Thursday, December 31, 2009

Newton commits to Auburn

Auburn might have found its new starting quarterback before spring camp even arrives.

The Tigers ended the 2009 calendar by getting a commitment from five-star junior-college QB Cameron Newton. He is expected to enroll for the spring semester and would be eligible for spring practice.

Newton originally attended Florida but left the team for stealing a student’s laptop computer and throwing it out a dormitory window when police came to investigate. He subsequently enrolled at Blinn Community College in Brenham, Tex. and led the team to the 2009 junior college national championship.

Newton, who is 6-foot-6, 245 pounds, has two years of eligibility remaining.

Though Newton committed to Auburn, he had not signed a National Letter of Intent at the time of press. He can sign at any time now because he is a junior-college prospect.

Newton is not officially on Auburn’s team until the university has accepted his letter.


This is a huge get for Auburn. I have a few immediate thoughts.

First and foremost, until Auburn accepts a letter, don't consider this a done deal. Newton has had a tendency to change his mind.

Secondly, this job is almost certainly his. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn will almost certainly say it's an open competition entering spring camp, but I don't think Newton commits to Auburn without a guarantee. This must be devastating news for other QBs, like Neil Caudle.

Lastly, this move is on Auburn coach Gene Chizik regardless of how it turns out. Taking a chance on Newton, who had his charges dropped, seems like a calculated gamble. Chizik and the coaching staff must know one of two things: Either Newton is a good guy and deserves a second chance or Auburn really needed to find a starting quarterback next year. If this works out and Newton is all he's cracked up to be then Chizik should get all the credit in the world. If Newton gets into any legal situation or faces disciplinary problems then that should be on Chizik as well.

This is a big get for Auburn. It's a big deal and should boost expectations immediately.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Texas Tech administrators: AU was never interested in Leach

I found this interesting and thought I would pass it along. The Dallas Morning News obtained emails between Texas Tech administrators about former TTU coach Mike Leach. Included is a note about Auburn never having interest in Leach and Leach's agent offering for him to pay his own way just for an interview.

Leach is really not looking good these days. It's hard to say he'll never get a job again since people like Hal Mumme have, but I've got to think he's borderline unhireable right now.

On a related note, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville is apparently interested in the job at Texas Tech. This is probably Tuberville's last chance at a head-coaching position this year, so look for Jimmy Sexton to try to work his magic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Speeding Up

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s attack is known for its frenetic pace.

If he has his way, he’ll step on the gas even harder next year.

“It’ll get faster, there’s no doubt,” Malzahn said earlier this week. “We’re not happy with our pace right now.”

Auburn finished its first year in Malzahn’s offense ranked 39th in the nation in offensive snaps.

For Malzahn, who likes to run 70-plus plays per game, that isn’t nearly good enough.

The bulk of the problem came from inconsistency and depth issues on both sides of the ball.

Auburn often didn’t get into its fast-paced offense until earning its initial first down. That created a sometimes slower offense.

“Our tempos change a little bit,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “It’s not always fast paced. Just from a philosophical standpoint, we try to do it at the right times because every time is not the right time for us individually.”

Once Auburn gets the players it needs in the program, though, watch for Malzahn to drastically increase the offensive tempo throughout games.

That’s something to think about considering the Tigers drew a penalty during the Kentucky game for moving too quickly – something that still angers Malzahn. The coordinator has never publicly admonished the call, but said earlier this week that it wouldn’t happen again.

FINISHING TOUCHES: Auburn held its final practice Wednesday during a warm, sunny morning.

Chizik said he was pleased with the team’s workout.

“Just a great day today,” he said. “Today was really our final preparation for the bowl. I really thought focus was sharp and they were focused and tuned in, so I think it was a great way to end practice –really our last practice of the year.”

Chizik also said the team would have a walk-through at Raymond James Stadium, site of the Outback Bowl, on Thursday.

MIDSEASON TURNAROUND: Since Auburn’s blowout loss to Arkansas, defensive coordinator Ted Roof thinks his group has shown improvement.

“I think we got better, we got more physical. At the first of the year, we were doing some good things and then throughout the course of the season there were some things that happened that we had to play through,” Roof said. “I did see a lot of improvement and I was pleased with how we became more physical as a defense. We started getting some guys healthy, getting some guys back and creating as much competition as we had considering the situation.”

