Monday, December 28, 2009

Chizik: 'They Got Our Message'

Gene Chizik said during Monday’s Outback Bowl press conference that he thought his team had a better workout Monday than it did during the first workout in Tampa.

The first-year coach described Sunday’s practice as rusty, but thought his team rebounded well.

“I thought the tempo today was much better,” Chizik said. “I thought the focus was much better. They got our message and it was really just trying to get our team refocused after a couple of days off. I feel like we did that today.”

Chizik said the question never surrounded the team’s effort, but rather focus. He said Christmas along with a short break and traveling to Tampa might have distracted the team.

“There are a lot of moving parts coming in,” he said.

Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen agreed with the assessment that the team practiced at a higher level Monday.

“Guys flew around a lot better than it was yesterday,” he said. “Yesterday, we were kind of sluggish and you could tell guys had been off. You could tell guys were a lot more crisp, guys looked a lot more rested, a lot fresher, a lot more alert. Pleased, we still got a lot of little stuff to correct upon. For the majority of the part, it was a good day.”

DEDICATING THE GAME: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday that his team is dedicating its Outback Bowl performance to defensive line coach Marty Long.

Long underwent emergency surgery to remove a growth. The team has not commented on the growth’s nature or location. Long, 45, did not make the trip to Tampa with the team and will not be at Friday’s game.

Fitzgerald said Long got “some great news” on Monday.

“He’s getting better and improving every day,” Fitzgerald said. “(He) had a little bit of double vision. That’s now gone away. As I said yesterday, we’re going to dedicate this game to him. It breaks our heart that he cannot be here with us, but we’re thinking about him and praying for his speedy recovery. We fully expect and anticipate him to recover. Us not having him here, it’s like not having one of your family here.”

Fitzgerald said the defensive line has continued working hard without its coach. Senior Corey Wootton has run position meetings.

THIGPEN EXPECTS MEYER TO RETURN: Florida coach Urban Meyer’s retirement and subsequent reversal to “leave of absence” caught Thigpen by surprise.

Thigpen worked for Meyer at Bowling Green and understands how the coach’s passion could cause him to burn out.

Still, Thigpen doesn’t expect the leave to be permanent.

“I worked with Urban when he was with Bowling Green and we know he was passionate at a young age,” Thigpen said. “I never thought that he would be resigning at this point in his career. But if I know Urban, take some time off and he'll be back.”

NO COMMITMENT: Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba is likely Auburn’s greatest junior NFL prospect.

If he has considered jumping to the pros instead of returning for his senior season, he isn’t letting on.

“I’m focusing on the bowl game right now,” Ziemba said. “That’s something that’s in the future that we’ll have to look at but I’m not focused on that right now. I’m focused on playing Northwestern and beating them.”

Asked to specify if that leap is under consideration, the second-team all-SEC lineman again avoided a direct answer.

“I’m not even thinking about it right now,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to be thinking about. I’m thinking about beating Northwestern right now.”

Ziemba has started every game since coming to Auburn as a true freshman in 2007.

ROCKY RIDE: Chizik has said all week that he wants his team to keep a business-first approach while also enjoying its time in Tampa.

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor has apparently taken that message to heart. Minutes after stepping off the practice field, Taylor had already switched gears to thinking about the afternoon events.

Monday that meant a team outing to Busch Gardens.

“They're going to have to dynamite me out of there,” Taylor said. “My son (Blaise) has called me about three or four times this morning to see what time we're going to be out there. The receivers are going to meet as a group and we're going to see who can ride the most roller coasters. The money's on me, I'm telling you. We're going to stick together as a group and see how much fun we can have.”

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