Thursday, April 2, 2009

Notes from Thursday's practice

When offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn met the media for the first time, he vowed to return the offense to its run-game roots.
To that end, most of the big offensive plays coaches have relayed to reporters have been long runs during the first week.
Senior Ben Tate has turned in several of those plays, and running backs coach Curtis Luper said he has been happy with Eric Smith’s progress as well.
“They’re physical runners,” Luper said. “They can make the first guy miss which every good running back has to have. They both have good hands. They’re smart. They work hard. They want to do well. Combined with their talent, they’ll do well.”
Luper said the pair splits time with the first-team offense.
He also said Smith moves better than what most expect from a 230-pound back. Apparently, Smith doesn’t mind lowering the shoulder either.
“He’s a load,” Luper said. “He’s not easy to tackle. Ask McNeil, (safety) Michael McNeil. He hasn’t tackled them all spring.”
Luper didn’t mention Onterio McCalebb as one of the players getting a large workload with the starters, but he did say the true freshman is probably the team’s fastest player.
“We’re expecting big things from him, starting like Saturday,” Luper said.
Mario Fannin has worked in an H-back role throughout spring so far. An ankle injury has limited him this week, but he’s expected back in practice soon.
Luper said the staff plans to get Fannin experience at several positions, including slot receiver. The junior is expected to work with Luper at tailback during the final week.
“He’s one of the best players on our football team so we’ve got to get him the football” Luper said.

SATURDAY SCRIMMAGE: Auburn practiced in shells for the first time this spring on Thursday. Rain pushed approximately half of the workout into the indoor practice field.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Saturday’s scrimmage would last approximately 90 to 110 plays.
“What we plan on doing right now is playing it as much like a game-like situation as we can,” Chizik said. “We’ve been doing so much situational in practice right now – putting them in different situations that they’re going to run into on Saturday – so now we’d like to see them without coaches on the field, down and distance situationally, and execute our offense and defense situationally.”

KICKED AROUND: Two years ago, kicker Chandler Brooks struggled through his East Mississippi Community College season.
Now he’s apparently leading Auburn’s kicker competition.
Brooks’ stepfather, James Brooks, played linebacker for Auburn during the early 90s. Once his EMCC days were behind him, he decided he would come to Auburn and try to follow in his stepfather’s footsteps.
“It’s where I grew up,” Chandler Brooks said. “I always loved Auburn. I wanted to come back. That’s where my heart led me.”
Auburn coaches did not accept Brooks as a walk-on last year, but he tried out again and made the team in February.
When special teams coach Jay Boulware announced Wednesday that Brooks led the competition, it caught even the sophomore by surprise.
“I was kind of surprised,” he said. “We’ve all been on and off. Lately, I’ve been doing well. The kickers out there, we’re all doing well. We try to encourage each other.
“I was shooting to make the team. Once I was on the team, I kept setting goals. Then they told me I’m No. 1. I’m just working at it.”
That doesn’t mean he’s been completely embraced by the team, which hasn’t even given him a free pair of shoes.
Brooks’ old cleats broke, so he needed a new pair of shoes. The cheapest pair he could find was a pair of yellow shoes that cost $30.
“They’ll last me until I need a new pair,” Brooks said.

YOUTH TURNS CORNER: Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley and starter Walt McFadden said they have been pleasantly surprised with freshman T’Sharvan Bell’s play.
Bell, who missed all last year with a knee injury, has opened some eyes in the first two weeks of practice.
“He’s really progressing,” Bell said. “I mean he’s made some really good plays the last few days and (he’s) showing great quickness and awareness.”
With senior Aairon Savage still not in contact drills, sophomore Neiko Thorpe is working with the starting defense along with McFadden.
Bell seems to have established himself as the other standout.
Saturday’s scrimmage could be big for sophomores Harry Adams and D’Antoine Hood, both of whom are apparently working at the bottom of the five-man rotation.

ZACH-MAN: McFadden told reporters Thursday that receiver Terrell Zachery is among the fastest players on the team.
The Wadley native said he ran a 4.4 during underclassmen workouts.
Currently, he’s working with the first-team offense and he’s looking forward to Saturday’s scrimmage.
Last year, Zachery shined in a couple Auburn scrimmages.
“I’m going to just keep working hard and try to keep working with the 1s,” Zachery said. “I’m going to try to keep that same position.
“I just want to get out there and run around and show the coaches what I can do with the ball in my hands. That’s my main focus right now.”

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