

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he has seen an energized Benton this week.

“I told him if he’d been practicing like this the whole time he’d probably be starting,” Taylor said. “He is definitely excited. He has a lot of ties to a lot of guys, and plus he gets to see his family.
“The big deal is making sure he stays calm and doesn’t try to do too much or get carried away. As a coach, you have to balance those two things out. He has to understand we’re on a business trip. This is not a trip for a reunion. But he’s mature. He’s an older receiver, anyway. I think he understands that.”

REUNITED: Auburn line coach Jeff Grimes fondly remembers the days he spent working for current LSU offensive coordinator Gary Crowton.

Crowton, then the head coach at BYU, hired Grimes to work for him in 2004. However, Crowton was fired after the season.

Grimes stayed on as the offensive line coach before moving to Colorado and, eventually, Auburn.

“We worked together for a year there, his last year at BYU,” Grimes said. “Great guy. One of my favorite people in all of coaching. He was not only the head coach there, he was the offensive coordinator, so he and I worked together very closely together there for a year. Number one, a great person, great family man, just thoroughly enjoyed working for him. Still stay in touch with him. But also a great offensive mind, really knows football, knows how to attack a defense, very creative. So I'm looking forward to seeing him.”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday notes: Walk-on Richardson returning to Baton Rouge

Saturday marks a homecoming of sorts for Auburn’s Ashton Richardson.

The walk-on linebacker moved to Baton Rouge, La. during high school when Hurricane Katrina displaced his family from New Orleans. The Richardson family moved in with his grandmother and subsequently moved to Tallahassee, Fla.

Richardson, and his father, Al Richardson, stayed behind for the younger Richardson to finish his high school career.

Moving to Baton Rouge was a homecoming for Al Richardson as well. The elder Richardson was an LSU great, earning all-America honors as a senior in 1982. He is the current record holder at LSU for career tackles (452) and single-game tackles (21).

Despite his football background, Al Richardson tried to persuade his son to pursue other options as a child.

“It's actually kind of funny because growing up he didn't want me to play football,” Ashton Richardson said. “He always influenced me to play other sports like baseball and basketball just because he was afraid of me being hurt.

“Once I got to high school and I showed that I wanted to play, he finally let me go out and play. He did his best to let me figure out the game on my own but at times where he felt like he'd help, he'd give me little pointers here and there. He was never just on me telling me I had to do this thing or that thing, he just kind of gave me help where he saw I needed it.”

Ashton Richardson said his father didn’t push him to attend LSU either.

Instead, the younger Richardson spent the end of his high school career looking for schools that would accept him as a walk-on.

“I actually called them ahead of time during the time I was figuring out the school I wanted to go to,” Ashton Richardson said. “I just called a bunch of different schools and it's funny because Auburn was the last school I called. I felt like they were going to give me a shot so I called them and when they gave me a good response, I decided to come and started as a student. Once I sat out a semester, I just went out and walked on.”

Richardson has only played minimally at linebacker.

However, he has factored prominently in special teams.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said players like Richardson have been crucial this season.

“He is one of six or seven guys on this team that have walked on and really helped this football team,” Chizik said. “He is a walk-on that has never asked for anything. He is out there working hard every day. He loves Auburn and going to school here. So when you have guys like Ashton step up to the plate and help you win, it is not only special for the football team but also for them. Ashton has been a huge help, but again there are six or seven guys just like him that have provided help for us, especially on special teams.”

STAYING RED: Of Auburn’s 21-man 2009 signing class that eventually enrolled in school, 15 have played this season.

The other six – QBs Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley, RB Dontae Aycock, OL Andre Harris, TE Robert Cooper and DL Nosa Eguae – will likely sit out the remainder of the season.

That’s Chizik’s goal anyway – as long as he can afford to keep them off the field.

“If you had a perfect world, you would go ahead and continue to redshirt them through the rest of the year,” Chizik said. “It's really hard for me to say exactly what we would do in an isolated incident. But this late in the year, if people are redshirted , typically that's what you would like to do is continue to ride the year out. But again, depending on what happens with your football team, you have to do what's best for the team.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Tuesday notebook: Todd 'is fine'

Chris Todd’s right shoulder is fine.

That’s what both Auburn coach Gene Chizik and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said Tuesday when asked about the Tigers’ starting quarterback.

Malzahn said any difference in Todd’s throws is natural at this time of the season.

“I think Chris Todd is fine,” Malzahn said. “I think any quarterback in the country, week 8, that's thrown a little bit is maybe going to be a little bit different than the first game and I think he's no different than anybody else.”

Malzahn also said Todd practiced and looked good during Tuesday’s session.

