On the first day Auburn practiced in full pads, both coach Gene Chizik and defensive coordinator Ted Roof said they wanted to see more physical play.
The Tigers spent a portion of Saturday’s practice running 11-on-11 drills. Chizik said both the offense and the defense have plenty of room for improvement – especially in physicality.
“I thought at times, we showed signs of being physical, but we certainly didn’t make a habit of it today, which was obviously what we have to get back to,” Chizik said Saturday. “I think they showed signs of having in them, but at the end of they day, that certainly wasn’t near enough.
“We did some nice things, at times when we were physical we were able to run it. And when we were physical defensively, we were able to stop the run.”
Auburn’s coaches turned Saturday’s scrimmage into a competition between the offense and defense.
When Auburn’s offense gained more four-plus yards on a play, it was considered a win for the unit. The defense earned wins by holding the offense to fewer than four yards on plays.
Quarterback Kodi Burns, who got the first chance to play quarterback on Saturday, said the offense won three-of-four on the first two series before stalling.
“We had probably more busts than we did do the right plays and stuff, but the plays that we did do right – that we executed good and we got a win,” Burns said.
Burns credited tailback Ben Tate with making a few big plays on zone-runs – some of which went for 15-plus yards.
“There was some good and there was a lot of things we have to improve on,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “Right now we’re focusing on those guys thinking like we want them to think, having the mentality that we need them to have. There’s the installation, the execution and there’s the mental part and we’re trying to get them to do both.”
SPLITTING REPS: Malzahn and Chizik are remaining tight-lipped about the quarterback competition.
That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been progress.
The three candidates – Burns, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter – all acknowledged that Caudle and Burns are splitting time working with the first-team offense while Trotter works with the backups.
“It changes every day,” Caudle said. “One day I’ll do the first group with the Orange group – the 1s. And then the next day, Kodi will do the first one with them. We just flop back and forth.”
Trotter, a redshirt freshman, is apparently not in that rotation.
This year comes as a pleasant change for Caudle, who was quickly written off during last year’s quarterback competition.
“It’s always good to have a fresh start,” Caudle said. “I’m trying to take advantage of it – trying to do anything I can to earn the job, but yeah, I think it’s a great opportunity for me.”
STANDING OUT: Though the Tigers are just three days into spring practice, Roof said a few players have stood out to him already.
“Craig Stevens is doing some good things,” Roof said. “I’ve been impressed with him. Upfront, I see Mike Blanc showing up quite a bit. He’s giving us good effort up there. In the secondary, Mike McNeil is doing some good things. He was physical today. Zac Etheridge, he’s not in contact reps, but he’s an intelligent football player who’s always in the right place and is doing a good job for us.”
Roof also broke down his linebacker depth chart.
He said the first unit consists of Josh Bynes, Spencer Pybus and Stevens. Junior college transfer Eltoro Freeman, Wade Christopher and Da’Shaun Barnes are working on the second team.
“It’s something that we continually evaluate,” Roof said. “We evaluate as a staff and discuss it with Coach Chizik as far as personnel moves. We’re looking for guys that want to fly around and hit. That’s where it was today but you evaluate each and every practice and their performance.
“I think as coaches what we have to do is find a way to get our best 11 players out there, whatever that means.”
ON THE MEND: Receiver Philip Pierre-Louis was supposed to be a playmaking presence on Auburn’s offense last year.
Instead, he tore his ACL on the season’s opening kickoff and missed the entire 2008 season.
Pierre-Louis is back on the field for spring practice, but hasn’t been cleared for full contact.
“They’re really trying to limit me just to be sure but I’ve been doing everything, but just in case, they don’t want me doing any contact right now,” Pierre-Louis said.
Pierre-Louis thinks he’s right on schedule on his return. He practices with a brace, but says it doesn’t restrict him.
“Sometimes I forget I’m even wearing the brace,” he said.
INDOOR EXPANSION?: Chizik decided to practice Saturday morning despite significant rain in the wee hours.
Afterward, he took up former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville’s goal of one day getting a 100-yard indoor facility.
“There was a lot of rain,” Chizik said. “The potential to have a sloppy practice was there. Us having that middle turf field out there certainly helps us, but obviously an indoor facility would be something that's certainly been up on the books. And with (athletics director) Jay (Jacobs) doing such a good job on facility upgrades, I'm sure that's something that we're going to work toward in the future. Obviously that would have helped some today.”
BEEFING UP: Lee Ziemba isn't the only offensive lineman beefing up for the new offense. Center Ryan Pugh told reporters Saturday that he has gained 20 pounds, jumping to 290, for the season. He thinks it has helped the entire unit.
“Using it helps out a lot because the guy across from you is going to be 300-plus everywhere you go,” Pugh said. “Putting that weight on definitely helps as far as being able to get leverage. …I think it’s helped us across the board.”