At one point this season, Auburn starters Antoine Carter, Antonio Coleman, Walt McFadden, Zac Etheridge and Eltoro Freeman endured injuries that either sidelined them or nagged them for lengths of time.

All but Etheridge is healthy now and the Tigers should field a defense as close to full strength as it has been all season.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

McFadden Named Auburn 'Good Guy'

Auburn senior CB Walt McFadden has been selected as the first recipient of the "Good Guy Award," which will be presented annually by the local chapter of Auburn beat writers.

The award is meant to recognize a player who is consistently congenial and professional in his interactions with the media.

The East Alabama Auburn Beat Writers Association of America voted to give McFadden the inaugural award for his friendly demeanor, regular participation in media interviews and outstanding quotability.

"Walt is a reporter's best friend," Mobile Press-Register Auburn beat reporter Evan Woodbery said. "He could speak intelligently on any number of topics and his outstanding sense of humor never wavered."

McFadden will be presented with a plaque from the EAABWAA at a later date.

"I really do appreciate that," McFadden said when informed of the honor. "I want to thank everybody...I feel like I'm at an awards show."

Other players deserving of honorable mention include QB Chris Todd, who was always willing to speak during good times and bad, TE Tommy Trott, H-back Mario Fannin and LBs Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens.

McFadden, a native of Pompano Beach, Fla., has started 24 consecutive games for the Tigers and was an All-SEC second team selection. He is also a member of the SEC's community service team.

"You couldn't have picked a better one," Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. "He's a great ambassador for Auburn. He's a great person. He's a great football player. He's always the same. He never changes, so what you see is what you get. I wasn't aware of the award, but now that I am I don't think you could have picked a better one. That was a good pick."

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.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Notes from Sunday

The University of Tampa, where Auburn will practice this week, did its best to give Auburn a warm surprise welcome Sunday.

Auburn players were surprised to see a team logo – albeit a bit off on the colors – painted next to one of the end zones. That allowed the Tigers to follow their pre-practice ritual of strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall breaking down the team on the AU logo.

“Everybody was talking about that,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “We heard coach Yox say we were going to break it down on the AU but we thought that was just wherever he was at that's where we were going to break it down.”

The paint wasn’t exactly perfect. The orange and blue more closely resembled the colors of Florida than Auburn, but the gesture nonetheless made Auburn feel at home.

As for the first practice itself, Auburn coach Gene Chizik was not thrilled by his team’s performance. He described the opening workout as “a little rusty.”

“You could tell they've had four days off and the effort was good but I just think that we were a little bit sloppy, a little bit rusty,” Chizik said. “We obviously need the next four days. We'll get back to work tomorrow and we'll try to get some of these things shored up. Overall, the effort was good. You can just tell that we've had some time off and we just have to get back into the rhythm of practice and the football rhythm.”

SENDING PRAYERS: Florida coach Urban Meyer’s retirement and subsequent decision to take a leave of absence created an understandably large commotion the last two days.

Chizik, a Florida alum and former player, said it came as a surprise.

“Well, my first thought was to really say a lot of prayers. My prayers are off to him,” Chizik said. “Obviously he is a great football coach. He loves the game of football and nobody knows all the details and the ins and outs of what – the only thing that came to my mind was to say a lot of prayers for him and his family. It's a tough situation.

“He's obviously the best – one of the best at what he does. It's tough on everybody, it's tough on families and it's tough on obviously the coaches themselves. So again, our prayers are with Urban and his staff and everybody involved in his family.”

Meyer sited health and stress reasons for his one-day retirement.

Chizik said he understands how coaches could be overwhelmed by the stresses that come along with the job.

“It's so competitive that you feel such an allegiance to your university and your players and your coaching staff and that's before you even get to the outside pressures of the world,” Chizik said. “I'm very cognizant of it and it's just a tough, tough business and a lot of stress that goes along with it.”

NEW GAME: Stevens and CB Walt McFadden said they enjoyed their first hockey experience Saturday night.

Auburn and Northwestern were honored as guests at the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game against the Atlanta Thrashers. Tampa Bay won 4-3.

