Monday, August 31, 2009

Auburn announces men's basketball schedule

And... here it is:

Nov. 6 Miles College (exh.), 7 pm
Nov. 13 (1) Niagara, 8:30 pm
Nov. 16 at Missouri State, 7:05 pm
Nov. 20 (2) Central Florida, 5 pm
Nov. 21 (2) IUPUI, 5 pm
Nov. 22 (2) North Carolina State, 7:15 pm
Nov. 25 High Point, 6 pm
Dec. 1 (3) at Alabama A&M, TBA
Dec. 4 Troy, 7 pm
Dec. 7 Virginia, 7 pm
Dec. 17 at Florida State, TBA
Dec. 20 Sam Houston State, 1 pm
Dec. 22 Alabama State, 7 pm
Dec. 29 Charleston Southern, 7 pm
Jan. 2 Georgia Southern, 1 pm
Jan. 5 West Georgia, 7 pm
Jan. 9 South Carolina (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
Jan. 14 at Tennessee (ESPN/2, ESPN360), 6 pm
Jan. 16 Kentucky (SEC Net), 3 pm
Jan. 20 at LSU (SEC Net), 7 pm
Jan. 23 at Vanderbilt (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
Jan. 28 Ole Miss (ESPNU), 6 pm
Jan. 30 Alabama (SEC Net), 3 pm
Feb. 6 at Arkansas (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
Feb. 10 Georgia (CSS), 8 pm
Feb. 13 at Mississippi State (FSN), 6 pm
Feb. 18 at Florida (ESPN/2, ESPN360), 6 pm
Feb. 20 Arkansas (FSN), 6 pm
Feb. 24 at Ole Miss (SEC Net), 7 pm
Feb. 27 LSU (FSN), 6 pm
Mar. 3 Mississippi State (SEC Net), 7 pm
Mar. 6 at Alabama (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
Mar. 11-14 (4) SEC Tournament (SEC Net/ABC), TBA

Not too much heavy lifting on the non-conference schedule, even a year after a deficiency in that department likely kept the Tigers out of the NCAA Tournament. Games against Virginia and at Florida State could help.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

GAME WEEK: Sunday notes

Here's a sneak peak at tomorrow's story in The Anniston Star:

When freshman DeAngelo Benton bolts out of the tunnel Saturday, the receiver will take the field just minutes later as a starter.

He is one of several Auburn players that will make their debuts when the Tigers host Louisiana Tech.

Auburn coaches know depth isn’t a strength for the 2009 team. For that reason, coach Gene Chizik made no secret about the fact that every freshman would get an opportunity to compete for immediate playing time.

Chizik is no stranger to fielding young teams. Last year at Iowa State, he played 11 freshmen and a new quarterback.

The Cyclones struggled to a 2-10 record as a result and finished the season on a 10-game losing streak.

As Chizik learned last season, dealing with the unknown freshmen bring to the table isn’t a simple adjustment.

“It’s tough. You can do all you want on the practice field, and then all of a sudden you put 90,000 out there and it changes,” Chizik said. “Conventional wisdom would say it shouldn’t, but it does.”


For more, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

On to tonight's notes:
  • Chizik said the Tigers showed new energy during Sunday's practice. "It was a good day but the thing that stood out most was I thought they had a lot of energy and again, they were excited about it finally being game week," he said.
  • Mario Fannin said he will be Auburn's primary punt returner. He's competing against Onterio McCalebb, Terrell Zachery and Harry Adams for kick return duties.
  • Both Fannin and TE Tommy Trott have little doubt this year's offense will be successful. They understand why some are skeptical after last year -- when expectations met with a complete offensive chatastrophe -- but expect this offense to have much more success.
  • Chizik said true freshman S Daren Bates will play on Saturday. It's just a matter of how much. The first-year coach said Bates has shown enough to warrant a starting position, but didn't commit to starting him. He will, however, play and could still start.
  • Auburn will release a depth chart sometime this week.
  • Chizik also said OL Aubrey Phillips is progressing and at least going through meetings with the team. Phillips has not practiced since suffering a medical episode. Chizik said the NCAA has not ruled on whether Phillips would be eligible to play for Auburn this year, after he transferred from Florida State.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Caudle named backup

Neil Caudle was admittedly disappointed when he lost out to Chris Todd in the starting quarterback competition.

Friday, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Caudle bounced back well enough to earn the backup role.

Chizik said there has been no decision on whether true freshman QB Tyrik Rollison will now redshirt in light of the decision.

Here's a glance at tomorrow's story:

The competition for Auburn’s backup quarterback position came down to collegiate experience against talented youth.

Friday, junior Neil Caudle and the experience won the spot over talented true freshman Tyrik Rollison.

“Neil’s really, really come on and he’s worked really, really hard for this,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said after Auburn’s practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “I’m really proud of him. If he has a chance to go in the football game, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win so we’ve made that decision and we’re going to move on.”


For more, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Here's what Chizik said about Friday's workout:

"Today, guys, what we did, we kind of went through a lot of situations out on the field that we know we’re going to face both offensively and defensively. Kind of a fast moving day that really just covered situations. We needed it. It’s very glaring on what we need to get accomplished. We think we got a lot out of today.

Chizik also said Friday was the last time Auburn would practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium until the Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Billings out first four games

WR Montez Billings will miss Auburn's first four games because of an undisclosed academic issue.

The program released a statement early Thursday evening, giving at least a timeframe for Billings. The senior did not practice with the team during the spring because of the situation.

“This is unfortunate for Montez, but we’ve exhausted all avenues to get him on the field as soon as possible,” senior associate athletic director Rich McGlynn said. “While we don’t necessarily agree with the NCAA’s ruling, we have to respect and abide by their decision.”

Billings has practiced all preseason.

Billings' ineligibility, means healthy Tigers receivers have a total of 15 career receptions between them. WR Tim Hawthorne, who had eight catches last year, isn't expected to be ready for the season opener because of a broken foot.

On to practice notes:

We watched approximately 6-8 plays during an early practice team drill.

The team seemed split with 1s and 2s, with QB Neil Caudle taking snaps. Coaches set it up so every play was a third-and-5 situation. It was not an especially productive drill for Caudle.

The junior quarterback, competing for the backup spot, completed 2 of 6 passes. Both of them -- a slant to WR Terrell Zachery and a screen to RB Onterio McCalebb -- went for first downs.

However, his first throw missed the mark badly. CB Harry Adams jumped another slant route and nearly intercepted the pass and Caudle's throws were two high for receivers on two other occasions.

While Caudle took the reps, QB Chris Todd stood next to OC Gus Malzahn going over reads and audibles at the line.

Other notes:
  • RBs coach Curtis Luper was not pleased with McCalebb's execution on the screen pass. "You're too wide," Luper said. "You're making it too hard for him." Presumably, Luper was talking about the offensive lineman trying to get in front of the play and set up the blocks for the screen. In fairness, Caudle's throw was high and McCalebb made a nice play to catch it.
  • Players missing in today's practice: LBs Spencer Pybus, Eltoro Freeman and Jonathan Evans, TE Robert Cooper, WR Darvin Adams and OLs Andre Harris and Darrell Roseman. Adams is of particular interest since he is considered a starter. He seemed to favor his right arm. Freeman is also interesting because he had been in practice the last two days. He had a cast back on his right hand. He did not wear the cast on Tuesday. UPDATE: WRs coach Trooper Taylor isn't concerned about Adams missing the opener. Here's his comment: "He’s tough. He’s tougher than a $3 pair of boots, I can promise you.He’s tough. I treat rehab the same as I do practice: You don’t makethe club in the tub, and if he doesn’t want that window to close onhim, he better get better in a hurry. Some people have a hightolerance for pain. He seems to be one of those guys. I expect himback."
  • Players on the mend: S Mike McNeil is still working on the bike, but that's improvement over where he was as recently as last week. Hawthorne is no longer in a boot, though he isn't even working at Muscle Beach yet. S D'Antoine Hood was back in practice.

