Monday, July 27, 2009

WRs overview

Among the biggest questions surrounding Auburn’s program right now, “Who’s going to catch passes?” ranks behind only who will start at quarterback.

The question isn’t talent. The Tigers have plenty of that. Ask receivers coach Trooper Taylor what he thinks about potential, though. “Like I tell all these guys: That’s the worst thing someone can say about you because it means you haven’t done it yet,” Taylor said.

With Montez Billings’ status in question, there’s not a proven commodity Auburn knows it can count on when the Tigers open on Sept. 5.

Of all the positions, receiver is the one where a player Auburn fans aren’t necessarily accustomed to watching needs to emerge from obscurity.

As for the tight end/H-back positions, Auburn knows Mario Fannin will be counted on to carry a hefty load out of the backfield. The tight end position, though, isn’t yet clear.


2 – Terrell Zachery, Jr.
Quindarius Carr, So.
Travante Stallworth, Fr.
Philip Pierre-Louis, So.
Anthony Gulley, Fr.

5 – Darvin Adams, So.
Tommy Trott, Sr.
Derek Winter, So.

9 – DeAngelo “Voodoo” Benton, Fr.
Emory Blake, Fr.


Tim Hawthorne, Jr. (leg injury)
Montez Billings, Sr. (unspecified academics)


Mario Fannin, Jr.
John Douglas, So.


Gabe McKenzie, Sr.
Bailey Woods, So.
Philip Lutzenkirchen, Fr.


Tim Hawthorne, Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachery were atop the depth chart when spring practice concluded. Before Hawthorne suffered an injury to his ankle, Taylor said they would start there when two-a-days opened. With Hawthorne out, look for an open competition at the other receiver spot.

Billings will play a big role in the offense – and could start – if he can get his academic situation cleared up. Gene Chizik said last week that Billings would play this season. The question is when. He will open fall camp with the Tigers.

The positions have different roles and each player is seemingly getting coached at the spots one at a time. As it has been explained to me, the 2-position is a slot-type receiver in that he’s lined up close to the line. Sometimes, though, he is the outside receiver in that nobody flanks him. This is the spot that will receive numerous reverses. The 5-position is an outside receiver that sometimes moves inside if he’s on the same side as the 9-position. The 9 seems to be a true flanker.

With Hawthorne out and Billings unclear, don’t be surprised to see Voodoo Benton and Emory Blake engage in a two-man battle for a starting spot.

Tommy Trott and Philip Pierre-Louis migh have put themselves behind the 8-ball this spring because of missing practices while recovering from injuries. Taylor was not amused that they missed practices and even fired off a few barbs at them, including “You can’t make the club from the tub.” Trott represented Auburn at SEC Media Days though, so he must be in Chizik’s good graces.

Quindarius Carr often looks smooth in practices, but has yet to translate that into game production. Taylor likes Carr's tools, but wants to see him gain additional toughness.

At H-back, Mario Fannin will start. If Auburn’s offense is working, he will probably have to touch the ball at least 10 times a game – regardless of how he gets it. The more Fannin touches the ball, the better Gus Malzahn’s offense will run. (That's a pretty sturdy limb I found to climb onto).

John Douglas impressed tight ends coach Jay Boulware during the spring. He is more of a true fullback and could be used in short-yardage situations.

Gabe McKenzie missed spring while working through medical issues. He should battle with true freshman Philip Lutzenkirchen for the starting tight end spot.


Taylor on newcomers getting a chance early in fall camp: “Here’s what I told the (returning) guys that were here: Their time was this spring. When these freshmen come in, they’ll get more reps than the guys that were here already because that’s the only way we’ll find out. The guys that were here got 15 days in the spring. The freshmen get 10 in two-a-days to get it done.”

Taylor on why Zachery and Adams emerged to the top of the depth chart: “Those two guys, if you’re looking for tough and you’re looking for physical, I’d take those two every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I was really, really proud of those two guys coming out of the spring.”

Taylor on missing practices with injuries: “If it was up to me, I’d put them in pink jerseys. I wouldn’t give them an off-color jersey to protect them. I’d put them in pink because I can’t stand that. They’d have to shoot me to keep me out from practicing with my teammates. I want to see guys push through it to be out there. To me it’s just a big deal.
“One thing you can’t do is sugarcoat because life’s not that way. If you want them to carry themselves a certain way – if you want them to understand expectations – you’ve got to tell them and show them.”

Zachery on Blake and Benton: “I consider Benton not even a freshman anymore. He’s been here a while, so he kind of has an understanding of everything. But Benton is probably looking the best of anybody, but Blake is looking good too.”

CB Walt McFadden on Benton: “He's going to be a great receiver. He’s still learning the offense. He’s probably got 70 percent of the offense down. Montez is really pulling him along because we’re going to need him. Trust me. I think we’re going to see some big plays out of him.”

S Zac Etheridge on Benton: “I’ve seen some things from Benton that I’m impressed about him. He can get out of his breaks and he has soft hands. I think Benton will make a big impact on this receiver corps this year.”

Etheridge on Blake: “He seems like he’s catching on with the offense and what they’re trying to do. Believe it or not, I haven’t seen him drop a ball yet. I’ve seen a little burst when he gets the ball. He knows what to do and he gets up the field. He’s outstanding for me.”