“I just know out there, especially when the fights happened and they started hitting each other was pretty neat,” McFadden said. “It was kind of funny that we're like, some of the DBs sitting together, these guys are skating backwards. When we first started off to get with coach (Phillip) Lolley running backwards we were falling and these guys are skating backwards.”

Though the players were impressed by the hockey players’ athleticism, McFadden and Stevens were equally intrigued by the foghorn that bellows after a goal.

“Every time they scored it was really loud,” McFadden said. “I wish I could (have one). I'd blow the horn every time they didn't score a touchdown. Any other play, even if I didn't make the play, I'd push the horn. If I get a horn that big, you're going to know I'm around somewhere.”

SEEKING HEAT: Florida natives McFadden and Stevens took plenty of heat from teammates Sunday for the cool weather in Tampa.

Auburn players expected warm weather once they got to town, but instead practiced in overcast weather in the mid-50s.

“All the guys were getting mad,” McFadden said. “‘I thought you said Florida was going to be hot. The Sunshine State, the Sunshine State.' But I was like 'this is not my part of the state. I'm three hours farther.' I don't know about this too much. Hopefully the sun will come out and bring a little sunshine back.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Chizik: Assistant Coaches All Expected Back

Just finished up a nice free meal from the kind folks of the Outback Bowl. Free steak and cheesecake is never a bad thing.

We also caught up with Gene Chizik. He didn't have much to say before taking his team to tonight's Tampa Bay Lightning NHL game, but he did say he expects his entire coaching staff to return next season.

"Unless there's something out there that I don't know about, but right now I don't think there is," Chizik said. "Everything should be intact."

He also did not know about any contact safeties coach Tommy Thigpen might have had with Florida.

"Must be an Internet rumor," Chizik said. reported Wednesday that Thigpen interviewed with Florida coach Urban Meyer, who is making plenty of news of his own right now. With Meyer out, it seems more unlikely Thigpen would immediately head to Florida.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Catching Up On the Weekend

As I said a few days ago, I am off visiting the in-laws for pre-Christmas for the next few days. The travels took me to Maryland, where we encountered a wee bit of snow. Proof is to the right, where I'm trying to dig out my car. It took the better part of an hour.

Anyway, there has been some news worth catching up on since I left.

First and foremost, H-back Eric Smith is, as expected, academically ineligible for the spring semester. That means no Outback Bowl and could mean no spring practice if he hasn't straightened out his grades. With a fairly obvious strike against the sophomore, this is not good news. Auburn seems to have no intentions of saying who will play H-back with Smith out. TE Tommy Trott said OL Bart Eddins, TE Philip Lutzenkirchen and FB Jason King all worked in the role on Wednesday.

Secondly, the scare for G Byron Isom and his knee seems to be just that -- a scare. According to his Twitter account, he underwent some tests. They all came back negative.

WR Tim Hawthorne has played his final game at Auburn. Gene Chizik told reporters about Hawthorne's departure late in the week. Hawthorne had another year of eligibility remaining, but has already graduated. The former five-star recruit finished his career with 10 total catches. His final season was a fitting way to close the season because it -- like so many other years -- began with so much hope. Hawthorne was expected to start over WR Darvin Adams after spring practice, but broke his foot during summer workouts. He never regained the starting spot and struggled just to break the rotation, finishing with one catch for 3 yards.

Want an uneducated guess as to a sleeper candidate for the 2010 quarterback competition? How about Cameron Newton. The JUCO prospect visited Auburn over the weekend and could easily choose on the Tigers as early as the end of this week. He told the recruiting services that he was "on cloud nine" during his visit. Read more here. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound quarterback first went to Florida where he backed up Tim Tebow as a true freshman but was suspended from the team for stealing a student's laptop. Subsequent charges were dropped because he fulfilled pretrial intervention requirements designed for first-time offenders. The Newton camp contends the entire situation was a misunderstanding. In the aftermath, Newton left Florida and enrolled with Blinn (Tex.) College. ranks him as the top JUCO recruit. Newton still has two years of eligibility remaining and could enroll in time for spring semester, meaning he could participate in spring practice. Newton could count toward the 2009 recruiting class.