Part of DE Antonio Coleman’s preseason has included him relearning old tricks.

The senior hasn’t changed positions, but has varied the way he plays it.

During Tuesday’s practice, he spent part of the time rushing out of a standing stance. On one play, he sacked Todd.

“It just lets me get out in space and drop in coverage or come off the edge,” Coleman said. “I’ve done it before, but it’s been a couple years. I did it with (Will) Muschamp. We did some of it last year, but it wasn’t much at all. I’m just getting back used to it.”

Coleman said he doesn’t prefer one stance to the other. He simply wants to move around and pose different problems to opposing offensive lines.

Coleman, who turned down the NFL during the off-season to return for his senior year, is also banking on the fact that NFL teams want to use him in a similar hybrid fashion.

Chizik said Coleman is athletic enough to use in either manner.

“I think he kind of likes standing up. It’s a whole different perspective because you can see and you’re a linebacker some, you’re a defensive lineman some – you’re a hybrid,” Chizik said. “I think he’s kind of built for that and it’s good to kind of be able to possibly have those options with a guy like him.

“There are some others on our team that kind of really fall into that same body type category, but he’s done well in situations where we’ve stood him up, moved him down.”

SPECIALISTS NEARLY SET: As Auburn nears game week, special teams coach Jay Boulware said it appears both the starting kicker and punter are set.

Wes Byrum struggled through most of his sophomore season, but appears to have righted the course as a junior. He is the clear favorite over walk-on kickers Chandler Brooks and Morgan Hull.

“We’ll see how Byrum carries over,” Boulware said. “He’s done a phenomenal job for us this camp and he’s had a number of days where he’s knocked every field goal through at the top of practice, and that’s big. Last spring he couldn’t do that. So we’ll see where he ends up.”

The punting competition came down to Ryan Shoemaker and Clinton Durst. Shoemaker started as a redshirt freshman, but Durst displaced him last season.

Durst, a former walk-on, was given a scholarship during fall camp. Boulware said he would probably win the job.

FRIDAY PLANS: Though Chizik was hesitant to call Friday’s practice a “scrimmage,” he said he planned to work the team at Jordan-Hare Stadium as a final tune-up before game week.

“We’ll have a normal practice tomorrow where we’ll work more situations tomorrow more than anything,” Chizik said. “How much contact we’ll have, I don’t know. We’ll kind of reevaluate today and see where we’re at.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Short notebook from Wednesday

Through the first three weeks of preseason camp, Auburn worked mostly on its base formations on offense and defense.

That is helpful in terms of installing the offensive and defensive playbooks, but not especially useful while preparing for specific opponents.

In that sense, both the players and coaches are happy to inject intro practice some of the gameplan for the Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech.

“It’s kind of been a breath of fresh air,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “You can tell our guys have kind of raised their level. I know it’s getting closer to the first game, we’re actually game-planning specific for a team. So that’s been good for our players and our coaches.”

The Tigers started inserting some of the gameplan this week partly because they are so close to finalizing the depth charts.

Still, Malzahn said, Auburn hasn’t yet settled on either Neil Caudle or true freshman Tyrik Rollison as the backup quarterback. Rollison returned to practice on Wednesday, one day after sitting out with the flu.

Starting RG Byron Isom also started getting additional work, repping part of the practice with the first-team offense. True freshman John Sullen has worked with the 1's in Isom's absence.

STRONG RETURN: After sitting out all spring and the majority of the preseason with an undisclosed injury, expectations surrounding Adam Herring weren’t especially high.

In just his second day back, though, the sophomore linebacker turned heads.

“He’s fighting hard to get back in the mix. I was real pleased with his initial deal,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “It looked like he had been playing. It didn’t look like he had been watching. So that was positive to see. He’s a guy that has a motor. He’s shown some natural instincts for the ball yesterday and took another step forward today.”

Herring is currently working at strong-side linebacker and middle linebacker.

For players like LB Craig Stevens, who have been forced to play more than usual because of significant depth issues, Herring’s return has been a nice change.

That Herring has come back ready to play hasn’t hurt either.

“I thought when he came back he was going to be out of shape,” Stevens said. “He’s not too out of shape. He’s been running around out there, making plays. He knows all the calls and stuff. This is his second practice with this staff, too, so he’s picking all the calls and everything so I think he’ll be ready for the season."

MORE PRAISE: Roof spoke highly of walk-on LB Wade Christopher when the defensive coordinator was asked about him on Wednesday.

"Yeah, he has. He's been an Iron Man," Roof said. "He's played all three linebacker positions. He's been an Iron Man. I think he's earned the respect of his teammates and certainly his coaches. He's a guy that always knows what to do and he's always available and always willing. You ask, 'Can you do this?' He says, 'Yeah coach I got it, I know what to do.' As a coach, you have a lot of confidence and respect kids like that."

Consider that one more person who thinks Christopher can contribute this year, especially if LB Spencer Pybus can't return.

H-BACK QUESTIONS: H-back seems to be one of the positions Malzahn is still trying to finalize on the two-deep.

We know HB Mario Fannin is the starter, but it has not been clear who is considered the backup at the position. I asked Malzahn on Wednesday. He did not want to talk about the position.

"We've got three or four other guys that will be in that role," Malzahn said. "And it goes back to what they do best. And really, I don't want to be real specific because that will have a lot to do with what role they play in certain situations."

From what I gather, Eric Smith would have played a role at the position. With him out, there are several routes Malzahn could go.

I think, as Malzahn indicated, it will depend on what Auburn is trying to do offensively. One play it might be John Douglas, another play it might be Philip Lutzenkirchen.

The player to watch, though, is true freshman Anthony Gulley, who confirmed last week that he is working at the position. Gulley, a high school tailback, would give the Tigers another versatile playmaker who can run the ball and catch out of the backfield.

Look for him to be a factor at the position.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Notes from Tuesday's practice

A bit of news before we get to notes from the practice.

ROLLISON OUT TUESDAY: True freshman quarterback Tyrik Rollison, currently competing for the backup quarterback job, missed practice Tuesday with the flu, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.

“…There’s the flu and things going around,” Chizik said. “We’re trying everything we can do to keep it spreading to our team. He’s just got a little bit of that. He’s fine. He’ll be fine. He’s got a touch of that.”

The Opelika-Auburn News reported that 414 students were out sick from Auburn city school and 340 students were out sick from Opelika city schools. The paper also reported that Auburn University has seen approximately 50 potential flu cases.

Now on to practice...

For the only time since A-Day, the media had a window -- albeit a small one -- to watch team drills during Tuesday's practice.

