Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Newton shines in scrimmage

Through two drives of Auburn’s half-scrimmage Wednesday, it looked like the offense might again dominate its defensive counterpart at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Then the turnovers starting mounting. The offense threw at least two interceptions and fumbled three times, allowing the defense to avenge its loss in Saturday’s scrimmage.

“We pride ourselves on taking care of the football, and we turned it over,” receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “You’ve got to give credit to the defense. We need to take better care of the football.”

Though the defense won the scrimmage, the real winner might have been QB Cam Newton.

No, there is still no news in the quarterback race. As details continue to emerge about the four-man competition, Newton only seems to help his cause. The junior-college transfer threw a pair of touchdowns Wednesday – one to DeAngelo Benton and another to Kodi Burns.

The throw to Benton, especially, served as apparently an impressive display of Newton’s accuracy.

“Cam let it go perfectly where only he could catch it,” Taylor said. “The DB was in good position, but D’Lo went up and made a nice play. The ball placement was unbelievable. If he had missed it, it would have gone out of bounds. That’s what you’re looking for. We talk about catching balls in windows, and that was a peephole. He put it in there.

“He made a nice throw to Kodi Burns, too. It was a frozen rope between two defenders.”

Nobody has said definitively that there has been any decision on the quarterbacks, but it seems Newton has put himself in position to win the starting position.

Players and coaches couldn’t seem to remember which quarterbacks threw the interceptions, nor could they recall who threw the third touchdown.

Defensively, Ikeem Means and Drew Cole turned in interceptions. Though the defense forced three fumbles – two by walk-on Davis Hooper and another by walk-on receiver Ralph Spry Jr. – it didn’t recover any.

In addition to the turnovers, LB Craig Stevens said the defense also earned a couple three-and-outs to help establish the win.

A-DAY FORMAT: Taylor said Auburn will change up the format from last year’s spring game.
Saturday’s exhibition won’t feature starters against starters or starters against scout team, but rather a combination of players on two different teams.

Those teams, however, are yet to be determined.

“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can,” Taylor said. “The problem that you have is guys crossing over on special teams. That’s what we’re trying to iron out. But we’re going to make it competitive.”

CHANGING LANES: Stevens hasn’t been spectacular during his Auburn career, but he has always been a steady producer.

Now, as a senior, he has moved from his traditional strong-side linebacker position to the weak-side. He thinks the position change gives him an opportunity to make more plays.

“(Weak-side), you've got to make a lot more back-side plays,” Stevens said. “I'm in the box more and I have a chance to make a lot more plays in the run game than I would at (strong-side).”

The new position doesn’t only spell new chances for Stevens.

Sophomore Jonathan Evans has worked his way onto the starting defense at strong-side linebacker.

Evans played significant minutes in just two games last year – after Eltoro Freeman went down with an injury in the Georgia game. Evans said the experience at the end of the Georgia game and his start against Alabama has benefitted him.

“That helped me a lot, just getting the tempo of the game, the speed, all that,” Evans said. “Just getting used to all that noise and how the games are going to be. That was a good start for me. I feel like it's really going to help me.”

The coaches have been hesitant to say Evans has put himself in line for playing time, but seem down on Freeman, who is now working behind Josh Bynes at middle linebacker.

Freeman could especially find playing time hard to find if Daren Bates plays linebacker when he returns from off-season shoulder surgery.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof remained non-committal on Bates’ position status Wednesday, but did say Bates is spending more time in linebacker meetings than safety meetings.

Aairon Savage, Zac Etheridge and Mike McNeil are all expected to be back in 2010 despite all suffering significant injuries in 2009. However, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Monday that McNeil “needs to step it up” when asked if reporters should look into the fact that the junior has not been made available to the media this spring.

Bates started all 13 games at safety last year, but Auburn has seriously looked at moving him permanently to linebacker. Roof said he doesn’t want to shuffle the sophomore between the positions.

QUICK OUTS: K Wes Byrum said QB Neil Caudle is currently the frontrunner in the holder competition. Caudle has been a backup holder for the last couple seasons. The senior is also still part of the ongoing quarterback competition… Byrum also said he sat out a few practices last week because of soreness in his right knee. The senior kicker said there is no significant injury, but wanted to be right for A-Day week… WR Darvin Adams didn’t participate in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Adams has a slight shoulder injury, but was held out largely to get other receivers – like Benton and Emory Blake – more reps.

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