Zachery on his first years at Auburn: “I feel like I haven’t had a chance to show all of my abilities, show everything I can do. But I feel like I can do that this year.”

Zachery on living up to expectations: “I don’t feel like we really have, but I know we’re a lot better than what people think we are. And that’s one thing that we’re going to this year: we’re going to prove it.”

McFadden on Lutzenkirchen: “He’s doing good. He’s out there running his routes well. He’s asking a whole bunch of questions. He’s doing a lot of things that you wouldn’t expect a freshman to do.”

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday notebook

Gene Chizik confirmed Friday that four players on the 2008 roster would not return for the coming season.

Chizik kicked sophomore defenders Marcus Jemison, Christian Thompson and Jomarcus Savage off the team in late June. The coach also said long snapper Dax Dellenbach, who was on scholarship, would not return this season.

Defensive end Cameron Henderson and receiver Philip Pierre-Louis both are still in the program. Asked specifically about their standing on the team, Chizik stopped short of declaring them safe.

“Those guys right now, they’re still on our football team and the ones that are not are the ones that I just mentioned,” he said.

The Montez Billings situation remains equally vague. Auburn’s top returning receiver, who Chizik said at the end of spring practice was trying to work through some academic issues, is working out with the team.

Chizik said Billings would open fall camp with the team. However, Chizik said he doesn’t yet know when Billings will play in a game.

“He’s definitely going to play this fall. That’s for sure,” Chizik said. “We’re still working through some of the other issues, but he will be playing this fall.”

Billings graduated in May. There have been no specifications on the “academic issue.”

Billings will break camp with the team, but it’s not clear whether fellow receiver Tim Hawthorne can do the same. Chizik admitted Hawthorne suffered an ankle injury over the summer.

Per Chizik’s injury policies, he did not reveal how long team physicians predict he will be sidelined.

Chizik didn’t hazard guesses for defensive backs Aairon Savage or Mike McNeil either. Aairon Savage suffered an Achilles injury in June and will reportedly miss the entire season. Chizik said Friday he hasn’t ruled out the senior returning this year.

McNeil suffered a broken leg during a spring scrimmage. Chizik isn’t sure how much time McNeil still needs to recover, but hinted it could still be a while.

“I don’t know but I do know he’s making a lot of progress,” Chizik said. “You’ll probably ask me the same thing in three weeks and I’ll probably give you the same answer.”

FRESH FACES: One thing Chizik did reveal Friday is that he expects freshmen to come in and compete for jobs immediately – especially at receiver and linebacker.

On the offensive line, though, he’s not necessarily expecting help from tackle Aubrey Phillips.

The true freshman originally signed with and reported to Florida State. However, he immediately left the team after FSU released him from his scholarship.

Phillips committed to Auburn earlier in the week, but has yet to sign with the Tigers.

“Right now the ones that we signed are the ones that we’ve got for sure,” Chizik said. “Most of those are already here on campus. As the days unfold if there’s anyone new that’s added, I don’t consider them added until they show up.”

TEBOW TALK: In a pre-press conference meeting with beat reporters, Chizik refused to indicate whether he voted Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to the first-team all-SEC unit.

He did an about-face during the press conference, though, admitting that he voted for Tebow.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier turned out to be the coach who didn’t vote for Tebow. Spurrier blamed the error on his director of football operations. He also changed his vote from Ole Miss’ Jevan Snead to Tebow.

COLOR ME BOTH: Former coach Tommy Tuberville parted from Auburn tradition by asking fans to wear orange on football game days.

Chizik isn’t as picky. Blue, orange, Chizik doesn’t care as long as fans are supporting the team.

“Our colors are navy blue and orange, so those are the two colors I vote for,” Chizik said. “I love them both. I guess it depends on what you look best in.”

SEC Media Days: Chizik Live

We'll start with the headliner: "Yes, I did vote for Tim Tebow."

On the billboards: "Everything we do will be in the direction of promoting Auburn University. We'll always do what's in the best interest of Auburn."

On a comparison between the SEC and Big 12: "Two great conferences. Arguably the two best in the country. I think time has proven that. I think the Big 12 has made leaps and bounds in the last four years. The Big 12 is leaps and bounds better than it was five years ago, in my opinion, from top to bottom... In my opinion, there's no greater league than the SEC... Do I think this is the best conference in the country? I do. Do I think the Big 12 is a great conference? I do."

Feel any need to keep staff that was there under Tuberville: "When you take over a job you have to do what you think is best for the program... I used my best discernment on which ones I needed to keep and which ones I reluctantly had to let go. Those are tough, tough decisions. In the name of making the best staff in the country, which was my goal, I had to make some tough decisions."

On being low-key: "I've got three children and my wife. I get plenty of attention when I go home. What gets you attention is when you win. It's that simple. I don't have to go out and gather attention for myself. It's not about me. It's about Auburn... I don't care to draw a lot of attention to myself. It's just who I am."

On interest in the Central Florida job a few years ago: "I don't live in the past... That's not the way I operate."

Increasing salaries for assistants: "I think it's great. I was an assistant three years ago and I don't forget. Let me tell you something: These guys sacrifice a lot. They sacrifice with their families. They sacrifice their time... I love the fact that the money for the assistants is starting to rise. It's very valid in my opinion. As far as me being a head coach... we want to do everything we can do to help them and their families."