Todd has completed just 48 percent of his passes over the last two games, throwing for just 213 total yards in those games. Internet rumors questioned the status of Todd’s surgically repaired right shoulder.

NEVER AGAIN: After watching his offense’s meltdown Saturday night, Malzahn said Auburn would not have the same penalty problems it had against Kentucky.

Malzahn blamed a lack of discipline for the miscues. Auburn finished with a season-high 10 penalties during its 21-14 loss to the Wildcats.

“It's just discipline. That's all there is to it,” Malzahn said. “That starts with me. I've got to make sure that never happens again. We're going to do that. That was an undisciplined fourth quarter. We're going to do better, I'll tell you that.”

Penalties cut down a pair of promising Auburn offensive drives, including the Tigers’ final opportunity.

Auburn committed back-to-back procedure penalties after setting up for a third-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. A pair of incomplete passes from Todd effectively ended any hopes of an Auburn comeback.

“Obviously we made way too many in the fourth quarter that probably cost us the game,” Malzahn said. “We're just trying to correct that to where it will never happen again.”

SWINGING GATE: Out of a timeout on Auburn’s final drive, the Tigers lined up in a formation to run the swinging gate.

The trick play that puts all five linemen on one side of the ball has the quarterback toss the ball to a running back. The back then runs a sweep behind the linemen.

Before the play, though, Auburn was whistled for an illegal procedure. That took away the surprise element and the Tigers went to another play after the penalty created a third-and-11.

Malzahn said he was disappointed because “there’s no doubt” it would have worked.

GOING BACK: OT Lee Ziemba doesn’t need any help remembering what happened the last time Auburn played in Baton Rouge, La.

During that game, Ziemba, then a true freshman, and Chaz Ramsey were involved in a chop block that left LSU standout defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey injured.

Dorsey, who was selected fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2008 NFL Draft, was widely considered the SEC’s best defensive player that season.

Both players involved as well as then-coaches Tommy Tuberville and line coach Hugh Nall all said the chop block resulted from a miscommunication.

Tiger Stadium isn’t exactly known for its friendly environment and Ziemba knows he can expect hostile treatment.

Still, he isn’t wary of returning to the LSU stadium.

“I don't dread it at all. I don't dread anything going to play anywhere,” Ziemba said. “But that was a good game my freshman year. I enjoyed playing there in that big stadium as a young'un. It was unfortunate what happened, but we have a good game plan and we want to go down there and show that we're a good team and show that not only can we compete, but we can beat these guys. We know we can beat these guys. So we have to go down there and go with that kind of mindset because it's true. It's not can we win. We have to go down there expecting to win.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Ole Miss gametime set

Auburn's Halloween contest against Ole Miss will kick off at 11:21 a.m.
The SEC Network will televise the game.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook

Auburn announced a 12:30 kickoff time for its Nov. 7 Homecoming game against Furman.

The game will be televised on Pay-Per-View.

PHILLIPS HAS LEFT TEAM: Gene Chizik said Wednesday that OL Aubrey Phillips has left the football program and is not currently in Auburn.

Chizik wouldn’t specifically say Phillips has withdrawn from classes, but said “right now he’s not here.”

“Aubrey is dealing with some medical issues as we all know,” Chizik said. “So he's kind of working through those personal, medical-type issues that we know he's got.”

Phillips went through two practices during preseason before suffering what Chizik termed a “non-football episode of some things medically that we’re pressing through.”

The Olive Branch, Miss. native did not return to practice after the incident.

Initially, Phillips signed with Florida State out of high school. During summer workouts, though, he had a falling out with FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett.

The Seminoles subsequently released Phillips from his scholarship in late July, allowing him to transfer to Auburn. Chizik said after Phillips arrived on campus that the university would attempt to get a waiver to allow Phillips eligibility to play immediately instead of sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules.

Chizik never said if the NCAA granted the request.

Though Phillips is not currently with the team, Chizik did not close the door on a potential return.

“It's kind of a day by day situation just medically again the issues that he's got to work through,” Chizik said. “As we know that's kind of been the situation since almost the first day of practice. We'll play that by ear.”

REFOCUSED: Several players and coaches pinned last week’s loss to Arkansas on a lack of focus.

That, Chizik said, has not been the case this week.

“Really, really proud of our focus. I think guys kind of got re-tracked or refocused back in on what we needed to,” Chizik said. “We've had two good days of practice. I thought they were a little more physical than they have been in the past. So that was good to see. Obviously, we have another day of practice tomorrow where we need to continue and have some consistency in the way we're preparing but I fully expect that to happen.”

Chizik said he has also made some minor changes to practice.

The biggest difference has been an increase in physicality.