Here were my notes from the session:

  • QB Chris Todd completed every pass he threw during the practice’s early 11-on-11 session. DE Antonio Coleman sacked him once, but Todd looked sharp with his throws.
  • Kodi Burns worked at receiver with the first-team offense and, on one play, flashed into the backfield for a lateral option. That would have left Burns eligible to throw.
  • TE Gabe McKenzie, who missed all spring while dealing with medical issues, played with the first-team offense on Tuesday.
  • Coleman worked at least one play from a standing position. He sacked Todd from the upright stance.
  • DL Nick Fairley and Antoine Carter rotated at the strong-side defensive end. DE Michael Goggans worked with the second-team defense.
  • LBs Eltoro Freeman and Adam Herring were both back out in full pads during Tuesday’s practice. However, with both players still recovering from injuries, walk-on LB Wade Christopher took the first-team reps at weak-side linebacker.
  • Freeman was not wearing a cast on his right hand/wrist on Tuesday.
  • In addition to Freeman and Herring, WR Terrell Zachery also returned to practice on Tuesday.
  • QB Neil Caudle attempted one pass during the early team session. The pass was high and slipped through a WR Travante Stallworth’s hands, allowing CB Harry Adams to intercept it.
  • G Byron Isom, who missed a few practices last week with an undisclosed injury, was back in full pads, but freshman OL John Sullen worked at right guard.
  • Anthony Gulley, Montez Billings, Mario Fannin, Philip Pierre-Louis and Quindarius Carr appear to be the final five in the punt return competition. Gulley, in particular, made a nice move to evade gunners on one return.
  • Tight end Robert Cooper, linebackers Jonathan Evans and Spencer Pybus and offensive linemen Darrell Roseman and A.J. Greene were Tuesday’s early Muscle Beach combatants.
  • QB Tyrik Rollison was another noticeable absence. He was not at Muscle Beach. We’ll be sure to ask Auburn coach Gene Chizik about it later.
  • RB Eric Smith was also not at practice.
  • OL Rudy Odom is no longer on the team roster.
  • Message board rumors on Monday indicated that RBs coach Curtis Luper and executive associate athletics director Tim Jackson had some type of falling out. After the stretching period, Luper made his way over to the Jackson, who was watching from the sidelines. The two greeted each other enthusiastically with an attention-grabbing handshake and backslaps.
  • If Auburn has a curfew, it would be a surprise to at least one senior. “I don’t think we do,” he said.
  • With the Tigers needing depth, T'Sharvan Bell is now working at both cornerback and safety.
More notes:

When Auburn reported to practice in August, Wade Christopher knew the team didn’t have much depth.

Of the Tigers’ seven scholarship linebackers, five have missed at least a portion of preseason camp, including projected weak-side starter Freeman.

With defensive coordinator Ted Roof looking for help, he turned to Christopher, a sophomore walk-on.

“I’m just happy to help the defense any way I can,” Christopher said. “Obviously you don’t want guys going down in front of you but that’s the point of having depth. You have to have guys behind you stepping up. I feel like it’s my job to get in there and help this defense any way I can. I’m glad to be apart of this linebacking corps and I’ll do whatever Ted Roof needs me to do.”

STILL UNCLEAR: Chizik said Tuesday that WR Montez Billings’ status remains up in the air with nine days remaining until the season opener.

Billings sat out spring with an unspecified academic issue, but has practiced with the team during the preseason.

“Don’t really know exactly where we are with that, but obviously we’re going to be paying close attention to that in the next few days,” Chizik said.

Chizik also said it’s not his decision when Billings plays.

At SEC Media Days, Chizik said Billings would play during the 2009 season, but he didn’t know when.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Smith turns himself in

Auburn tailback Eric Smith turned himself in to Auburn police for assault charges Monday afternoon.

Assistant police chief Tommy Dawson confirmed that Smith, as expected, turned himself in between 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.

Smith was arrested Friday night and charged with disorderly conduct, a Class C misdemeanor. He was later charged with third-degree assault, which is a Class A misdemeanor.

Auburn police captain Tom Stofer said Smith was transferred to the Lee County Detention Center shortly after 2 p.m.

Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said Smith was booked into the facility at 2:40 p.m. Jones also said the 19-year-old Smith made an arrangement the municipal court for his $500 bond to be prepared and he was released in about an hour.

Smith is expected to appear in court on Nov. 5.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunday practice notes

After getting arrested early Friday morning for disorderly conduct, Eric Smith is expected to turn himself in to the Auburn police on a separate charge.

The Opelika-Auburn News, with confirmation from the victim’s mother and the Auburn Police Department, reported Smith faces an assault charge. It is considered a Class A misdemeanor.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik, who on Friday did not say whether Smith was still on the team, declined comment about the situation when asked about it Sunday.

“As I’ve said the other day, I’m not going into the details of Eric Smith’s situation,” Chizik said.

RECEIVER PURGATORY: Less than two weeks before the season opener, two Auburn receivers still don’t know whether they will play.

Senior Montez Billings and redshirt freshman Philip Pierre-Louis are both facing unspecified issues.

Chizik has said Billings’ problem stems from an academic issue that kept the returning starter out of spring practice. The first-year coach has also declared that Billings will play sometime this season, he just wouldn’t specify when.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor has been impressed enough with Billings during preseason camp that he said the senior would play immediately if he’s cleared.

Ultimately, Taylor said, that decision lies with Chizik.

“As far as I’m concerned, he’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Taylor said. “Again, I didn’t set that rule. Coach did and he’s going to make that decision when he’s ready. As far as Tez’ work habits and what he’s been doing so far, I’m proud of him.”

Pierre-Louis missed the first two-plus weeks of camp. Taylor said Pierre-Louis was dealing with “personal issues.”

Being away from the team those week, Taylor said, has not left the receiver in a good position.
“He was behind,” Taylor said. “Any time you’re missing, you’re behind. What he does have is ability. He does have some talent.”

It isn’t yet clear if Pierre-Louis is available for Week 1 either. That could be bad news for him.

“It may be one of those things where it’s too far gone and he just waits a year,” Taylor said.

LOCKING IT UP: Of the receivers available, Taylor said he’s largely still evaluating which six he plans to rotate into the game regularly.

So far, he knows just two of those players – Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams.

“They’ve basically locked their positions up,” Taylor said.

True freshman Voodoo Benton is considered a starting receiver with Billings’ unclear status. Freshmen Emory Blake, Anthony Gulley and Travante Stallworth are also expected to see time.

Taylor said converted quarterback Kodi Burns has made his job more difficult.

“With Kodi moving into the wide receiver room, that has opened up some doors and closed the slot for somebody else,” Taylor said. “He’s going to be out there. He’s proved that he can make some plays.”

RETURNING FOR RETURNS: Tendonitis in Zachery’s left Achilles kept the junior off the field for a good portion of last week.

The projected starter said he expects to return for Tuesday’s practice.

Zachery said he has also made the short list for kickoff returners. The Wadley native said he is working with Mario Fannin and Onterio McCalebb on returns.

ON THE MEND: With a few prominent players still missing time with injuries, Chizik doesn’t plan to place a deadline on when they must return to play.

Linebackers Eltoro Freeman and Spencer Pybus are of particular interest because the Tigers are so thin at the position.

“Obviously the earlier the better, but there’s no real deadline,” Chizik said. “One of the things about some of the guys who have played a little bit or at least been around is that they catch on much faster and obviously when they get in there, they don’t need quite as many reps as some of those other guys do. So you hope they have a great retention rate and they come back and pick it up real quick.”

RUNNING JOKE: Last week, senior cornerback Walt McFadden tried to illustrate how Chris Todd is versatile enough to make the runs he needs to make.

McFadden said Todd has even outrun some defenders in practice.

Pressed to name the defender or defenders Todd has gotten away from, McFadden offered up just one sacrificial lamb – 292-pound defensive tackle Jake Ricks.

Todd won the starting quarterback job, but he knows that has far more to do with his right arm than with his legs.

Sunday after practice, he joked with reporters that he had moved to receiver.

“Basically they saw so much potential with my athletic ability that I wasn’t fully being utilized at quarterback,” Todd said.

Smith situation starting to gain clarity

Sophomore tailback Eric Smith, whose status on the team is unclear, is expected to turn himself in to police on third-degree assault charges. The Opelika-Auburn News broke the story, citing the victim's mother, Sandra Jenkins, and Assistant Auburn Police Chief Tommy Dawson.

Smith is facing a Class A misdemeanor charge on top of his Class C misdemeanor for disorderly conduct.

According to the story, the victim was treated at East Alabama Medical Center for a laceration over his left eyebrow.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Notes from Saturday's scrimmage

Saturday morning’s scrimmage wasn’t about evaluating talent or pitting the first-team offense against the top defense for Auburn.

Instead, Auburn coach Gene Chizik used the third preseason scrimmage as an opportunity to prepare his team for specific situations.