Recruiting: "When we went out recruiting, we tried to recruit the right guy."

On DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake: "I'll simply say they're talented guys, in our opinion. It's going to take them some time to get used to all the things you have to do to play well in this league. ... We hope they can step up to the plate and help our offense this year. In a perfect world that's certainly what would happen."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

O-Line overview

On a team full of positions that can’t afford injuries, Auburn’s offensive line is probably the most desperate group to keep the starters on the field.

Line coach Jeff Grimes knows, barring injury, exactly who will start this year. There is no probably contender for a starting job outside of those five. I asked both Grimes and center Ryan Pugh which player is most likely to come off the bench. Neither of them could give me an answer.

Then again, Grimes said, this isn’t the worst depth situation he has inherited. When Grimes took over at Colorado, he had only five linemen on scholarship.

Playing through injuries will not be important for the starting five this year. It will be imperative. Ask Pugh. “It’s do or die every week,” Pugh said. “You can’t sit out a week with a bruise when you could be playing… We spent the 15 days in the spring showing the guys how tough we can be without depth. It’s something I think is going to pay off for us at the end.”

That could explain why Pugh spent the final week of spring practice playing through a broken femur. It’s also a major reason why tackle Lee Ziemba played through a significant knee injury throughout the 2008 season.

There is little doubt this line can be good enough to help Auburn run the ball. The question is: If injuries occur, where do the Tigers turn?


LT – Lee Ziemba, Jr.
LG – Byron Isom, Sr.
C – Ryan Pugh, Jr.
RG – Mike Berry, Jr.
RT – Andrew McCain, Sr.


OL – Bart Eddins, Jr.
OL – Kyle Coulahan, So.
OL – Rudy Odom, Sr.
T – A.J. Greene, So.
T – Vance Smith, So.
OL – John Sullen, Fr.
OL – Andre Harris, Fr.
OL – Darrell Roseman, Jr.
OL – Charles Bates, RFr.


T – Aubrey Phillips, Fr.


Ziemba says he’s healthy after undergoing surgery shortly after the 2008 season. That’s great news for the Tigers. After a breakout true freshman campaign, Ziemba disappointed last year. He gave up some crucial sacks and committed some momentum- and drive-killing penalties. Auburn desperately needs Ziemba to be the dominant tackle he has already proven capable of being.

Pugh split time between tackle and center last year. He will spend the entire season at center this year. Grimes likes Pugh’s ability and his leadership. Grimes has also worked Mike Berry and Bart Eddins at center in case of emergency.

Grimes also feels good about Auburn’s guard tandem. Both Byron Isom and Berry spent time in the starting lineup a year ago. This year they both know they have big leads for starting jobs.

Andrew McCain is the newcomer along the starting unit. The right tackle spent the last three years buried on Hugh Nall’s depth chart. McCain has made the most of the coaching change and has seized the starting spot.

Grimes wants to redshirt both true freshmen John Sullen and Andre Harris. He knows, however, that might not be possible. For the same reason, Aubrey Phillips could be in the mix as a primary backup if he gets a waiver from the NCAA.

The list of guys on standby in case of injury is long. Many reserve linemen spent significant time on the sideline with injuries. Fall camp will be important for players vying for top reserve jobs. The primary prospects seem to be Eddins, Kyle Coulahan and Rudy Odom. A.J. Greene missed all spring with mono and Darrell Roseman has struggled through shin injuries throughout his career.

Vance Smith, a converted tight end, probably still needs to gain significant weight before entering the conversation for playing time.


Grimes said he saw constant improvement along his line throughout the spring: “They’re much more physical. I think they’ve learned how to go harder longer. That’s something that’s important to us in this offense because our goal is to go as fast as we can and wear down our opponent. We can’t do that very well if we’re the ones getting worn out. I think we’re further along in terms of technique. We’re still in the middle of that progression where I feel like we can jump on the field and feel comfortable about where we are.”

Grimes saw Ziemba’s potential over the second half of spring practice: “I think he was pretty healthy from the first day but there was a point somewhere around the mid-point of spring ball where he just kind of took off – where he just kind of made a decision that it was really important for him to play hard and play physical and get ready to play. I saw a different side of him once he made that decision.”

Grimes on why McCain seemingly walked into a starting spot: “I looked at enough of him. I just went back and found the games where he played a little bit last year. I think I saw enough to see that this guy has the potential to play offensive tackle and we didn’t have a lot of other guys at the time.
“I think he was one of those guys that really took full advantage of getting a fresh start. For whatever reason the light bulb flashed on for him this spring. Even though he doesn’t have as much experience, he’s playing like a guy that does have a lot of experience. He’s very intelligent. He can take coaching and can apply it to his game and get better in a short amount of time. He really works hard. He’s got a great work ethic and we saw that even before we got to spring. He’s got a good frame. He moves his feet pretty well.
“He’s a guy that just has, in a lot of ways, surpassed a lot of guys’ expectations but he may have benefited from the fact that I told him when I got here that I didn’t have any expectations – ‘You’re starting fresh with me.’”

Pugh on Auburn’s need to return to a power run game: “I think you still have the run game and that’s been, over the years, something that’s never changed. As far as football has gone, there have been different ways to get to the run game, but if you look at the success of teams across the country, the teams that can run the ball the best tend to be playing for championships and tend to have a good record. When you run the ball it’s hard for the other team to score because you’re eating up the clock and if you have a good defense combined with the run game you’re going to be successful.”

