Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday's notes

Auburn coach Gene Chizik isn't the only staff member with a checklist of questions he wants answered during Saturday's game.

Here's a look at what three offensive coaches want to see:

OL coach Jeff Grimes: "I want to see how tough our guys are. We talk about it all the time -- being a tough, physical offensive line -- one that dominates the line of scrimmage." He also wants to see how the line responds to surprises. Grimes thinks the linemen are prepared for what Louisiana Tech showed last year, but expects surprises. He wants to see how his players handle the unexpected and how they adjust.

WRs coach Trooper Taylor: Like most Auburn fans, Taylor wants to see which of his receivers will emerge as playmakers during the game. He's also interested to see how they are able to handle the fast-paced offense for an entire game.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn: As could be expected, Malzahn is mostly interested in how his offense fares in terms of not turning the ball over. He also wants to avoid "stupid" penalties and the offense to move at its intended pace. "If we do those three things, we have a decent chance to be successful."

YOUNG ENDS: DL coach Tracy Rocker said Wednesday that he wants to play all of his defensive linemen during Saturday's game.

All of them, that is, except Antoine "Hot" Carter, who Chizik ruled out on Tuesday, and sophomore Cam Henderson.

"He's not quite there yet. Just ain't there yet," Rocker said. "I feel good with what we've got."

It's probably not a good sign for Henderson that true freshmen Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae will both play in front of him on Saturday.

Rocker said he wouldn't hesitate to play either freshman because "they're going to have to play." He added that he felt comfortable with them. Then again, he doesn't have many options at the position and saying he's nervous about their play doesn't seem like it would be constructive.

Either way, Rocker expects mistakes from the freshmen during their debuts. He simply wants to see them give great effort -- especially after errors.

"The thing you don't want, you don't want the kid all of a sudden if he makes a mistake, gets frustrated and loses his spirit -- that's the thing I don't want," Rocker said. "But I keep stressing, 'You're going to be fine. Just keep battling and battling and we'll see what happens."

CATCHING ON: Taylor said Wednesday he is no closer to finalizing his loosely based six-receiver rotation than he was a few weeks ago.

Part of the problem is the questionable status of WR Darvin Adams, who is hampered with an undisclosed injury. Taylor didn't say whether he thinks Adams will play.

"I’m hoping to see him out there," Taylor said. "Keeping my fingers crossed."

The confirmed receivers who will see time are Terrell Zachery, DeAngelo "Voodoo" Benton, Emory Blake and Kodi Burns. Several other candidates seem just outside the rotation.

WR Philip Pierre-Louis, however, does not seem like he will see time on Saturday, nor does it sound like PPL is in good shape to play much all year.

"He’s got some stuff he’s got to take care of, and he understands that," Taylor said. "He’s another guy who can be a role player for us once he takes care of business."

Pierre-Louis missed the first half of camp while dealing with what Taylor termed "personal issues."

FIVE IS PLENTY: While Rocker and Taylor plan to cycle players in and out of the game, Grimes hopes he doesn't have to do the same.

Auburn's offensive line is dangerously low on depth. Grimes still cringes when thinking about committing to a particular player as his "first off the bench."

As a result, he said he wouldn't substitute any of his starters in an ideal situation.

"If it's a competitive game all the way through and everybody stays healthy, we'll probably stay with five," Grimes said.

Though Grimes didn't commit to one specific player to come off the bench, he did list some reserves based on position. Vance Smith, John Sullen and Bart Eddins would be the first to check in at tackle, guard and center, respectively.

However, Grimes cautions that he would consider moving starters around to fill voids depending on the injury.

"That's what those guys would play but it doesn't necessarily mean if I had to plug a guard in that John would necessarily go into the game, or if I had to plug a tackle in that Vance would necessarily go in," Grimes said.

Guard Mike Berry might be the most valuable player in this instance because he can play center and tackle as well. Berry's versatility likely enables Grimes to insert any of the three top reserves into the game based on which player he thinks is most competent.

DIFFERENT DEBUT: Two years ago, Chizik lost his head-coaching debut.

To Kent State.


After losing his second game, to FCS opponent Northern Iowa, Chizik did bounce back by beating Iowa State's rival, Iowa. The Cyclones then finished 3-9.

Chizik understandably prefers to avoid talking about his two-year stint in Ames, Iowa and his 5-19 career record. However, he has acknowledged on a few occasions that he is better prepared for the Auburn job because of the experience.

When asked how he feels heading into this game in comparison to the Kent State game in 2007, Chizik said there is no comparison.

"A lot different simply just because two years ago it was the first time I had ever gone into a game as head coach and all that stuff is behind me now," Chizik said. "I’m excited because this is my first time going into a game as the head coach at Auburn. As far as the head coaching thing, and the way I feel now versus two years ago is night and day, but really excited to be back here.”

DON’T SHAKE THINGS UP: In attempt to encourage good sportsmanship, the American Football Coaches Association and NCAA are encouraging teams to shake hands before every game starts this weekend.

Not all teams are adhering to the suggestion. That list apparently includes Auburn.

Chizik said he is not aware if that is in the plans and doesn't think it's going to happen.

That doesn't mean Chizik dislikes the idea.

"I don't feel strongly either way, to be honest with you," Chizik said. "There are some really good points for it.

"I'm sure that logistically the issues of timing and getting the game started and just all of the general public wouldn't really take into consideration, those things do occur, especially when you have great traditions before the game, when you run out, all the things that happen. I'm sure it's not just as easy as you walking out and doing a hand shake, so I think there are probably a lot of issues out there if you take the other side."

SPECIAL FORCES: Eguae has a simple plan for this weekend -- catch Chizik's eye however he can.

Though Eguae knows he will get some snaps at defensive end, he also plans to take advantage of every special teams opportunity he gets as well.

"I just want to go out there and knock a head off," Eguae said. "I think just going out there, every chance I get is to just show coach Chiz that I want it. And just go down there and just knock a head off, that's what I want to do."

SENIOR ADVICE: Senior CB Walt McFadden is always good for a good anecdote or quote whenever he speaks with the media.

Tuesday was no different.

Asked what he is telling the younger guys for their first game experience, McFadden gave a surprising answer about the team's Friday night hotel stay.

"A lot of guys just can’t wait to get to the hotel because there will be a lot of great food there," McFadden said. "They’ve been talking about the chicken wings lately, so I’ve been giving them advice how to eat a couple of wings, and take a couple to your room, a couple for snacks after that.

"Other than that, I’ve been telling them to be calm, that it will be very fast, and a lot of things that won’t be at practice. They’re going to come out with little plays and new formations. We just have to learn how to adjust to them."

That's what makes Walt McFadden a surefire Auburn beat writers All-American.

REMEMBERING HOWARD: During the brief time Auburn safeties coach Tommy Thigpen has been on the job, he got to know former Lincoln HS coach Keith Howard fairly well.

Thigpen said Wednesday that Howard's tragic death last week left him "dumbfounded." Howard died from a heart attack last Friday night during his team's season opener.

Here is the entirety of Thigpen's comment:

"I was dumbfounded. Of course this is the most tragic thing that happens. He’s one of the guys I was going to lean on a lot because he’s an Auburn guy – a guy who loved this place, loved his kids. His kids respected him greatly. When you talked to him, he didn’t seem like he was stressed at all. He was always carefree and always in a good mood. It was devastating for a guy like that to be that young and see what he brought to the community. Just a tragic thing and a tragic thing for the community."

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