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.

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