“We had to roll the dice a little bit,” Chizik said. “We had to up the tempo some and do a little less scout team stuff and a little more against each other. Just got to kind of bring that physical nature back to what we're doing. I feel like we weren't as physical of a football team that we needed to be this past Saturday, but again we're trying to be smart with the issues that we know depth-wise but again trying to get some fastball looks out there.”

Chizik also said LB Eltoro Freeman returned to practice, but added he’s still not committed to the sophomore playing Saturday.

Chizik said Freeman did not travel with the team to Arkansas because of personal issues.

SMALL CHANGES: Chizik said Sunday that Auburn needs to different answers in special teams.

He reconfirmed that there would be some changes this week, whether in personnel or scheme.
Special teams coach Jay Boulware said he isn’t sure what changes there are to make.

“There might be a few minor changes, but nothing significant,” Boulware said. “If we had
somewhere to go, we would have already done it. We’re just going to tie a knot at the end of the rope and hold on.”

Auburn had another rough day in special teams – especially in kickoff coverage.

Arkansas’ Dennis Johnson busted returns of 50 and 70 yards against the Tigers. The last of the long returns put the Razorbacks in position to put Auburn away in the fourth quarter.

“The thing that stood out to us the most was that we didn’t have anybody make a play,” Boulware said. “We forced them to change directions three or four times, but nobody wanted to go get him. Everybody was kind of passive.

“Coach Chizik brought to my attention: `I think we had five walk-ons out there, J.B.’ I thought about it, `We had five walk-ons out there?’ I looked back on the list and it was actually seven. We didn’t make a play. We have to make a play. We have to teach our guys to make a play.”

DOUBLE-TEAMED: When the season started, one of the questions was which receivers would emerge for Auburn.

QB Chris Todd quickly took notice that WRs Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery could be those players. So, too, did opposing defenses.

As a result, opponents have focused more attention on the two primary Auburn receivers – especially Adams.

“They know where he's at. Let’s put it that way,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “We like to think that we're an offense that tries to take what they can give you. Sometimes they take away certain things and what we've got to do a better job of is taking better advantage of what they give us. Darvin and T-Zach have both had very solid seasons and have performed well for us. And so that has a lot to do with it.”

Adams has been Todd’s favorite target. He has 25 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns.
Zachery has been the big-play threat. He has 15 receptions that have gone for 329 yards. He also has four touchdowns, including a 93-yarder in the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
However, only four other receivers have any catches. Walk-on Jay Wisner leads that group with three receptions.

“The longer you go the more you have to have a third guy or even a fourth guy – some guys to get involved and take some pressure off our main guys,” Malzahn said. “We're working hard to do that and we're hoping we have some guys in the wings that can do that.”

True freshmen DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake were believed to be in the mix to be players who stepped up. However, Benton has struggled this season and has yet to record a catch. Blake rarely takes offensive snaps.

Tim Hawthorne enjoyed a spring that impressed receivers coach Trooper Taylor, but he hasn’t seen extensive playing time since returning from a broken foot.

One answer could be Philip Pierre-Louis, who Chizik held out for the first four games for unexplained reasons. Pierre-Louis missed the first two weeks of preseason camp. Taylor said he was working on personal issues.

Though Pierre-Louis came back as a punt returner against Tennessee, Chizik said after the game that he was not practicing with the offense.

Taylor said Thursday that Pierre-Louis has begun working as a receiver – his natural position – and could start seeing snaps on offense.

“He was playing the 3 position, the bubble guy, the reverse guy, that sort of stuff,” Taylor said. “He's got a knack for finding little holes in the defense and setting it down. You could see him also out wide as a 2.

“He's done that and he's earned that.”

BYE THE WAY: With depth a consistent concern for Auburn, the Tigers find themselves entering the midway point desperately in need of a break that isn’t coming soon.

Auburn’s schedule is set up for a Week 12 bye, giving the Tigers a week off only before the Alabama game.

Six games into the season, that has become a concern for Chizik.

“No question. We’re racking our brains day and night trying to figure out how to keep our guys,” Chizik said. “It’s a new guy or two every week, and right now we’re in a very physical place in our schedule, with six games to go. We’re trying to work our way through, and have got to.”

Chizik often ducks controversial topics. That didn’t change when he was asked if he would like the bye to be earlier in the season.

“There are pros and cons to all of it. If you are sitting here and have three recruiting classes under our belt and feel like our scholarship numbers are where they need to be and things of that nature, then on later in the season doesn’t necessarily mean what it does right now,” Chizik said. “I don’t know. It depends on how I feel about my team. I think there are good things about having one in the middle of the season, and good things about having one at the end.

“I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying I’m not going to answer that question.”