Pugh on if there was a new level of energy upon Grimes’ arrival: “There was definitely a new level. There comes a point where you’re going to have a relationship with your position coach. Coach Grimes definitely brought in a new level of energy and at the same time he brought in a completely different coaching style.
“That’s something that maybe favors the players a bit more than the way coach Nall did things, but that was the way – coach Nall had a way that we was going to do things and he wasn’t going to get off track with how he did things and he was a very successful offensive line coach. There was no urge for him to change. Maybe his coaching style didn’t work with this group of players. Oftentimes that happens. That’s just part of the game.
“Coach Grimes has brought in a new style, a new energy. There’s always going to be a new energy with change. Coach Grimes has brought in a positive aspect on the offensive line. I think he’s made a good relationship with all the guys whereas in the past you might have some guys that felt like they didn’t get the chance they deserved. I think everyone just hit it off well with coach Grimes. He has a different style, different personality, completely different than what we’ve had in the past.”

Pugh on differences between Grimes and Nall:
“They’re polar opposites.”

Night moves

Fox Sports Net announced Wednesday that it picked up the Auburn-Mississippi State game at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 12. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

The announcement means the Tigers' first three games will all be played under the lights. Auburn's opener, against Louisiana Tech, can be seen on ESPNU at 6 p.m.

ESPN also picked up Auburn's Week 3 game against West Virginia. The network has yet to decide if the game will air on ESPN or ESPN2. Game time is 6:45 p.m.

Most of Auburn's games this year are supposed to be televised, but many of the others have not yet been picked up by networks. The other time Auburn will appear on television is the Nov. 27 Iron Bowl, which kicks off at 1:30 p.m.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Phillips chooses Auburn

More than five months after OT Aubrey Phillips spurned Auburn for Florida State, the incoming freshman has decided that's where he wants to play.

Phillips, who was granted a full release from FSU after he reported in mid-June, chose Auburn over Arkansas. and Inside The Auburn Tigers first reported the news. Phillips said he would enroll in school in August.

The next issue is whether or not FSU grants Phillips a waiver to play in the 2009 season. If not, Phillips has to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules.

Auburn is in dire need for offensive line depth, something Phillips could provide.

The Tigers have also added two more recruits to the 2010 class. Both ATH D.J. Howard (Lincoln HS) and DB Demetruce McNeal announced their verbal commitments to Auburn over the last three days.

Read tomorrow's Anniston Star for a full report on Howard's decision to sign with the Tigers.

Auburn now has 11 total commitments this summer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

O-line help on its way? and Inside The Auburn Tigers EDIT: and Auburn Undercover reported a potentially major story this weekend when the web sites interviewed former AU recruit Aubrey Phillips.

If you recall, the four-star offensive tackle considered the Tigers strongly this year during his recruitment. Ultimately he chose Florida State.

Phillips said he has now received a full release from FSU. In other words, he can enroll at any school he chooses.

Why is this a big story? Phillips spent at least part of Sunday in Auburn. He told ITAT that he was choosing between Auburn and Arkansas. Phillips told that he might spend Sunday night in Auburn.

According to the AuburnSports report, Phillips said he was told by Gene Chizik that there is a spot for him if he chooses the Tigers.

Phillips' teammate, cornerback Daren Bates, signed with Auburn in February.

Phillips could be huge for the Tigers because they are desperate for offensive line depth.


I apologize that the blogging has slowed over the last few days. I hosted some friends from out of town over the weekend and was working on a new project earlier in the week.

As of tomorrow, you can find Anniston Star SEC preview podcasts here. We will post a new podcast every day for the next 12 days, previewing every SEC team. Please let me know what you do and don't like about the podcasts because it's something I plan to continue through the season if the interest is there.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ramsey sues former AU employees

Former Auburn lineman Chaz Ramsey sued former OL coach Hugh Nall and trainer Arnold Gamber on Thursday.

Ramsey alleges that treatment from Nall and Gamber pushed him too hard while recovering from back surgery. Ultimately, Ramsey required another surgery that ended his playing career.

Ramsey started 10 games as a true freshman in 2007. He was named to the all-SEC all-freshman team that year.

For more details, read tomorrow's Anniston Star.

Coaches' All-SEC team, Practice date set

Looking up and down the Auburn roster, SEC coaches found difficulty in singling out premier players. That undoubtedly was part explanation and part cause of the Tigers' 5-7 season a year ago.

Auburn placed a pair of players -- DE Antonio Coleman and OT Lee Ziemba -- on the second-team all-SEC squad. RB Ben Tate made the third-team.

No Auburn player was named first-team all-SEC.