“Today was kind of a procedural day,” Chizik said. “It wasn’t a real, real physical day, more of a mental day, a procedural day, coaches were in the press box, coaches down, on the headphones, who’s doing what procedurally.”

The scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which was closed to the media, was more a learning experience than a score-keeping event. The defense didn’t even tackle – probably an indictment on the team’s lack of depth as much as anything.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said the day’s purpose centered as much around the coaches with 20-plus years of experience preparing for the season as the true freshmen.

For offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, it also forged another teaching opportunity with his starting quarterback.

Malzahn’s tutoring of Chris Todd continued while they made their way from the stadium to the athletic complex. The offensive coordinator-quarterback set – both wearing bright orange shirts – talked strategy while still reviewing situations and sequences from the scrimmage.

The scene perfectly captured Saturday’s goal – getting a team and coaching staff filled with newcomers on the same page.

“The scrimmage was different, interesting,” cornerback Walt McFadden said. “Today was more about communication and getting everybody on the right page and do everything the right way.”

For more, read Sunday’s Anniston Star.

One of the benefits to Malzahn’s offensive scheme is that when it must operate in 2-minute mode, it doesn’t mean accelerating the pace.

Malzahn prides himself on an up-tempo attack, very similar to a traditional 2-minute offense, designed to keep defenses on their heals.

The normally frenetic pace means the offense can operate at the speed to which it’s accustomed.

“Everybody already feels more comfortable doing that because we do it all the time,” Todd said.

Chizik decided to work his offense on end-of-game and end-of-half situations during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Malzahn said the difference isn’t so much increasing the speed as it is maximizing awareness. He also knows that, in this sense, the natural offensive pace helps prepare the team for 2-minute scenarios.

“I think you’ve just got to be aware of the clock and the situations that present themselves – if there’s a dead ball, if it’s not a dead ball, the things at the end of the game, how many timeouts,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference.

“But I think it does help us. We’re used to going fast anyways, so I’d like to think there was not as much panic as there is with some other offenses.”

Todd said clock management – players picking up first downs or getting out of bounds – is the most crucial difference.

Saturday’s practice, Todd, said, will be useful when the team faces similar obstacles during the season.

“It’s huge, especially when you’re in front of 90,000 people and everybody is going crazy and everything is so fast,” Todd said. “You’ve got to be able to keep your head and make sure you know what you’re doing.

“That’s the biggest thing, working at that pace and knowing exactly what you’re doing, kind of going by a script. That’s really big to get out there and do that.”

GOING UPSTAIRS: Running backs coach Curtis Luper and cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley were the lone assistant coaches in the press box for Saturday’s scrimmage.

Both Malzahn and Roof said after the scrimmage that they would coach from the sideline, as will the majority of the staff.

Malzahn said he has never coached from the booth and doesn’t plan to start this season.

“We’re a little different with how we do things as far as the way we present things on offense and things like that,” he said. “I’ve always been on the field and I can at least see the field fairly good because that’s what I’m used to.

“I like being there with that quarterback and looking him in the eye. A lot of times you can really read your quarterback and, for that matter, read your whole offense when you’re down there. As long as our coaches do our job, we can be very efficient with that.”

‘DELICATE SITUATION’: With Todd taking the majority of the reps on Saturday, Tyrik Rollison was left with what he termed “more a mental day.”

Rollison said he and Neil Caudle ran one series each. Those two are currently competing for the backup quarterback position.

Chizik and Malzahn both say they’re close to making a decision between the two, but have yet to reach one.
Chizik said Saturday that choosing whether to redshirt Rollison is “a really delicate situation.”

“The final thought analysis is: Is he ready to help us win games right now?” Chizik said. “Not just him, that’s any redshirt. Where can he contribute right now to help us win games? If we feel there are two guys or three guys in front of him, obviously he’s not ready to help us win games right now. That’s what’s going to be our measuring stick. That’s for every position, not just quarterback.”

QUICK OUT: Details from the scrimmage were at a premium, but one player who apparently stood out again was freshman receiver Anthony Gulley. McFadden said Gulley made a remarkable diving catch during the scrimmage.

Friday, August 21, 2009

RB Smith arrested

Eric Smith, a sophomore running back, was arrested early Friday morning for misdemeanor disorderly conduct stemming from an incident at the Lexington Hotel in Auburn.

A redacted police report said the 19-year-old was arrested at 1:42 a.m. and taken to the Lee County Detention Center. It also said there were no injuries, Smith was sober and did not resist arrest.

The report also said Smith had no previous arrests.

Smith is currently competing for the backup tailback position behind senior Ben Tate. He rushed for 83 yards as a true freshman last night.

Auburn has not released an official statement on the situation. Coach Gene Chizik will be available after practice.

UPDATE: Smith was not at practice during the portion open to the media on Friday. Still no official word on his situation.

UPDATE 2: I would say it doesn't look great for Smith. Chizik wouldn't say whether or not he's on the team, but gave this statement:

"I want to start out and I want to address a situation that probably most of you are aware of with one of our players, Eric Smith. It was an incident that I've spent a lot of the day fact-finding and doing a lot of research on the incident, and I'm not going to go into any details or specifics on the matter. In my opinion, it's a family matter between Eric, myself and our football team. But I can assure you that is has been addressed. I've met with the young man, I've met with our football team. We have certain expectations of an Auburn man and quite frankly he didn't live up to that. So we've addressed it and if you see him in an Auburn uniform again I can guarantee you that he's paid a price to be an Auburn man and he'll be a lot better one at that point than he is now.

"So I don't want to belabor the point and I don't want to again get into specifics or details of the situation. But again, I can assure you, we've addressed it."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday's notes

When Auburn trotted its first-team defense onto the field Wednesday, it included walk-on linebacker Ashton Richardson.

For those scoring at home, that means the Tigers were down to three scholarship linebackers. One of those, true freshman Harris Gaston, is behind the walk-on.

“(Defensive coordinator Ted) Roof and I are in constant discussion about the, ‘what if’s,’” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “We’ve got 14 more weeks before we get a break, give or take, so we’re very conscious of that and you have to have a plan if that happens, and it very well could. We’ve got a plan.”

Depth was already a concern before starting weak-side linebacker Eltoro Freeman injured his right hand and his hamstring. With Freeman out – along with Spencer Pybus and Adam Herring – the Tigers turned to true freshman Jonathan Evans.

Wednesday, Evans missed practice with an injury as well.

Auburn briefly tried to move Dee Ford from end to linebacker, but quickly pulled the plug on that experiment. Chizik said there is nobody else the Tigers would consider moving to linebacker.

Roof said Thursday that he can see the light bulb going on for Gaston, “but it’s still not a bright light.”

“Those type of candidates aren’t on our team,” Chizik said. “They’re somewhere else right now.”

Roof said he has never encountered a depth problem like the one Auburn currently faces. Chizik and Roof are currently trying to see if any surprise candidates emerge as capable fill-ins.

“In this league, to think we’re going to play 11 straight weeks and we’re going to run out with the same lineup – that’s probably not a reality,” Roof said.

Roof said the Tigers are also double-training linebackers to play the different spots.

If not? Well, the backup plan means taking one linebacker position off the field altogether.

“Obviously, we can play some nickel and things, which we got, to help us,” Chizik said. “Take a line backer out and play with two instead of three. Other than that, there are really no other options right now.”

Not that Auburn is any better off at cornerback. The Tigers have just four scholarship corners. One, Harry Adams, is a true sophomore who split time between corner and receiver this spring and summer. Another, Demond Washington, is a JUCO transfer who spent last season playing tailback.

So Auburn is instead turning to a third safety, sending Zac Etheridge to the nickelback spot.

“Zac is kinda one of those hybrid guys that is in between a safety and a corner,” Chizik said. “Typically your nickel guy is a third corner. But as we alluded to earlier, we’re not stacked up at corner either.”