Auburn also landed another recruit this week when ATH Ryan White committed. He will likely play defensive back. White's commitment gives 22 toward the 2010 class. The Tigers can sign as many as 28 players.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof told reporters that LB Eltoro Freeman will be ready to play against Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. You can read the report at my colleague Andy Bitter's blog here.

That's it for now. Be safe.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SEC Pride Prompts Boasting

RB Ben Tate wasted little time in providing ammo for an SEC-Big Ten dominance debate.

Tate’s intentions didn’t seem to be giving Northwestern material for its bulletin board, but he certainly did so by questioning its team speed.

“It's good to be out there playing those Big Ten guys,” Tate said. “They're not as fast as the guys we're used to seeing. They're a four-down team – a 4-3 typical team – just a typical Big (Ten) team on defense. They're not too fast but they've got a pretty solid defense.”

DE Antoine Carter was more understated when asked the difference between the two conferences.

Yes, the junior thinks the SEC is better. At the same time, he seemed to have respect for Northwestern.

“A lot of players come from the Southeastern part of the states, so you know, in my opinion, I think that’s where the best talent is,” Carter said. “But you can’t look down at the Big Ten. This is my first time playing them, so I don’t know what to expect.”

Though Tate caught some attention with his early week comments, coaches have downplayed any confidence Auburn has. Tigers coach Gene Chizik has been effusive in his praise of Northwestern and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn went out of his way to talk about how tough its defense has been.

Tate might find out about the Wildcats’ physicality.

That is, of course, assuming they can catch him.

BREAKING OUT: Carter considers the 2009 campaign to be his breakout.

It’s hard to argue.

The junior posted decent numbers down the stretch after spring knee surgery caused a slow start to the season. Carter finished with 4.5 tackles for loss and 27 total tackles.

He also earned a starting job for the final half of the season.

One of the biggest differences this season has been Carter’s ability to play the run. He came to Auburn as a pass-rush specialist, but has since added 20-plus pounds.

“You can look at the film and tell it’s a big difference from my previous years,” Carter said. “…Just being more physical.”

Though Carter has flourished in his new role, he looks forward to returning to his more natural pass-rush end once Antonio Coleman leaves this year.

When Carter does make the switch, he will do so with a modified look.

Carter is something of a tattoo sommelier, sporting an untold number of them. He plans to have two regrettable tattoos removed by the spring, though.

When Carter was a teenager, he had “HOT” inked under his right eye and “BOY” under his left eye. Carter’s father, a former military man, was not pleased with the development. Carter now refers to the decision as a “youthful mistake.”

He said the procedure to get the tattoos removed will be expensive, but worthwhile.

“It’s just professional reasons,” Carter said. “I’m going into the business world. Just people make their thoughts about you when they first look at you, so I don’t want anybody getting off to a wrong start about me.”

The good news is that when Carter gets the tattoos removed he said reporters, fans and teammates can still refer to him as “Hot” Carter.

LUTZ ON THE MOVE: Philip Lutzenkirchen will have a chance to win the starting tight end position this spring after Tommy Trott graduates.

During bowl preparation, though, the true freshman has taken time to become more familiar with the H-back spot.

Trott said with H-back Eric Smith missing Wednesday’s practice, Lutzenkirchen worked exclusively at the spot.

“I was happy to see him out there and really delivering blows,” Trott said. “He's not afraid of being physical.

“I guess it's because he's competing for time at a new spot where it really lit a fire under him (Wednesday) and he had one heck of a practice."

Chizik said Smith was “finishing up some academic appointments” Wednesday. He declined to clarify the status any further.

It seems Auburn might be looking for alternatives in the event Smith can’t play in the bowl game.

Lutzenkirchen isn’t the only option. Trott said Auburn also worked walk-on Jason King at the position as well as reserve OL Bart Eddins.

Though Eddins might seem like an illogical choice, Trott said he was impressed on Wednesday.

“He looked pretty good,” he said. “He's always been good as a pulling guard. He laid somebody out in the Tennessee game coming around there. Bart knows how to throw his weight around pretty well and move his feet pretty good.”

HOUSEKEEPING NOTE: I am leaving town for about a week to visit the in-laws and enjoy some pre-Christmas vacation before Outback Bowl preparations hit the road. I'll be here to give some updates.

Something to prove

My story for today's Anniston Star examined the players I think have the most to gain over the next few months.