Breakdown by team:
1. Florida - 16
2. LSU - 9
T3. Alabama, Georgia - 8
T5. Ole Miss, Tennessee - 7
7. Kentucky - 6
8. Vanderbilt - 5
T9. Arkansas, South Carolina - 4
11. Auburn - 3
12. Mississippi State - 2

Here's a look at the teams:

First-team offense
QB – Tim Tebow, Florida
RB – Michael Smith, Arkansas
RB – Charles Scott, LSU
WR – Julio Jones, Alabama
WR – A.J. Green, Georgia
TE – Richard Dickson, LSU
OL – Ciron Black, LSU
OL – Mike Johnson, Alabama
OL – Mike Pouncey, Florida
OL – John Jerry, Ole Miss
C – Maurkice Pouncey, Florida

Second-team offense
QB – Jevan Snead, Ole Miss
RB – Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State
RB – Jeff Demps, Florida
WR – Brandon LaFell, LSU
WR – Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss
TE – D.J. Williams, Arkansas
OL – Lee Ziemba, Auburn
OL – Clint Boling, Tennessee
OL – Chris Scott, Tennessee
OL – Carl Johnson, Florida
OL – Cordy Glenn, Georgia
C – Josh McNeil, Tennessee

Third-team offense
QB – Stephen Garcia, South Carolina
QB – Mike Hartline, Kentucky
RB – Mark Ingram, Alabama
RB – Ben Tate, Auburn
WR – Shay Hodge, Ole Miss
WR – Terrance Tolliver, LSU
WR – Gerald Jones, Tennessee
TE – Aaron Hernandez, Florida
OL – Jacques McClendon, Tennessee
OL – Zipp Duncan, Kentucky
OL – Mitch Petrus, Arkansas
OL – Trinton Sturdivant, Georgia
C – Jorge Gonzalez

First-team defense
DL – Terrence Cody, Alabama
DL – Greg Hardy, Ole Miss
DL – Carlos Dunlap, Florida
LB – Ronaldo McClain, Alabama
LB – Brandon Spikes, Florida
LB – Rennie Curran, Georgia
LB – Eric Norwood, South Carolina
DB – Eric Berry, Tennessee
DB – Javier Arenas, Alabama
DB – Trevard Lindley, Kentucky
DB – Joe Haden, Florida

Second-team defense
DL – Charles Alexander, LSU
DL – Antonio Coleman, Auburn
DL – Geno Atkins, Georgia
DL – Dan Williams, Tennessee
DL – Malcolm Sheppard, Arkansas
LB – Micah Johnson, Kentucky
LB – Patrick Benoist, Vanderbilt
LB – Rico McCoy, Tennessee
LB – Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
DB – Ahmad Black, Florida
DB – Chad Jones, LSU
DB – Prince Miller, Georgia
DB – Myron Lewis, Vanderbilt

Third-team defense
DL – Jeff Owens, Georgia
DL – Marcus Tillman, Ole Miss
DL – Rahim Alem, LSU
DL – Corey Peters, Kentucky
LB – Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
LB – Jamar Chaney, Mississippi State
LB – Ryan Stamper, Florida
LB – Perry Riley, LSU
DB – Major Wright, Florida
DB – Janoris Jenkins, Florida
DB – Ryan Hamilton, Vanderbilt
DB – Chris Culliver, South Carolina
DB – Reshad Jones, Georgia

First-team specialists
PK – Leigh Tiffin, Alabama
P – Chas Henry, Florida
RS – Brandon James, Florida

Second-team specialists
PK – Jonathan Phillips, Florida
P – Brett Upson, Vanderbilt
RS – Javier Arenas, Alabama

Third-team specialists
PK – Joshua Shene, Ole Miss
P – Spencer Lanning, South Carolina
RS – Trindon Holliday, LSU

Auburn is set to open fall camp on Wednesday, Aug. 5. The schedule and times have not yet been released.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Position overview: RBs; Home and Away bonus

Gus Malzahn wants you to make no mistake about it: He might run a spread offense variation, but Auburn is a power running team.

That means there will be a lot of Ben Tate. It also means there will be enough other carries for a lesser known back to have a breakout season. With Mario Fannin apparently set primarily in the H-back position, newer names will have chances to hear their numbers called.


Ben Tate, Sr.
Eric Smith, So.
Onterio McCalebb, Fr.
Dontae Aycock, Fr.
Justin Albert, RFr.
Mario Fannin, Jr.


Coaches have preached the message that no job has been earned since they arrived on campus. Forget that. Tate has certainly already earned his position as the starting tailback. Barring injury, he will be the workhorse in the Auburn backfield. Tate thinks the new offense is much more running back-friendly because of where the back lines up. The extra yard in lining up behind the quarterback instead of next to him, Tate said, makes a remarkable difference.

The man who backs up Tate, on the other hand, truly is a wide-open race. Running backs coach Curtis Luper said Eric Smith had earned the spot during spring practice before he suffered a bone bruise on his knee. Luper said the training staff originally feared Smith had torn a ligament. Fortunately for the Tigers, Smith hadn’t. He will be ready for two-a-days. Smith is more of a power back.

Onterio McCalebb will create the most buzz amongst Auburn tailbacks. Rightfully so. He proved a few times this spring that he could be the home-run threat the Tigers have desperately needed for the past few years. Of course, he can’t make plays from the sidelines. We’ll see how the coaching staff utilizes McCalebb. Another true freshman, Dontae Aycock, could be used in the same way as McCalebb, though Aycock has more work to do. Aycock didn’t get the benefit of spring practice. Look for both players to see a decent percentage of snaps from the slot receiver spots.

EDIT: Though I've heard from more than one coach that McCalebb and Aycock could be used in different ways, WR Terrell Zachery said the duo have not spent time at the slot receiver spot during the summer. More on the receivers coming soon.

