Monday, August 10, 2009

Final notes from Monday's practice

Gus Malzahn is hoping to narrow down the quarterback competition soon – perhaps as soon as he reviews the film from Tuesday’s scrimmage.

“We’re getting closer after every practice,” said Malzahn, who added that the coaching staff is putting “extreme pressure” on the quarterbacks. “We’re really hoping we can narrow things down in the very near future… Anytime you can see, specifically, a quarterback in a team setting, operating everything, you can evaluate them a lot better.”

As is customary for the Auburn offensive coordinator, he didn’t reveal if he’s leaning in any direction. He did say that four quarterbacks – Kodi Burns, Chris Todd, Neil Caudle and Tyrik Rollison – are still getting equal reps.

Look for the scrimmage to help narrow down more than just the quarterback race as well.

“After that scrimmage, gradually, you’ll see that happening, and, hopefully, at very pretty fast rate,” Malzahn said.

Caudle understands how far today’s scrimmage will likely go toward deciding the starter.

“As far as I’m concerned tomorrow is a game. That’s how important it is,” Caudle said. “I think the coaches have really stressed to us how important it is in this quarterback race. I’m going to be fully prepared tomorrow. I’m going to study a lot tonight and think about what I have to do and approach it as if it’s a game.”

Tuesday’s scrimmage starts at 5:20 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It is closed to the public and media.

RECEIVING VOTES OF CONFIDENCE: Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said if the season started today, he would feel comfortable with two receivers.

Those two are currently Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams. Montez Billings would be the other starter if he is not forced to sit out with a yet unspecified academic issue.

Zachery, Taylor said, has been the biggest standout of the group.

Taylor likes the progress DeAngelo "Voodoo" Benton and Emory Blake have made, but says they still have work to do and must learn how to practice at the collegiate level. He would not say if he expects Tim Hawthorne (broken foot) to be back in time for the opener against Louisiana Tech.

The other player Taylor singled out for his performance: Jay Wisner, a walk-on from Bozeman, Mont. Taylor said he caught a touchdown in practice during camp, prompting the coach to learn how to pronounce his name.

“This guy moved to every position, he’s just been a fill-in guy, a utility guy, and he hasn’t made any mistakes and is really busting his tail and working hard out there,” Taylor said. “I was pronouncing his name wrong for a long time. He caught a touchdown and I learned how to say his name real quick.”

COACHING ’EM UP: The Tigers resumed their special teams drills on Monday, this time with a different person taking charge of the practice.

Gene Chizik, dressed out in bright orange shirt, shorts and hat, spent the early session of the first practice giving players one-on-one instruction with a hands-on approach. Chizik watched plays and then talked to different players. Sometimes that meant getting in their faces and yelling, as he did with long snapper Josh Harris after a bad snap. Other times it meant offering them pointers, as he did when Zac Etheridge and Eltoro Freeman were working on the punt coverage team.

“He’s an active participant on our punt team,” special teams coach Jay Boulware said. “He coaches a side and I coach a side and the punt team is his baby. He loves that. It’s one time he gets a chance to coach. He’s got a position on special teams. It just places extra emphasis on our teams and I think the young men are fired up for that as well.”

Chizik wasn’t the only coach taking charge. Boulware announced his displeasure for one punting sequence by yelling, “This isn’t a freaking pillow fight out here.”

Boulware doesn’t want to talk depth-chart leaders quite yet. He said the camp is still young and he wants guys competing.

Morgan Hull missed two field goals on Monday – including a bad miss from 45 yards that wobbled well short and right of the goal posts – a day after Wes Byrum made seven consecutive. With Chandler Brooks out with an injury, Byrum seems to be in control.

CHANGING PLACES: Late last week, D’Antoine Hood has moved from cornerback to safety.

Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said Hood has played pretty well at the new position so far.

“He can run, he’s athletic, he can bend,” Thigpen said. “Of course, it’s a new position for him. We’d gotten him settled down at corner and then with Mike McNeil’s injury we needed some more bodies.”

Hood played well in his lone start last year, at Ole Miss, but was seemingly buried on the cornerbacks depth chart this fall.

Thigpen thinks Hood’s experience could be valuable at safety.

“Him being a corner and playing under the lights, we had to ask who’s the next best guy?” Thigpen said. “He’s done it and he’s been in the stadiums before.”

The Tigers now have seven safeties, though two – McNeil and T'Sharvan Bell – are currently out of action. Auburn only has four cornerbacks.

Zac Etheridge said the toughest part of the transition from cornerback to safety is learning to align the defensive backfield.

Hood's move also created a depth issue at cornerback, which later prompted one of the greatest/most confusing quotes I've read recently. I was interviewing Thigpen during the Phillip Lolley interview, but thanks to the Opelika-Auburn News' Andy Gribble, here's the quote:

"Sure and we addressed that. I addressed that in the meeting before we went out. I said 'Hey guys, the way we got to look at it is we're warriors. There's five warriors in this room and we're going to be ready for battle.' One of the analogies I use, several movies and things, I talk about the movie 300. It didn't matter how many was their guys, they had a plan. And they joined together and they took one step at a time behind the shield and they protected each other. That's the mentality we got to have out there at all times. When we walk out to play the guy, we've got to walk up there and we've got to have that mentality. And we've got to have each other's back. If a guy makes a wrong step, when you get him on the sidelines, you've got to be together. 'Hey guys, look, pull it together. You didn't keep it within yourself, you didn't slap with your hand.' And that way when that guy goes out there, you're watching him and everybody is watching him and getting that mentality and that rep that we're together no matter what. Whether it's two, three or what, you know? And we addressed that and that's what I want at practice. And they are good and if you watch them they're constantly over there coaching each other on the other side. They're talking. They're saying 'Did you see what happened to me? He gave me this move and boom, boom, boom.' You got to be able to speak to him now.

"So, yeah, we do worry."

FORCING TURNOVERS: During the team drill period Monday, the defense came away with a few key turnovers.

Etheridge said most of it came from strong play along the defensive line.

“The d-line was getting a lot of pressure and we were live so there were a lot of fumbles and interceptions on batted balls by the d-line,” he said. “There were just a lot of guys working their technique coach (defensive coordinator Ted) Roof gave us to get the ball out.”

Freeman said he caused a fumble from tailback Eric Smith. He said the defense finished with an interception and “three or four” fumbles.

Freeman also said the defense gave up too many big runs, particularly to Onterio McCalebb.

GRADUATING: Four current and former Auburn football players graduated on Monday.

Quarterback Chris Todd, tight end Gabe McKenzie, offensive lineman Rudy Odom and former cornerback Jerraud Powers all received degrees during the summer ceremony.

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