‘DADDY WALT’: As a senior, Walt McFadden has proudly accepted his leadership position.
However, it has come with a surprising consequence.

“I’ve taking them under my wing but they’ve been calling me ‘Daddy,’” McFadden said. “I’m trying to get away from that. I’m still their age, you know? We can still have fun together, you know?”

Adams has been the guiltiest party.

“Harry Adams (says) ‘Daddy Walt. Daddy Walt. How do I stop this? How do I make this a better situation to defend this receiver better?’” McFadden said. “I feel old over there.”

ON THE MEND: Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said receiver Terrell Zachery is nursing a minor injury that kept him out of practice on Wednesday.

It’s not expected to sideline Zachery for long.

“He’ll be back very soon,” Malzahn said. “We just want to make sure all of our guys are 100 percent when we get to the first game.”

Report: Hawthorne to miss four games

ESPN's Chris Low is in town providing information for his always comprehensive SEC blog.

Of particular interest, Low reported that Auburn expects WR Tim Hawthorne to miss the first four games.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik has rarely talked injuries to the media. The assistant coaches have largely followed suit.

Hawthorne injured his leg over the summer and coaches have acknowledged that he is out. They had not previously given a timetable.

The junior receiver turned in an impressive spring. WR coach Trooper Taylor thought Hawthorne was a serious candidate for a breakout season.

Low also reported that S Aairon Savage is, in fact, out for the year -- a point Chizik had yet to yield -- and that S Mike McNeil is likely to miss half the season.

It's not news that any of the three are injured. The lengths of the injuries, however, had not been revealed.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wednesday's notes

Tailback Ben Tate headed the group of projected starters sitting out practice Wednesday, when the team practiced for the 13th time in preseason camp.

Receiver Terrell Zachery, right guard Byron Isom and cornerback Neiko Thorpe all missed practice as well with injuries. All three are considered probable starters.

Isom’s injury left true freshman John Sullen working with the first-team offensive line.

In all, at least 12 Auburn players missed the practice.

Defensive lineman Zach Clayton, receiver John Cubelic, safety D’Antoine Hood, offensive linemen Bart Eddins and Darrell Roseman and linebackers Adam Herring, Spencer Pybus and Jonathan Evans all missed practice as well.

The injuries to Herring, Pybus and Evans are perhaps the most worrisome for the Tigers because of their linebacker depth problems. Eltoro Freeman was in shells, as was the rest of the team on Wednesday, but Freeman did not participate in the lone open period.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Tuesday that though Freeman’s right wrist is in a hard cast, his hamstring has kept him from practicing.

If all four are out of practice, it would leave Auburn with three scholarship linebackers.

STEPPING UP: When Auburn resumed practice on Tuesday, after a two-day break, true freshman safety Daren Bates worked exclusively with the first-team defense.

Chizik said his defensive staff wants to get a better chance to evaluate him and determine whether he can help the team right away.

After a strong start, Bates is now in contention for the starting free safety spot.

“I would say he’s going to be in the mix for that possibility,” Chizik said. “He’s a young guy that started late. He’s got so much catching up to do but showed some flashes in that scrimmage that I thought were really encouraging.”

With the first game less than three weeks away and projected starter Mike McNeil still recovering from a broken leg, Bates could start in the season opener.

“Physically, I think he’s got a chance to play in this league early,” Chizik said. “We just have to know mentally if he can do the things we ask him to do. He’s shown flashes every day he’s getting better.”

BACK AT END: Auburn’s depth issues weren’t enough to keep freshman Dee Ford at linebacker.

The Tigers pulled the plug on the short-lived experiment, deciding to put Ford back at his more natural defensive end position.

“Life as a linebacker ended,” Ford said. “I moved back to defensive end.”

Ford said he was happy to move back to his more natural position.

PHILLIPS IMPROVING: Chizik said Tuesday that he’s “fairly confident” offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips would again play football.

The true freshman suffered what Chizik termed a “non-football related episode of some things medically” during the first week of practice.

He has not since returned to the field.

“Aubrey is getting into the swing of everything trying to rehab and just addressing some issues, medically, we’re really going to have to watch,” Chizik said. “But he’s doing a great job. He’s in the flow of everything. He’s back in school. We’re very encouraged by where he’s at.”

The NCAA has not ruled on Phillips’ waiver he would need to play this season, though that might be a moot point with his medical condition.

QUICK OUTS: Josh Bynes was asked Tuesday who was working behind him at middle linebacker. His response: “You’ll have to ask coach about that.” That speaks volumes to Auburn’s depth at linebacker, doesn’t it? … Receivers coach Trooper Taylor, known for his outgoing, loud nature on the practice field, somehow managed to sneak up on tailback Dontae Aycock. During pre-practice warm-ups, Taylor snuck in behind Aycock and punched the ball out of the true freshman’s hands. Taylor celebrated the forced fumble by acting like he had just clinched the BCS Championship Game. Running backs coach Curtis Luper said Taylor’s fiery demeanor isn’t an act and that Taylor always has that much energy. … Yesterday I asked Mario Fannin to name a breakout player on each side of the ball. His picks: Onterio McCalebb and Freeman.

“I want to say Onterio. Onterio, he’s explosive and he works hard. He has the heart of a lion. So that’s him on offense.

“On defense, I’ll say Eltoro. A lot of people have high expectations for him, and I’m one of them. He’s going to play hard 24-7 and he’s going to give great effort.

“I know that in both of them, so I’m looking forward to seeing them play and getting in front of the fans and take that energy from them and play even better. I can’t wait.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pierre-Louis returns to practice

Redshirt freshman Philip Pierre-Louis rejoined the Auburn program Tuesday when the Tigers returned from their two-day break.

He had been away from the team since late June after missing a good portion of the summer workouts and the first 11 days of camp as well.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik admitted Pierre-Louis is behind after his approximate two-month absence.

“That would be very fair to say,” Chizik said.

At this time last year, Pierre-Louis seemed primed for a big true freshman campaign. Tommy Tuberville and the rest of the coaching staff bragged about the big-play ability Pierre-Louis displayed during fall scrimmages.

However, he tore his ACL while returning the season-opening kickoff. Pierre-Louis later had surgery to repair the knee and took a redshirt.

Chizik said Pierre-Louis’ knee looked fine during his first practice.

The 5-foot-8, 157-pound receiver got to Auburn because former coordinator Tony Franklin wanted him as a speedy playmaker capable of squirting away from defenses.

Even with Franklin gone, the redshirt freshman said during the spring that he could contribute in the new offense.

“I fit into it well. Everybody thinks it’s a spread offense,” Pierre-Louis said. “It’s really not a spread offense. It’s a run-based offense – it’s a play-action offense. I think it’s a great offense and it really does help you, so I like the offense.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Delaine commits to Auburn reported that DE Justin Delaine didn't get an offer from Auburn until Monday.

He responded by accepting it immediately.

The 6-foot-5, 225-pound defensive end marks the 15th player to commit to the Tigers.

Auburn launching "documentary-style" TV show

Auburn announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with Comcast Sports South to air its new self-produced "documentary-style" TV show, "Auburn Football: Every Day..."

The show will air either Friday night or Saturday morning.

“For the first time, Tiger fans will get an opportunity to see the Auburn football program like it never has before,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said in a press release. “I think it will give our fans a true sense of what it is like on a daily basis for the coaches, players and staff as we build a foundation for this program.”

Auburn ISP Sports Network is producing the show.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Midterm report

Fall camp has now gone for two weeks. Classes begin tomorrow. It’s time to get excited. Football season is almost here.

Through two-a-days, most of my attention has been focused on the quarterback competition. Now that Chris Todd has been anointed The Man, I can turn my attention elsewhere.

With two-a-days now in the rearview, this seems like a good time to evaluate where Auburn’s program is as it inches toward the season opener.