Most scoff when hearing or reading that walk-ons might see some playing time. Don’t be so quick to dismiss the idea Justin Albert could contribute. He’s in the mix to be Auburn’s full-time punt returner and he impressed Luper during spring practice. Albert could see playing time and might even work his way up the depth chart.


Luper on his expectations for Tate: “When you have smart players it means you can do a lot of different things with them. We’re going to do a lot of different things with him. He’s strong, he’s faster than people think and he’ll fall forward and gain yardage.
“He’s a 1,000-yard back waiting to happen. No question.”

I told you Luper came away with favorable impressions of Smith. Here’s his quote: “He was a pleasant surprise – a tough runner who doesn’t go down easily. He’s not very concerned with getting tackled either. He’s up and has balance, good feet, and he’s a load. He’s got a little Bus in him.”

Luper didn’t commit to a number of snaps or touches McCalebb would get, but he said there would be a conscious effort to utilize him – probably not all at tailback: “You have to use him and really utilize him because he’s one of the fastest guys on our team. We’ll have to find ways to get him the ball.”

Tate on his “disappointing” 2008 season: “I definitely think about it. I can remember I averaged 4.2 yards a carry. That’s just not going to cut it. It’s four yards. Yeah, you’ll take it, but for me that’s just not going to cut it. I think a couple games I had like 30 yards. That’s just not going to get it. It’s just things like that that while I’m working out and while I’m running, when it gets tough that’s what I think about.
“I also think about it’s your last senior year. It’s your last go-around. It’s your last chance to perform, last chance to be a starter in an Auburn uniform. Those things right there just make you work that much harder.”

Tate on his 2009 goals: “A successful senior year for me would probably be averaging five yards a carry, around like 14 touchdowns and over 1,200 yards rushing. That would be a very nice, successful senior year and I think that would just silence all the critics that I do have.”

Tate lining up behind the quarterback instead of next to the quarterback: “It makes a big difference because, if you think about it, if you’re directly beside that quarterback and say you’re running an inside zone to the right, everything is laterally and across. First of all, I’ve got to get over there before I can even get my shoulders squared if I even have time to get my shoulders squared. Those types of plays, it takes longer to develop. When you’re in the SEC and you’ve got Tyson Jackson and guys like that, the linemen can only hold their blocks for only a second or two.
“You don’t have time to run and then if your shoulders are parallel to the line, it’s hard to make that cut. Or maybe a lineman just mauled a guy back there but you can’t see it. You can’t see that cutback lane. With coach Malzahn, we’re like a yard or two behind the quarterback so now most of our runs are straight downhill. I guess it’s more of a split-zone because I’m attacking the center most of the time. It’s always going to be I can cut to the right or I can cut to the left.
“You can make your decisions a lot faster. There’s not a lot of indecisiveness going on with your running. In coach Malzahn’s offense, I have to constantly keep working on my path because I was always the guy that I wanted to get to the line quick, but I was also taking the wrong steps. Toward the end of the spring I started getting the steps down and I started seeing more holes than I was seeing before and in the scrimmages I started breaking off runs a lot more. That’s where it started coming to me and I started to understand it. That’s when all the trash-talking started coming because I started feeling comfortable.”

Strictly out of curiosity, I took a look at how SEC teams have fared both at home and on the road since 2000 in SEC games.

There were a few surprises. Four teams, all in the East, actually have better road records than home records.

The Swamp turned out to be the toughest venue to win at. Georgia has been the best road team. Auburn has the fourth-best home record and tied for fourth with LSU in its road record.

As for the worst teams, Vanderbilt has the worst home record, winning only every sixth home game. Mississippi State has won just four road games since 2000. Auburn managed to lose to the Commodores at Vandy last year and the Bulldogs at Jordan-Hare in 2007.

Keep in mind, Florida and Georgia always play their annual game at Jacksonville. Since that's a neutral site affair, I did not factor it into these marks. For the record, Florida is 7-2 in those games over the last nine seasons. That the game is at a neutral site certainly helped Georgia's road record.

Here's a look at the best home-field advantages:
1. Florida (26-6)
2. LSU (27-9)
3. Georgia (23-8)
4. Auburn (26-10)
5. Tennessee (23-13)
6. Alabama (21-15)
7. Arkansas (20-16)
8. Ole Miss (17-19)
9. South Carolina (15-21)
10. Mississippi State (13-23)
11. Kentucky (9-27)
12. Vanderbilt (6-30)

Best road teams:
1. Georgia (26-6)
2. Florida (21-10)
3. Tennessee (24-12)
T4. Auburn (23-13)
T4. LSU (23-13)
6. South Carolina (18-18)
7. Alabama (17-19)
8. Arkansas (16-20)
9. Ole Miss (12-24)
10. Kentucky (8-28)
11. Vanderbilt (7-29)
12. Mississippi State (4-32)

Biggest differentials:
1. MSU (home) 9 games
2. Ole Miss (home) 5 games
3. Florida (home) 4.5 games
T4. Alabama (home) 4 games
T4. Arkansas (home) 4 games
T4. LSU (home) 4 games
T7. Auburn (home) 3 games
T7. South Carolina (road) 3 games
9. Georgia (road) 2.5 games
T10. Kentucky (home) 1 game
T10. Tennessee (road) 1 game
T10. Vanderbilt (road) 1 game

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Report: Hawthorne out 4-8 weeks

Projected starting receiver Tim Hawthorne suffered a broken foot and will be sidelined four-to-eight weeks, first reported on Thursday.

