Friday, October 16, 2009

Cleaning out the notebook

Auburn announced a 12:30 kickoff time for its Nov. 7 Homecoming game against Furman.

The game will be televised on Pay-Per-View.

PHILLIPS HAS LEFT TEAM: Gene Chizik said Wednesday that OL Aubrey Phillips has left the football program and is not currently in Auburn.

Chizik wouldn’t specifically say Phillips has withdrawn from classes, but said “right now he’s not here.”

“Aubrey is dealing with some medical issues as we all know,” Chizik said. “So he's kind of working through those personal, medical-type issues that we know he's got.”

Phillips went through two practices during preseason before suffering what Chizik termed a “non-football episode of some things medically that we’re pressing through.”

The Olive Branch, Miss. native did not return to practice after the incident.

Initially, Phillips signed with Florida State out of high school. During summer workouts, though, he had a falling out with FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett.

The Seminoles subsequently released Phillips from his scholarship in late July, allowing him to transfer to Auburn. Chizik said after Phillips arrived on campus that the university would attempt to get a waiver to allow Phillips eligibility to play immediately instead of sitting out because of NCAA transfer rules.

Chizik never said if the NCAA granted the request.

Though Phillips is not currently with the team, Chizik did not close the door on a potential return.

“It's kind of a day by day situation just medically again the issues that he's got to work through,” Chizik said. “As we know that's kind of been the situation since almost the first day of practice. We'll play that by ear.”

REFOCUSED: Several players and coaches pinned last week’s loss to Arkansas on a lack of focus.

That, Chizik said, has not been the case this week.

“Really, really proud of our focus. I think guys kind of got re-tracked or refocused back in on what we needed to,” Chizik said. “We've had two good days of practice. I thought they were a little more physical than they have been in the past. So that was good to see. Obviously, we have another day of practice tomorrow where we need to continue and have some consistency in the way we're preparing but I fully expect that to happen.”

Chizik said he has also made some minor changes to practice.

The biggest difference has been an increase in physicality.

“We had to roll the dice a little bit,” Chizik said. “We had to up the tempo some and do a little less scout team stuff and a little more against each other. Just got to kind of bring that physical nature back to what we're doing. I feel like we weren't as physical of a football team that we needed to be this past Saturday, but again we're trying to be smart with the issues that we know depth-wise but again trying to get some fastball looks out there.”

Chizik also said LB Eltoro Freeman returned to practice, but added he’s still not committed to the sophomore playing Saturday.

Chizik said Freeman did not travel with the team to Arkansas because of personal issues.

SMALL CHANGES: Chizik said Sunday that Auburn needs to different answers in special teams.

He reconfirmed that there would be some changes this week, whether in personnel or scheme.
Special teams coach Jay Boulware said he isn’t sure what changes there are to make.

“There might be a few minor changes, but nothing significant,” Boulware said. “If we had
somewhere to go, we would have already done it. We’re just going to tie a knot at the end of the rope and hold on.”

Auburn had another rough day in special teams – especially in kickoff coverage.

Arkansas’ Dennis Johnson busted returns of 50 and 70 yards against the Tigers. The last of the long returns put the Razorbacks in position to put Auburn away in the fourth quarter.

“The thing that stood out to us the most was that we didn’t have anybody make a play,” Boulware said. “We forced them to change directions three or four times, but nobody wanted to go get him. Everybody was kind of passive.

“Coach Chizik brought to my attention: `I think we had five walk-ons out there, J.B.’ I thought about it, `We had five walk-ons out there?’ I looked back on the list and it was actually seven. We didn’t make a play. We have to make a play. We have to teach our guys to make a play.”

DOUBLE-TEAMED: When the season started, one of the questions was which receivers would emerge for Auburn.

QB Chris Todd quickly took notice that WRs Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery could be those players. So, too, did opposing defenses.

As a result, opponents have focused more attention on the two primary Auburn receivers – especially Adams.

“They know where he's at. Let’s put it that way,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “We like to think that we're an offense that tries to take what they can give you. Sometimes they take away certain things and what we've got to do a better job of is taking better advantage of what they give us. Darvin and T-Zach have both had very solid seasons and have performed well for us. And so that has a lot to do with it.”

Adams has been Todd’s favorite target. He has 25 catches for 387 yards and five touchdowns.
Zachery has been the big-play threat. He has 15 receptions that have gone for 329 yards. He also has four touchdowns, including a 93-yarder in the season opener against Louisiana Tech.
However, only four other receivers have any catches. Walk-on Jay Wisner leads that group with three receptions.

“The longer you go the more you have to have a third guy or even a fourth guy – some guys to get involved and take some pressure off our main guys,” Malzahn said. “We're working hard to do that and we're hoping we have some guys in the wings that can do that.”

True freshmen DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake were believed to be in the mix to be players who stepped up. However, Benton has struggled this season and has yet to record a catch. Blake rarely takes offensive snaps.

Tim Hawthorne enjoyed a spring that impressed receivers coach Trooper Taylor, but he hasn’t seen extensive playing time since returning from a broken foot.

One answer could be Philip Pierre-Louis, who Chizik held out for the first four games for unexplained reasons. Pierre-Louis missed the first two weeks of preseason camp. Taylor said he was working on personal issues.

Though Pierre-Louis came back as a punt returner against Tennessee, Chizik said after the game that he was not practicing with the offense.

Taylor said Thursday that Pierre-Louis has begun working as a receiver – his natural position – and could start seeing snaps on offense.

“He was playing the 3 position, the bubble guy, the reverse guy, that sort of stuff,” Taylor said. “He's got a knack for finding little holes in the defense and setting it down. You could see him also out wide as a 2.

“He's done that and he's earned that.”

BYE THE WAY: With depth a consistent concern for Auburn, the Tigers find themselves entering the midway point desperately in need of a break that isn’t coming soon.

Auburn’s schedule is set up for a Week 12 bye, giving the Tigers a week off only before the Alabama game.

Six games into the season, that has become a concern for Chizik.

“No question. We’re racking our brains day and night trying to figure out how to keep our guys,” Chizik said. “It’s a new guy or two every week, and right now we’re in a very physical place in our schedule, with six games to go. We’re trying to work our way through, and have got to.”

Chizik often ducks controversial topics. That didn’t change when he was asked if he would like the bye to be earlier in the season.

“There are pros and cons to all of it. If you are sitting here and have three recruiting classes under our belt and feel like our scholarship numbers are where they need to be and things of that nature, then on later in the season doesn’t necessarily mean what it does right now,” Chizik said. “I don’t know. It depends on how I feel about my team. I think there are good things about having one in the middle of the season, and good things about having one at the end.

“I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying I’m not going to answer that question.”

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