Here is a fall camp midterm state of the union:


That Gus Malzahn settled on his starter just nine days into camp is a best-case scenario for the Tigers. Todd’s arm is clearly much stronger than it was at this time last year. He has experience and Malzahn brags about Todd’s ability to make the proper reads and deliver the ball on time.

With Kodi Burns moving to receiver and no plan to let Neil Caudle play himself into the backup plan, it seems Malzahn and Auburn coach Gene Chizik know what they want. Their hope seems to be for true freshman Tyrik Rollison to be the backup. Even if he doesn’t ultimately win the backup job, I think he would get a start in the event that Todd misses a week.

Malzahn and Chizik have mostly good things to say about Rollison, but the freshman seems to have been humbled by his first two weeks. He talked about the difficulty of reading collegiate defenses. He admits it’s difficult to become the vocal leader necessary for Malzahn’s offense.

Yet there’s Rollison, getting every opportunity to win the position. That, to me, shows the coaches ultimately think of Caudle as a third-string quarterback and nothing more. We’ll see how it plays out, but I would be surprised if Rollison isn’t the backup.

Run game

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes didn’t try to hide his excitement after Saturday’s scrimmage. He thinks his first-team offensive line is coming together two weeks into fall and thinks it has a chance to stack up among the league’s best. Left tackle Lee Ziemba has gotten rave reviews after a disastrous sophomore season. The other bookend, Andrew McCain, has impressed while he prepares for his first starting season.

The media didn’t see or get statistics from the scrimmage, but the offense scored three touchdowns on five drives despite attempting approximately 10 passes. That means the Tigers are moving the ball effectively and efficiently on the ground.

Ben Tate is the workhorse in the backfield. He will get the bulk of the carries. Running backs coach Curtis Luper forecasted a 1,000-yard season in Tate’s future. He has led the team in rushing each of the past two seasons and is poised to do so again.

Mario Fannin will line up in the backfield at H-back and will probably get a healthy dose of carries. He will certainly be a valuable outlet in the passing game as well, capable of catching passes and breaking tackles after the catch.

Onterio McCalebb and Eric Smith provide different skill sets when spelling Tate. McCalebb is a lightning-fast home run threat, capable of scoring from any spot on the field. He might not be as polished in aspects like pass protection, but he is explosive enough that coaches must get him the ball.

Smith is more of a load. He takes on contact and excels most when he runs North and South. Smith has admitted ball security has been an issue. That seems to be his Achilles heel.

The real concern in the run game is what happens if an offensive lineman gets injured? Several reserves are missing time right now with various injuries, leaving just Jared Cooper and true freshman John Sullen in practice as of just a few days ago. Grimes said nobody has emerged from the reserves. He’s not sure what he would do in case of injury.


Someone will have a breakout year because, well, someone has to catch passes.

Tim Hawthorne is still out with a leg injury and Montez Billings’ status is unclear, though Chizik adamantly said he would play this year. That leaves Auburn in a position where its entire receiving corps has a grand total of 15 career catches for 124 yards and one touchdown.

It also leaves tight ends Tommy Trott and Gabe McKenzie with far more experience than any of the wide-outs. Those two can be good safety valves. Neither has proven capable of stretching the field and Trott has struggled with drops occasionally.

Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams are the only two players Trooper Taylor said he's ready to play as of last Tuesday. Billings would be in that mix as well if his unspecified academic issue has been cleared by Week 1.

Taylor said it would be difficult to redshirt his four true freshmen. So get ready to see a lot of DeAngelo “Voodoo” Benton, Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth and Anthony Gulley.

Taylor likes Burns’ potential at receiver, but it seems more likely that Burns’ biggest role would be in the Wildcat formation.

Quindarius Carr and Derek Winter seem to have significant work left if they hope to join the receiver rotation.

Defensive line

This seems to be the biggest question in terms of where players stand. We know Antonio Coleman will start at defensive end. Everything else… it’s too early to tell.

That’s fine with line coach Tracy Rocker. He wanted to push his players with competition and he wants to have good depth on the line. With numbers low, depth must come from versatility. Thus, Zach Clayton and Michael Goggans – both of whom have worked at tackle and end – have increased their value.

The staring tackle spots seem to be a three-man race between Jake Ricks, Mike Blanc and JUCO transfer Nick Fairley. Ricks said he and Fairley spent a good portion of the week working with the first-team defense. Blanc has battled through injuries but is still in practice.

Don’t be surprised if Clayton and Goggans, who of the team’s best pass rushers, line up inside on pass downs the way Sen’Derrick Marks did for Will Muschamp.

Coleman will certainly start at one end. The other starting spot likely comes down to Goggans and Hot Carter. True freshman Nosa Eguae will likely be in the rotation.

I’m not sure where Cameron Henderson and Derrick Lykes stand right now. I’ve heard very little about them, which probably doesn’t bode well.


Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes will start if they can physically walk on to the field.

Book it.

Those two have plenty of experience. Ted Roof makes it a clean three-for-three in coordinators that have loved Stevens. He flies under the radar, but Roof says he does all the little things correctly and has a great football IQ.

Roof is happy with Bynes’ progress as well. He wants his middle linebacker to be more physical. It seems like it would be difficult for a player to simply play more physically than the way he naturally plays, but that’s exactly what Roof is asking of the junior.

Eltoro Freeman injured his right hand earlier in the week. Chizik is pleased with Freeman’s progress, but the probable starter at weak-side linebacker sat out during the scrimmage.

The Bull needs to have a big, productive season for Auburn’s defense to maintain the level to which it has grown accustomed. He is undersized, but teammates say he’s fast, aggressive and physical. Sound like anybody you know? Say, a certain former middle linebacker currently playing in Canada? From that regard, it doesn’t seem promising that Freeman injured himself in the first scrimmage.

That’s especially bad news considering the Tigers’ depth situation. They have seven scholarship linebackers. One, Adam Herring, didn’t practice in the spring and hasn’t practiced at all this fall. Two of them, Harris Gaston and Jonathan Evans, are true freshmen. Spencer Pybus played last year as a true freshman, but didn’t really stand out. He is an important part to the defense this season because he knows how to play several different positions. He has missed a good portion of practice this fall.

Defensive backs

Another spot of minimal depth is cornerback. Auburn has four scholarship corners. Two of them, Neiko Thorpe and Walt McFadden, have any starts to their credit.

Thorpe showed promise at times last season, but also got burnt on occasion. Cornerbacks coach Phillip Lolley loves Thorpe’s instincts and thinks he could be special now that he has some seasoning.

McFadden has NFL pedigree and could be an NFL prospect himself by season’s end. With Jerraud Powers limited by hamstring issues last year, McFadden served as the primary cover corner and he fared very well in that position. He seems to have the type of talent that could make him a game-changer.

Sophomore Harry Adams has little experience and split time between receiver and corner during the spring and summer. Demond Washington, another JUCO transfer, is learning how to play the position. Not to say Adams and Washington can’t get the job done, but it’s easy to see why Auburn would hope McFadden and Thorpe can stay healthy for most of the year.

The Tigers could probably move D’Antoine Hood back from safety to cornerback if they were in a bind.

One way to make the numbers work is employing three safeties in the nickel package. Don’t be surprised if Auburn tries that.

Zac Etheridge is a certain starter at strong safety. He admits his shoulder prevented him from playing his naturally physical brand of football at times last year. Now his shoulder is healthy and he’s primed for a big season. Etheridge knows the biggest key for the safeties this year – and for the defense as a whole – is to force more turnovers. Last year, Etheridge and Mike McNeil combined for 24 starts and just two takeaways.

McNeil is still recovering from a broken leg, creating competition for the free safety spot. True freshman Daren Bates has emerged as a serious contender for immediate playing time and could even start if McNeil’s not ready by Sept. 5.

Drew Cole and Mike Slade are also vying for the starting job. That could be like the quarterback race in that if neither claimed the job earlier, the newcomer might have the advantage.