There were a few more guys I wanted to mention but couldn't because of space issues. Heck, you guys were probably ready to quit reading after the whole Neil Caudle/Bart Eddins portion.

Anyway, here's a quick read on why I think certain players have plenty to gain over the next six months.

1. QB Neil Caudle: Duh. This is it for Caudle, a formerly well-regarded recruit. He has been a career backup labeled as injury-prone at one time and interception-prone lately. Caudle should have an edge in the early race. He's competing against two true freshmen and a redshirt freshman. Chris Todd had a strong senior season and Caudle would love nothing more than to follow in his footsteps.

2. OL Bart Eddins: Very much in the same boat as Caudle. Career backup has one final chance. It won't be nearly as easy for Eddins. He needs to play very well in spring and hope a starting guard, most likely Mike Berry, can impress line coach Jeff Grimes enough to justify a position switch. Incoming JUCO players Roszell Gaydon and Brandon Mosley won't make Eddins' task any easier -- especially if Gaydon can get into school in time for practice this spring.

3. RB Dontae Aycock: I couldn't quite spell it out in my story because no one will say it directly, but this might be it for Aycock. Auburn is clearly recruiting past him having already landed RB Michael Dyer and putting itself in great position to potentially nab RB Marcus Lattimore as well. RB Onterio McCalebb said Wednesday that he's hungry to shake theories that he's not durable enough to shoulder the load of a feature back. Aycock is only a redshirt freshman, but he had better have a breakout spring. He might not get those same chances come August.

4. DE Cam Henderson and WR Philip Pierre-Louis: These two players have battled off-the-field issues resulting in missing playing time. Henderson missed the entire 2009 season while Pierre-Louis saw time strictly as a punt returner -- a role he proved incapable of handling during his redshirt freshman season. Both will be sophomores next year and neither is close to seeing regular playing time. If they can't make a move this spring, they might never see the field.

5. WR DeAngelo "Voodoo" Benton: An easy way to guess whether Auburn was running or passing in 2009 was to look and see if No. 3 was in the game. If he was, the Tigers were more than likely preparing to run the ball. That's not a good sign for Benton, a former five-star recruit. WR coach Trooper Taylor defends Benton whenever asked about him. He says Benton would have played more if WR Darvin Adams hadn't been so productive and he still expects Benton to "re-write" the record books before he leaves. Well, Adams is just a sophomore, Terrell Zachery is a junior and has established himself and fellow freshman Emory Blake has apparently taken a bigger role in the offense than Benton. Now Auburn is preparing to land a talent-heavy receiver class that includes Trovon Reed. Benton might have a ton of potential, but he'd better start showing it soon because it could just as easily go to waste on the sideline.

6. DE Nosa Eguae: The current redshirt might be a household name by now if he hadn't been slowed by a foot injury. Instead he's entering the 2010 season with four years of eligibility remaining and a year of college life under his belt. That might not be such a bad thing. Eguae has a chance to be a four-year starter. He will probably be more of a strong-side end. On the surface that seems like a tough position to crack, but Antoine "Hot" Carter should move to the pass-rush specialist spot once Antonio Coleman leaves. That would pit Eguae in a position battle with Michael Goggans, who was demoted from a starting role this season. The coaches love Eguae. Don't be surprised if he shows why next year.

7. DB Demond Washington: It didn't take long for Washington to emerge as a big-time presence for Auburn. Now he needs to do so at cornerback. Neiko Thorpe struggled badly at times in 2009 and Auburn desperately needs a lockdown corner with Walt McFadden leaving. Before Washington moved to strong safety, he was starting to split time as a regular corner with Thorpe. Washington should have a real chance of winning the top corner spot this spring.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Four sign with Auburn

Gene Chizik said during the season that his team needed to address considerable depth concerns when early enrollees could sign with the program.

Auburn did so Wednesday, signing four players that count back to the 2009 class.

“Today was a great start to what we feel like is going to be a very good signing class,” Chizik said.

All four will count toward last year’s signing class instead of the 2010 class because the Tigers had five open spots available.

Included among the signees is a pair of potential offensive tackles to compete for the starting position this spring.

