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.

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