Hood and T’Sharvan Bell are still learning how to play safety. They seem more likely to contribute on special teams.

Special teams

Kicker Wes Byrum thinks he’s healed from the mechanical and psychological problems he faced last year. It won’t take long to find out since he seems destined to win the starting spot.

Punter Clinton Durst is now on scholarship. I haven’t seen much practice, but Durst seems to be out-punting Ryan Shoemaker in both distance and consistency.

The return game is unclear right now.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Notes from the Saturday scrimmage

Two days after learning Chris Todd is the starting quarterback, Auburn’s offense scored five touchdowns during Saturday’s scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Todd and the first-team offense scored on three of those drives. The senior quarterback threw a touchdown pass to Montez Billings on a corner route that covered approximately 20 yards.

Todd didn’t have the only smooth transition on Saturday. Kodi Burns, who moved to receiver once the coaching staff decided to start Todd, scored on a touchdown from the Wildcat formation.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said Burns’ run was approximately 50 yards.

“He did good today. He scored a touchdown today and stiff-armed a guy on the way in there,” Taylor said.

Tailback Ben Tate also chipped in with a rushing touchdown.

Taylor said the first-team unit ran five series. It scored touchdowns on three.

“We were able to run the ball to set up the pass and we were able to pass the ball to set up the run,” Mario Fannin said. “Everything worked out great.”

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who watched his offense win a second consecutive scrimmage, seemed more focused on the details than the scores.

“We had zero turnovers. That was really a bright spot,” Malzahn said. “Two penalties: One motion and one hold on our second group. That’s very good to see.”

The offense turned the ball over three or four times in the first scrimmage.

The second-team offense posted a pair of touchdowns as well.

Eric Smith ran for a touchdown and No. 2 quarterback contender Tyrik Rollison threw for another.

“I thought tonight was a productive night, I really did,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “This deep into camp you worry about injuries and you worry about where you are mentally. They’re beat down and they’re tired.

“Really good response tonight, I thought. Really focused. I thought we a got a lot accomplished.”

Chizik didn’t seem overly concerned about the defense’s rough day. He said the theme for the second-team unit mostly focused on finding depth at key positions.

TAKING CHARGE: Todd sat in front of reporters staring blankly at the ceiling, trying to recall throwing an incompletion.

He couldn’t remember one for sure.

Fannin said the first-team offense completed every pass it attempted, helping the offense’s explosive effort on Saturday.

Cornerback Walt McFadden, who watched his first-team defense allow three touchdowns on five drives, said he saw new swagger from the unit’s counterpart.

“You could see, it’s a whole different attitude over there, especially on the defensive side as well,” McFadden said. “We’re both happy that we’ve got a leader on that side of the ball. He’s taking charge. He’s leading the offense in the right direction.”

Todd said getting all the first-team reps helped him get into a better rhythm.

Malzahn agreed, saying Todd did a good job running the offense.

“The fact that you can keep a guy out there multiple reps at a time and the same drive, that’s big,” Malzahn said. “Your linemen get used to him. The backs will get used to him and the receivers will get down their timing with the throws.”

BATES IMPRESSES: For the second time in as many scrimmages, safety Daren Bates turned heads with his performance.

This time, he did so while working part-time with the first-team defense.

“I saw Bates throwing his body around,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That was good to see. He strikes people. He’s showing up and doing some good things.”

Chizik singled Bates out as one of the two freshmen he saw flashes from during the scrimmage.

“I just was trying to play ball, get around the football,” Bates said. “Just trying to get my chance out there and letting them see I can play out there. I’m a freshman and just ready to get out there and play.”

The coaches aren’t the only ones impressed by the true freshman.

“This guy’s a blue-collar football player. He’s a headhunter,” McFadden said. “He’s running around making tackles, making plays. That’s a guy sticking out on defense. You’ll see him soon.”
Chizik didn’t commit to playing Bates this year. He did, however, say the staff plans to give him “every opportunity to be on the field.”

ROLLISON STEPPING UP: Todd drew most of the headlines on Saturday, but Malzahn and Chizik both came away pleased with Rollison’s performance as well.

Rollison got most of the reps with the second-team offense and threw a touchdown.

“We’re still evaluating him. We’ll continue to do that,” Malzahn said. “He did a solid job. He made a really good on a throw and it went for a touchdown. He held the ball a little long a couple times, but that comes from experience. In high school, you can get away with that. We’ll get that corrected.”

Chizik said Neil Caudle also led a few drives.

Caudle and Rollison are currently battling for the backup quarterback position.

FREE RIDE: Chizik announced Saturday that he awarded three former walk-ons – punter Clinton Durst, holder Clayton Crofoot and receiver John Cubelic – with scholarships.

Crofoot played every game last year as a holder. Durst punted in 11 games. Cubelic has played in one career game.

“Every year, whenever we have opportunities to do that with our walk-ons, we’ll always reward them for playing a tough sport for free,” Chizik said. “That’s really hard to do. Whenever I can reward those guys with scholarships available, the ones who deserve it.”

DAYS OFF: Auburn now has two days off before returning to the practice field.

Chizik said the timing couldn’t be better for the Tigers, coming off 11 consecutive days of practice.

“They are due. Eleven straight days is really tough,” Chizik said. “They are ready to get two days off – the need it, and they deserve because they’ve worked really hard to this point.”

The first day off, Sunday, also marks Auburn’s annual Fan Day, which will be held from 2-4 p.m. The football, women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball teams will be in attendance to sign autographs at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Notes from Friday's practice

Here's a glimpse of tomorrow's story in The Anniston Star:

A day after Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced Chris Todd as the Tigers starting quarterback, the rest of the team seemed unified behind the decision.

Several players said that alone makes this year’s quarterback race different from the one decided two games into the 2008 season.

“I’m proud of my coach. Last year at this time, we still trying those little games as to who’s going to be quarterback, who’s not,” senior cornerback Walt McFadden said. “He went ahead and just got it out the way for everybody to just know that Chris Todd is our quarterback.”

For more, read Saturday's Anniston Star.

Here's a look at the rest of notes from Friday:

With the starting quarterback now decided, the impetus is now on offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn finding his backup.

Neil Caudle is still in the mix, but in the immediate future the search means more reps for true freshman Tyrik Rollison.

“We have more information about Neil than we do about Tyrik, so we’re going to give Tyrik quite a few reps because we really need to see where he’s at," Malzahn said. "He’s a talented young man, but at the same time, it takes a lot to run this offense. We’re going to give him the majority of the reps right now. We’ll just have to see Tyrik, after we get him more snaps, see where he’s at and later on we’ll be able to have some kind of order after No. 1.”

Caudle remains confident about the spot because of his vast knowledge of the offense.

Still, Rollison seems to have the next shot at seizing the backup position.

That likely hinges on how well the true freshman adjusts to being more vocal.

“At my school I wasn’t like a verbal dude,” Rollison said. “All our things were off signals and silent and everything. Here our quarterbacks have to be verbal. They have to talk and speak up. They have to be loud. I got to transition to that from my high school to the college level.

“It’s pretty tough because I have to come out of my comfort zone of being quiet and going to talking where our quarterback as to be more verbal in our offense.”

BO KNOWS AUBURN: Legendary running back Bo Jackson spent both Thursday and Friday watching Auburn’s practices.

The former Auburn great spent a portion of the time watching the running backs. Ben Tate, who was named to the Maxwell Award list on Friday, said Jackson delivered a message to not just the tailbacks, but the entire team.

“Just to take this opportunity and to run with it,” Tate said. “Don’t let it pass you by. A lot of people don’t have this opportunity that we have, so basically just take advantage of it and do everything right while you’re here.”

Jackson currently has two kids in Auburn.

Chizik said it was “awesome” to have Jackson around the program.

“It’s just great to have guys that made Auburn great come back and talk to everybody about how special the place is,” Chizik said.