Roszell Gaydon will certainly be a contender for the spot. rated him as a four-star offensive tackle. He played the last two years at College of the Sequoias and has two years of eligibility remaining. EDIT: It isn't clear if Gaydon will be able to enroll in January or this summer.

Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College product Brandon Mosley could also contend for a starting spot. He is also rated as a four-star prospect and could play either tackle or tight end. Mosley has two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“We signed two junior college young men that we’re extremely excited about,” Chizik said. “Roszell Gayden, who we are really excited about what he brings to the table.

“Brandon Mosley is a great athlete that is a huge tight end/offensive line prospect who we think his potential is unlimited. We think he has some great days ahead of him. He’s such a good athlete he can bring a lot to the table as a tight end or an offensive lineman. We really feel like those two junior college signees have really helped our football team.”

DE Craig Sanders and LB Jessel Curry graduated early. They signed with Auburn on Wednesday from their respective high schools.

Sanders is a four-star defensive end from Ariton High School. Curry is a three-star linebacker from Buford (Ga.) High School.

Three signees -- Curry, Sanders and Mosley -- will enroll for the spring semester, which begins Jan. 11, and be available for spring practice. Gaydon is still working toward that goal.

Chizik wasn’t allowed to talk about either player because of NCAA rules, but he did say early enrollment can be a big help to incoming freshmen.

“It’s a great proposition in terms of them getting a degree and getting an early start on their education,” Chizik said. “It helps for a young man that does that to be able to participate in spring practice. You’re seeing it more and more now with a lot of kids because they do want to get a jump. Those situations are great for the University.

“The young men are usually excited about but they give up a lot. They sacrifice a lot because they’re missing half of their senior year.”

SMITH’S STATUS UNCLEAR: H-back Eric Smith did not practice with the team when Auburn resumed workouts on Wednesday.

Chizik said the sophomore was “finishing up some academic appointments today.”

Smith’s absence has left questions about his standing with the team. Chizik did little to qualm the rumors when asked further about Smith’s situation.

“Well, that’s what he was doing today,” Chizik said.

Chizik wouldn’t divulge any further information about Smith, but said he should know his players’ academic standings by Friday.

Big day for Auburn recruiting

Auburn has already signed DE Craig Sanders, LB Jessel Curry and OL/TE Brandon Mosley today and should also get an official National Letter of Intent from OL Roszell Gaydon.

All four would be available this spring and would enroll in classes that begin in January.

Curry and Sanders are high school prospects and will have four years of eligibility. Mosley and Gaydon have two years of eligibility remaining.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Taylor hopes all-SEC snub motivates WR Adams

Receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he was surprised and a little disappointed when upon getting word that WR Darvin Adams didn’t make the all-SEC teams.

Adams caught 48 passes for 855 yards and 10 touchdowns during his breakout campaign. He finished fourth among SEC receivers in receiving yards and receptions per game and tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions.

Yet when the all-SEC teams were announced, Adams’ name was nowhere to be found.

Taylor said he now hopes the snub will fuel Adams’ motivation while preparing for his junior season.

“We knew going into it that they didn't know their names, they weren't on any list going into the season, but I think he felt OK just about the idea that if you look at his stats they're better,” Taylor said. “You like to know that that's going to motivate him. He had been catching 100 balls, and you talk to our strength coach, and he says, 'Coach, he's been lighting it up out there' as far as doing extra work.’ Whatever it takes to motivate him.

“Like I told him, we couldn't control that. It wasn't just on us. But I was disappointed because I thought he played well enough to be all-conference.”

TEAM AWARDS: Auburn held its team awards banquet Saturday night and honored a few 2009 top performers.

RB Ben Tate took home the most prestigious award, netting team MVP honors for his breakout senior season. Players and coaches also voted that his year garnered Offensive MVP accolades.

DE Antonio Coleman, who led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks, was named co-Defensive MVP. LB Craig Stevens earned the other co-Defensive MVP spot for posting 89 tackles – good for second on the defense behind Josh Bynes.

K Wes Byrum converted 14 of 15 field-goal attempts to earn Special Teams MVP honors.

Coleman and QB Chris Todd were named team captains for their leadership throughout their respective senior seasons.

FINDING THE POSITIVE: Taylor spoke about his four-month off-campus recruiting ban for the first time Sunday night and took a positive spin on the penalty.