The web site quoted an unnamed family member as its source on the injury.
Assistant head coach Trooper Taylor, who also coaches the receivers, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Hawthorne is one of the few Tigers receivers with extensive experience. Another, Montez Billings, seems to have an uncertain future with the team as he tries to work through what coach Gene Chizik termed an “academic issue.” Billings did not practice with the team during the spring.

Auburn opens camp the first week of August, meaning Hawthorne would almost certainly miss at least the beginning of two-a-days. If the injury takes eight weeks to heal, Hawthorne could miss the opening game.

Hawthorne had eight catches last year for 203 yards. Taylor said the junior impressed him throughout the spring.

Hawthorne, along with Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams, broke spring as projected starters.

If Hawthorne and Billings are unable to open camp, the freshmen receivers should provide ample opportunity to earn playing time. Both DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake are already on campus and were highly touted prospects.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Team breakdown: QBs

Now that we’re less than a month away from the start of fall camp, it’s time to start taking a closer look at what Auburn has where.

With that in mind, is there a better place to start than quarterback?

From a national perspective, the Tigers will only go as far as their quarterback(s) take them. Is that a fair analysis? Not necessarily. While there’s no doubt the quarterback will be instrumental in Auburn’s success, the coaches insist that the offense will start with a power running game.

With that said, there’s significantly more uncertainty and interest at the quarterback position than there is at the tailback spot.


Neil Caudle, Jr.
Kodi Burns, Jr.
Chris Todd, Sr.
Tyrik Rollison, Fr.
Clint Moseley, Fr.
Robert Cooper, Fr.

Barrett Trotter, RFr. (knee)


Fall camp opens where spring camp left off. That means the Kodi Burns-Neil Caudle battle continues. If it’s up to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, the Tigers might reach a decision quickly. Malzahn wants to find a starter as soon as possible without being reckless.

Consider this, though: The longer Auburn goes without an official starter, the better the chances for the other contenders. That list includes Tyrik Rollison, Clint Moseley and, yes, Chris Todd.

Don’t look for a true freshman to start the Louisiana Tech game, but also don’t surprised if the quarterback coaches deem the future – be it Rollison or Moseley – starts at the end of the season if Auburn fails to compete in the SEC West.

I spoke with Todd last week. Don’t count him out of the race. He knows his window of opportunity will likely be small, but he spent the entire spring learning the offense. Todd is a smart guy and, if his arm really is healthy as he says it is, I would be surprised if he did not compete for the role.

Robert Cooper will open fall camp at quarterback. I haven’t heard this from any coaches but I would be surprised if Cooper, who signed as an “athlete” remained at the position.


Ben Tate had this to say about the quarterbacks: “Kodi and Neil are both looking good. Neil’s working hard. I’ve never seen Neil work quite this hard. I guess now that the opportunity presented itself he’s working really hard. Kodi’s feeling the pressure. Neil and Kodi are out there throwing sometimes on their own. I guess they’re both thinking the same thing. Sometimes I look out there and they’re asking guys to stay out there and catch balls and they’re definitely working hard.”

Tate also commented on Todd’s arm strength: “Chris Todd, he puts some zing on that ball. He can throw it pretty hard. You can definitely tell that his shoulder was injured last spring and it’s getting a lot better now. He’s going to be a guy to keep an eye on. He might start easing his way up the depth chart. You never know. … I have to tell him sometimes, ‘Hey Chris. Don’t throw it so hard to me. We’re just playing catch. We’re just trying to get warmed up.’”

Tate on Rollison: “First of all just his arm. He’s got a cannon. He can throw it far. Also his ability to place it in the right areas. He’s pretty accurate with it so far.”

Burns on his throwing improvements: “I feel like I’m throwing it really good. I have my confidence back and I’m just being a leader now. I’m approaching it like I am the guy and going out there every day and everybody is looking up to me.”

The obvious follow-up – Kodi, when did you lose your confidence?: “Pretty much during the season. During the spring, it was a whole new offense. I really couldn’t be myself. I had to learn the offense and had to show them I was knowledgeable of the offense. Now that I got it down, I feel like I can just open up and be myself.”

Burns on whether or not QBs will take Auburn as far as it goes: “It’s definitely a quarterback-friendly offense. Just like Coach Malzahn said, if the quarterback plays good, we’re probably going to win the game. If he plays bad, we’re probably going to lose. That is a good thing. It comes with pressure but at the same time, playing quarterback you have to be able to take pressure. That’s fine with me. I’m willing to step up to the plate.”

Todd said all last spring and fall that his arm was feeling better. That obviously turned out to not be the case. I asked him what’s different this year now that Dr. James Andrews has operated on his shoulder: “It’s already better than it was last year. Really, from last year, it was kind of progressing from when I hurt it. I didn’t really know how far back it went.
“Of course you want to think it’s going to be good and it’s going to be back, so you have all this positive thinking about it. I was trying to hurry and get back. Obviously that was wishful thinking but it was progressing. It was kind of a deal where it would progress some but it was not healthy. It was not put together right. It was obviously messed up but it would progress and then it would come back and the rate of progression with it wasn’t the same.
“Now with it being fixed, it’s just a huge difference. It’s a drastic change. It’s very noticeable. Whatever he did in the surgery, he did a good job.”