BURNS RULE: McFadden was befuddled when he saw Kodi Burns line up as a receiver on Friday.

That’s not because the senior cornerback expected Burns to line up at quarterback, but rather, Burns was still wearing the orange non-contact jersey.

“Today… it was kind of the first time I didn’t know ‘Can I hit him?’ because he still had the orange jersey on,” McFadden said. “I didn’t want to touch him a little bit but I gave him a little push and then I took my hands off him and I looked at coach Chizik and raised my hands. I was pretty scared of that.”

Auburn doesn’t know exactly how it will use Burns now that he is not a full-time quarterback.

Malzahn said Friday that Burns would continue to get snaps at quarterback, but that he would work primarily at receiver.

There’s also talk of using Burns as the Wildcat triggerman.

“He will be a part of that, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said. “He will be a part of a lot of different things. That will give us flexibility to put extreme pressure on the defense at times. He’s a phenomenal athlete, and he can do a lot of different things. He’ll still keep taking reps at quarterback also. He’s just going to be a versatile player.”

PAIGE OUT: reported Friday that cornerback Taikwon Paige fell one short class of qualifying to play for Auburn this season.

Paige was the final player waiting on word from the NCAA Clearinghouse. Auburn’s final recruiting count finished at 22 players. The Tigers signed 29, including Aubrey Phillips, who chose Auburn in late July.

Running back Brandon Jacobs chose to play baseball after the Boston Red Sox selected him in the MLB Draft. The other six players – Paige, Terrance Coleman, Josh Jackson, Reggie Taylor, Izauea Lanier and LaVoyd James – are headed to junior colleges.

SCRIMMAGE GOALS: Defensive coordinator Ted Roof is looking for better tackling and more players getting to the football when Auburn holds its second scrimmage today.

He’s also focused on getting his defense to produce more turnovers.

That, Roof said, often dictates a defense’s success – and ultimately that of a team.

“If you look at statistics and you guys study them, and it’s not a coincidence that the two teams that played for the national championship were both in the top-five in the country in takeaways,” Roof said. “The two teams that played for the conference championship were in the top-two in the Southeastern Conference in takeaways. So I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”

MOVING AROUND: With Auburn desperately seeking help at the linebacker position, freshman Dee Ford is getting looks there.

Ford came to Auburn as a linebacker/defensive end, but had previously played exclusively at end.

“Dee is a really good athlete. Whether he can make that transition from putting his hand on the ground to moving back, that remains to be seen,” Chizik said. “That’s usually a more difficult move than putting them back and moving them down. Your vision is expanded and there’s all kinds of moving parts in there.

“Athletically, he’s a talented kid. We’re going to continue to look to see if he can help us there. He’s an impressive guy.”

Ford missed a few practices last week and was in an orange non-contact jersey on Thursday. Friday, he was back in a white jersey, indicating he’s ready for contact.

LACING ’EM UP: Part of what makes Trooper Taylor so popular is his ability to relate to the younger players.

Taylor is the vocal leader of the Auburn coaching staff, whether it’s getting players fired up during warm-ups or if it’s spouting off one-liners during receiving drills.

Taylor is also a hands-on coach – just ask the players he slams with the blocking pads.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that Taylor takes it a step further. He told reporters earlier in the week that he wears cleats while working with the team.

“I’ve always coached in cleats. I played in cleats, so I coach the same way I play,” Taylor said. “When I played, I was an enthusiastic guy as well, because I think you’ve got to have some fun, but also, when I demonstrate, I don’t want to be slipping down in flats and that deal.

“And then you never know when one of them will want to try you. If they want to try you, you better have some friction or you’ll end up underneath that stadium. And if I need to run away from one, I sure don’t need to slip down.”

Last night's QB story

Chris Todd knew, after missing the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery, that he needed to move quickly to contend for the starting quarterback spot.

Thursday, Auburn's ninth day of practice, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn named Todd the starter.

In a pre-practice team meeting, Auburn coach Gene Chizik informed the team that Todd had earned the job.

"I really didn't know what to expect," Todd said. "I know what coach Malzahn's expectations were and I know what he wanted to do, but I knew it'd be hard. I knew it would be a really short window of opportunity to win the job. So I knew I'd have to come out and compete hard early."

Todd, who began his career at Texas Tech, started five games for Auburn last year after transferring from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College. The coaching staff shut down his season after his shoulder continued to grow weaker by the seventh game.

After the rough junior season, off-season shoulder surgery and missing camp, Todd said he knew he faced long odds.

"There were a lot of unknowns out there," Todd said. "I'm really happy with the way it's turned out, but I can't say that I knew what to expect."

Thursday, Todd walked into the complex ignorant of the fact he would be named the starter. During a meeting with Chizik and Malzahn, he received the good news.

Still, Chizik said it wasn't as easy for the rest of the program.

"This is a really tough day for everybody," Chizik said. "This is the day coaches don't like — making these decisions because they're tough ones when you've got great kids that do everything you ask them to do and they're all fighting their rear end for a job."

The news was especially difficult for Kodi Burns, who started seven games last season.

Burns admitted he was initially disappointed "a lot" by the news, but seemingly regrouped quickly.

After the team meeting, Burns addressed the team. He hopes his message will keep the team from splitting, as he thinks it did last year.

"I felt as if it was that way. It was a bunch of nonsense," Burns said. "Things weren't handled the right way.

"This year, the coaching staff came in and everything was fair. Everything was a great chance. I'm just thankful that I had a chance."

Burns also said to reporters that he's "100 percent behind" Todd and that "Auburn Nation needs to get behind Chris as well."

Chizik came away thoroughly impressed with the way Burns handled the situation.

"He wanted to say some words to our team — truly, truly inspirational, very heartfelt," Chizik said. "He showed truly who he is today — just a guy with a lot of character and what a great competitor.

"I couldn't be more proud of a player today, accepting the decision the way he did."

Though Burns is out of the starting quarterback race, he thinks he can help the offense — particularly from the Wildcat formation.

Wednesday, one day after Auburn's first scrimmage, Burns took most of the snaps during Wildcat drills.

Burns, a junior, said he never considered transferring after learning of the decision.

The first sign of an eminent announcement came during the open portion of practice when Burns worked with the receivers instead of the quarterbacks.

Burns, still in an orange non-contact jersey, had receivers' gloves and worked exclusively with the wideouts during the session open to the media. The junior started by catching passes from the JUGS machine. Minutes later, Trooper Taylor spent the beginning of a session showing Burns the stance receivers take before a play starts.

Meanwhile, Todd, Neil Caudle, Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley spent the first periods doing quarterback drills with Malzahn.

Chizik said although Todd has been named the starter, the backup job remains undecided. He also said Rollison is getting ample opportunity in practice.

"We're really repping Tyrik right now to see how fast he can come along," Chizik said. "Obviously he wasn't here in spring practice. He's shown some flashes of being a very good quarterback just like he was in high school, but we need to know more."

Burns, 3-5 as a starting quarterback, spent the entire spring battling with Caudle and Barrett Trotter for the starting spot. By the end of the spring, Burns and Caudle had surpassed Trotter, even before the redshirt freshman injured his knee.

Malzahn said Burns and Caudle would enter camp as the two frontrunners, but Todd immediately entered into the mix once practices began.

This isn't the first time Burns came out on the wrong side of an Auburn quarterback competition. He, Todd and Caudle worked through the spring in 2008, until former coordinator Tony Franklin narrowed the field to Todd and Burns.

Franklin left Todd in the race despite the quarterback missing several practices with a shoulder injury. Ultimately, Franklin chose Todd two games into last season. Once Tommy Tuberville fired Franklin midway through the season, Burns assumed the starting job.

As a true freshman, Burns briefly made a run at Brandon Cox' starting job. He played the majority of the game against Mississippi State and then started a win against New Mexico State the following week.