The Auburn receivers coach was slapped with the strongest punishment from Big Cat Weekend – a high-profile unofficial visit weekend for Auburn recruiting. Auburn admitted to violating a handful of rules during the late-May weekend and the SEC handed down various penalties for the secondary violations.

The fallout from Big Cat Weekend left Taylor barred from recruiting off campus from July 31-Nov. 30.

Taylor said it wasn’t difficult to refrain from recruiting, one of his hallmarks.

“It really wasn't because I was with the football team and being able to be on the phone,” Taylor said. “Let me tell you, if you don't have relationships with your recruits and they're not calling you, you're down by seven anyway. So that doesn't bother me a bit as far as that part is concerned.

“I really did enjoy being around the football team as an assistant head coach, given those duties when the head coach is not around and being able to do that gives you experience so when that opportunity comes, you're ready. Before I would have been on the road, so I wouldn't have had those kind of deals. So I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. That was a really good experience for me.”

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Rollison out for Outback Bowl preparation

One of Gene Chizik’s goals during bowl preparation is giving younger players extended looks heading into spring practice.

Redshirt freshman QB Tyrik Rollison won’t be among them.

Rollison will not practice with the team during bowl preparation nor will he travel with the team to Tampa, Chizik said Saturday after Auburn concluded its first bowl practice.

Though Rollison wouldn’t have played anyway, his suspension is a big deal because he is one of four or five quarterbacks vying for senior Chris Todd’s starting position this spring.

Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter already have an early advantage because they went through spring practice last year. Now fellow redshirt Clint Moseley could have an advantage as well if he gets extra reps with the top two offensive units during bowl preparation.

RETURNING TO PRACTICE: LB Eltoro Freeman was back at practice when Auburn started preparation for the Outback Bowl on Saturday.

The sophomore linebacker missed Auburn’s regular-season finale against Alabama with an ankle injury. He was not available for comment after practice.

Chizik said Freeman looked “much better” than during preparations for the Iron Bowl.

“I think he’s made some strides – he’s got a ways to go,” Chizik said. “He’s not a full 100 percent, but compared to where he was a couple of weeks ago I think he’s made significant strides. He needs to continue to do that if we’re going to play him in that bowl game the way we need to play him.”

Freeman’s injury is a big deal because Auburn lacked depth at linebacker to start the year. Now the Tigers are without scholarship LBs Adam Herring, Spencer Pybus and Harris Gaston. That means Auburn is down to four scholarship linebackers, including Freeman and true freshman Jonathan Evans.

The depth situation has meant Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes have played an inordinate number of plays this season.

Stevens said Freeman looked good on Saturday.

NO CONTACT: Mario Fannin partook in Saturday’s practice, but did so while sporting an orange non-contact jersey.

The H-back is still recovering from a stinger he suffered during the Alabama game.

Fannin suffered the injury toward the end of the first half when he caught a short pass and LB Rolando McClain immediately met him with a big hit.

Fannin didn’t go down, but looked like he might have gotten knocked out on his feet.

“I didn't get knocked out,” Fannin said. “It was just more when I got my stinger on my left side, it just kind of made me stop and I wanted to make sure I still had the ball until they blew the whistle.”

The rest of the Auburn team got at least some physicality in the first day back.

“Just trying to bang some of the rust off and kind of get back to work in a shorter version of practice,” Chizik said. “We got some work in on both sides of the ball, and special teams.”

DAVIS COMMITS: Woodlawn athlete Chris Davis committed to play for Auburn on Saturday, giving the Tigers 23 to date.

Davis is likely to play cornerback and will also probably get chances as a return specialist as well. He chose Auburn where he will almost certainly play defense despite getting looks elsewhere, from schools like South Carolina, to play receiver.

WILDCAT TWIST: Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn made a surprise move in the Wildcat formation against Alabama when Ben Tate took snaps as the triggerman.

There might be more alterations on tap when Auburn plays Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.

RB Onterio McCalebb took a few snaps as the Wildcat triggerman, working with both Mario Fannin and Ben Tate in the formation.

Kodi Burns, a converted quarterback, has taken virtually all the Wildcat snaps this season, giving Auburn a throwing presence out of the formation as well.