Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Notes from Tuesday's scrimmage

Here's an excerpt from my story running in Wednesday's Anniston Star:

With Auburn's first scrimmage in the books, the new starting quarterback is… yet to be announced. Still.

All five quarterbacks took turns during Tuesday’s scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium, which lasted approximately 80 plays and was closed to both the media and public. The two true freshmen apparently saw the bulk of the snaps.

Kodi Burns and Chris Todd each said they played two series. Neil Caudle seemingly played approximately the same number of series. Those three cycled in with the first-team offense.

Auburn coach Gene Chizik didn’t indicate what impact the scrimmage had on the competition. Then again, his close-to-the-vest mentality lends itself to keeping that information private for as long as possible.

Chizik did seem to think he and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn could be nearing a decision.

“Well, I think it’s getting to the point where here in a few days we’re going to have to really look at doing that,” Chizik said. “Gus and I will stay on the same page and discuss the time frame that we want to do that, but obviously the sooner the better. Tonight will be a lot of great information in that direction.”

For more, read Wednesday's Anniston Star.

Emory Blake – Apparently had a good day, including catching the game-winning touchdown.

Onterio McCalebb – Scored a touchdown and broke a couple of big runs by some accounts.

Mario Fannin – S Zac Etheridge said Fannin had a couple big runs while splitting time between tailback and H-back.

The first-team defense – Didn’t allow a touchdown to the first-team offense.

Quarterback purgatory – No starter named. No announcement on the field getting trimmed. No definitive end in sight. Burns, Todd and Caudle apparently played two series apiece, though we’re not sure on Caudle, who wasn’t made available to the media because of a media relations miscue. None of the quarterbacks led TD drives.

Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley – At least in reps and touchdown passes.

The second-team offense – Did all the scoring and led the offense to a win, at least on the scoreboard.

The media and fans – The media because we have to continue to write about quarterbacks. The fans because they have to continue to read about the quarterbacks.

TURNOVER WOES: A day after turning the ball over several times during team drills, Auburn’s offense struggled to clean up its act during Tuesday’s scrimmage.

The Tigers turned the ball over three times – once on a fumble and twice on second-team defense interceptions, by Harry Adams and either Demond Washington or Daren Bates.

Chizik said there were some bright spots for the offense, but the turnovers continue to be a problem.

“We were still a little bit sloppy in that regard, in my opinion,” he said. “If you put the ball on the ground one time then you’re sloppy. That happened today.”

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor was hoping for a better effort after Monday’s struggles.

“We’ve got to take care of the football. That’s our No. 1 goal on offense is to protect the football,” he said Monday. “We had 26 turnovers last year. It puts everybody in a bad position. It puts the defense on a short field and it takes away the number of plays we run.

“We want to lead the country in the number of offensive plays we run. If you turn the ball over, obviously that limits it.”

TOUGH TASK: With Tuesday’s scrimmage closed to the media and no official statistics – or unofficial stats for that matter – a deciphering what happened became a difficult hurdle.

For instance, several players said Washington had the second interception. Another player credited the takeaway to Bates. Walt McFadden said Washington had a fumble recovery.

McCalebb’s touchdown was also in question. One account listed it as a 40-yard run. Another said it was 30 yards. A defensive player said the freshman scored from 5 yards out.

McFadden offered what seems to be the closest to reality -- mostly because he doesn't attempt to guess how long the run was.

“He had two big, long runs. He scored. I believe it was off a sweep,” McFadden said. “We lost contain on the edge.”

Truth is, it was nearly impossible to figure out what happened in the scrimmage. Getting information about any quarterbacks jumping to the top of the chart – or anything, really – was like trying to get a colonel to divulge covert operation missions.

Todd found it all especially amusing. When I asked him about DeAngelo Benton, he offered this gem: “Y’all didn’t see one play of this thing, did you?”

Don’t know what that means, but it doesn’t sound like anything good for Voodoo.

DEPTH QUEST: The most pressing issue facing offensive line coach Jeff Grimes when camp opened focused around finding depth beyond the starters.

A week into practice, Grimes is no closer to finding someone ready to emerge from the pack.

“There’s not anybody at this point that I’m ready to single out and say that they are really this close to being ready to play,” Grimes said.

The starting five was well established even before spring practice ended. Lee Ziemba and Andrew McCain will start at the tackles, Byron Isom and Mike Berry at the guards and Ryan Pugh is the starting center.

Beyond that, though, Grimes remains at a loss to figure out who the next man up will be.
He has been impressed with freshmen John Sullen and Andre Harris, but said it’s too soon to determine whether or not they’re ready to play.

“Whether or not they’re able to help us this year depends on a number of factors: on the other people, injuries, how some other guys come along in backup roles and how quickly they can learn the system as well.

“For a freshman to play, you’ve got to be intelligent, particularly on the offensive line. You’ve got to be able to know what to do, be able to think quickly, particularly in the offense we run. You don’t have a lot of time to discuss things so you’ve got to know the system. But the guy’s also got to be physically ready to play: got to be big enough, strong enough to get in there and mix it up with guys that are three-four years older than him and then the guy’s got to be emotionally stable enough to handle the pressure.”

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