Todd on adjusting to a healthy shoulder: “It’s a huge difference as far as your confidence and stuff like that. Of course, I’m still building my confidence back in it. There were times last year I’d see a throw and I couldn’t make it. I’ve got to tell myself, ‘You can make those throws,’ now so I’ll start doing it again. It’s huge, confidence-wise, just feeling like, ‘You know who you are again and you know what you can do again.’ I can do it. It’s big mentally as well as physically. It’s helped me out a lot.”

Todd on whether or not he begins fall camp behind Burns and Todd: “It’s always critical to get reps and stuff like that. I think that’s very important, but at the same time you can get a ton of mental reps just sitting there watching. I always tried to go through and get the footwork as they were doing the drills and watching plays, watch the defense, watch the places to throw it. I think to be able to pick up that so that the thinking aspect isn’t as slow as it would be. It’s a lot quicker, you know, ‘I’ve seen this before,’ so you know how to react to it. I don’t think my learning process will be at the same pace. I think it will be quicker for me. But you are somewhat behind, just not getting the same type reps. I think it will be a pretty balanced stage.”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Championship odds

Most of the preseason magazines don't love the 2009 Auburn team. Neither, apparently, does Las Vegas or the oddsmakers.

The odds to win the 2009-10 BCS National Championship are out, and... it isn't pretty for the Tigers.

There are 49 total teams with better odds to win the national championship. That list includes perennial powerhouses like Arizona, Oregon State, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and... drumroll please... Southern Mississippi. Ouch.

Auburn is a 150-1 pick to win the BCS National Championship. In case you were wondering, Stanford, Texas A&M and Baylor have the same odds to win it all. Not pretty.

Eight SEC teams have better odds to win the title. Auburn's 150-1 odds place them alongside Vanderbilt and Kentucky, which have the same odds. Making matters worse for Auburn, Vegas oddsmakers made Alabama 10 times more likely (15-1) to win the national title.

So who are the favorites? As you might imagine, Florida (5-2) is the odds-on pick. Oklahoma (9-1), Texas (11-2), Southern California (6-1) and Ohio State (12-1) round out the top-5.

The other SEC odds:
Alabama, 15-1
LSU, 20-1
Ole Miss, 25-1
Georgia, 40-1
Tennessee, 60-1
South Carolina, 75-1
Arkansas, 75-1

Not on the board:
Mississippi State

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Adams, Bell moving in the secondary

The dismissal of three defensive players has led to a secondary shakeup at Auburn.

For Harry Adams, that meant a return move from receiver to cornerback.

“I knew it was going to happen, what the situation was,” the sophomore said. “If they needed me over there, I’m going to go over there and help the team – no if’s, and’s or but’s about it.”

Adams admitted that he preferred offense to defense. Once Aairon Savage sustained an Achilles injury that will likely keep him sidelined all season, Adams said he knew the move was coming.

The move became more imminent once safety Christian Thompson was kicked off the team last week. As a result, cornerback T’Sharvan Bell moved to safety.

At that point, defensive coordinator Ted Roof called Adams in for a meeting.

“He said I could help them over there at defense again,” Adams said. “It’s not new to me no more. I know what’s going on over there. I’m not nervous about things. I know I can make plays on each side of the ball so that’s what I’m going to do.”

Auburn desperately needed Adams back at cornerback. Adams spent the entire 2008 season at corner before moving to receiver during the middle of spring practice.

Auburn could get two more cornerbacks – JUCO transfers Demond Washington and Taikwon Paige – within the next few weeks. They would also add immediate depth to the position.

Adams said he has transitioned back to the corner position well.

“When I went back to defense, we were practicing out there, a little mini-camp or whatever on our own, and I caught an interception,” Adams said. “I hopped right back into it. I know what’s going on.”

Adams made the move after considering a transfer to another school closer to home to be closer to his ailing mother, Barbara Adams.

Adams said his mother is a diabetic and has had trouble with her blood sugar levels. She struggled getting over the flu, forcing Adams to reconsider his future at Auburn.

“My dad tells me she’s been doing well lately and he told me to stay so that’s one of the main reasons I chose to stay,” Adams said.

Adams is planning to go home to visit his mother at the end of July, before fall camp opens. Then he plans to put himself in the mix for regular playing time as an Auburn cornerback.

Two AU players giving up football

LB Da'Shaun Barnes and DL Andre Wadley are both giving up football before ever playing their first games for the Tigers.

Both players have accepted medical hardships, meaning they will receive a free education but will no longer be on the team roster. They will also not count against Auburn's scholarship count. first reported the news on Wednesday.

Barnes was on Auburn's roster last season but did not play. He sat out spring practice with a hip injury.

Wadley was supposed to be a true freshman last year but suffered an undisclosed illness during a summer workout a year ago.

With Wadley and Barnes now leaving the team -- in addition to the dismissals of LB Marcus Jemison, S Christian Thompson and DL Jomarcus Savage -- the Tigers now have five empty scholarship slots. I'm not yet sure what Auburn will do with those spots. This is just a hunch, but I've got to think punter Clinton Durst might finally get the scholarship he so badly wants.