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April 30, 2009

Spring wrap: Quarterbacks

DEPTH CHART

  • QB Kodi Burns, Jr., 6-2, 209
  • QB Neil Caudle, Jr., 6-3, 199
  • QB Chris Todd, Sr., 6-4, 214
  • QB Barrett Trotter, rFr., 6-2, 201

Walk-ons

  • QB Brent Poole, rFr., 6-2, 205

OVERVIEW

For the entirety of Brandon Cox‘s senior season, most Auburn fans wanted to see the three-year starter run out of town. Well, once he graduated they got their wish — a brand new starter. It wasn’t pretty. The quarterback situation last year was a mess of monumental proportions. Reports that Todd and Burns were so good in the preseason that Tony Franklin would be foolish not to play them both were greatly exaggerated. As it turned out, it wasn’t that they were both so good, it was simply that there was no separation between the two. Eventually, Franklin’s dismissal and Todd’s shoulder injury gave the starting job to Burns, who showed signs of promise in the final six games but still went 1-5 as a starter down the stretch. But it wasn’t enough for him to be handed the reins once Gus Malzahn was named Auburn’s new offensive coordinator. Now, the competition is still open.

GOOD THINGS

Say what you will about Burns’ throwing ability, he has all the intangibles of a quarterback in terms of presence and leadership. He talks like a quarterback. He has that attitude. And for anyone who thinks that’s not part of the equation, you’re greatly mistaken. It counts. Caudle , after three years in limbo, finally has his shot at earning the job and doesn’t appear to be shying away from it. He’s neck-and-neck with Burns and showed a strong arm with some of his throws in the spring game. Despite playing against second- and third-team players, both Burns and Caudle appeared to have a decent grasp of the offense at A-Day, a positive sign coming just three and a half weeks after the team began installing Malzahn’s system.

BAD THINGS

There is still no clear starter, which isn’t a good sign. While Malzahn was extremely tight-lipped about getting too specific about the competition, it was clear that nobody wowed him enough in the spring to be given that No. 1 title heading into the summer. That kind of uncertainty can have a lasting affect, although this year’s coaching staff claims it will not go to the eve of the season to name a starter like last year’s group. Trotter, once a factor in the competition, tore his ACL in a non-contact drill late in the spring, making a comeback in time for the 2009 season a long shot. And Todd wasn’t able to throw throughout the spring after having offseason shoulder surgery. While the senior claims he’s learning the offense in team meetings and film work, it’s not the same as learning it on the field.

ARRIVING SOON

Auburn signed two quarterbacks in February, Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley. Rollison is the more physically gifted of the two, a dual-threat quarterback who put up some ridiculous numbers at Sulphur Springs, Texas. He would be a unique talent to join the roster if he qualifies (he told AuburnSports .com last month that he should be in but he’s taking the ACT one more time to be sure). Coaches claim Moseley, Alabama’s Mr. Football, is more similar to Rollison than people give him credit for, able to move and throw the ball. I doubt either of them play, however. The challenges of being a true freshman quarterback are simply too great. Auburn has four weeks of practice during two-a-days once these players arrive. That’s not much more than the three and a half weeks of spring practice it took to install the base offense. It’s one thing to know the offense. It’s another to be proficient in it.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Not many names to choose from here, but I’ll go with Caudle, simply because he’s the least established of the quarterbacks competing for the job. Caudle was never really given a chance by the previous coaching staff (they nearly bypassed him for Trotter during the second half of last season, after all) and looks like he’s enjoying being in the heat of the competition. He showed off a pretty strong arm on A-Day and claims he’s cut down on his interceptions, a persistent problem during his career. Malzahn wants a quarterback that is quick with his decisions, accurate with his passes and able to stretch the field on occasion. I think those criteria favor Caudle more than Burns right now.

BATTLE TO WATCH

There is no position battle more crucial to the team’s success than at quarterback. Burns and Caudle are the frontrunners, though I wouldn’t necessarily rule out Todd once he comes back from shoulder surgery (although it’s unlikely his shoulder returns to the strength where he can throw a football through a car wash without it getting wet). Malzahn has said he doesn’t want to rotate quarterbacks, so there will be one guy taking the snaps. It will certainly make for an interesting August.

THEY SAID IT

“I think you would like to have a guy but at the same time it’s a process. So the job’s still open and we’ll get to fall camp and we’ll find a guy and we’ll go from there. ” — Malzahn, reiterating the same thing he said at the beginning of the spring

NUMBERS GAME

7 — Passing touchdowns by Auburn last season, fewest in the SEC. League leader Florida has 33

THE END OF THE DAY

Auburn’s biggest question of the spring — who will start at quarterback? — did not have an answer, a predictable conclusion to a spring practice during which Malzahn took stock of the quarterbacks he had and installed the base elements of his offense. Naturally, it was going to be a process (one of the coaching staff’s favorite phrases when it comes to the quarterbacks), but you still would have liked someone to stand out. That Burns, a quarterback who has considerable starting experience, didn’t blow past Caudle, a quarterback with barely any game experience, tells me this might not be the most exceptional group next year.

Dyas elected to College Football Hall of Fame

Just got this press release from Auburn sports information:

DR. ED DYAS ELECTED TO COLLEGE FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME

AUBURN — Former Auburn football All-American Dr. Ed Dyas has been selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame announced the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Thursday. Dyas, who finished fourth in the 1960 Heisman Trophy voting and was a
scholastic All-American, will be the twelfth Auburn coach or player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

A three-year letterman from 1958-60, Dyas is the first Auburn inductee since Coach Pat Dye went into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005. He’s the first Auburn player to be inducted since Tracy Rocker in 2004.

April 29, 2009

"Tiger Prowl" hits Phenix City, Smiths Station

Say what you will about Auburn’s “Tiger Prowl,” it’s certainly generating a buzz.

Although this has been written about at length on most of the recruiting Web sites (props to AuburnSports.com for the photo, by the way), here’s an overview of what Auburn is doing: seven assistant coaches are doing a tour of the state in a stretch Hummer limo with Auburn decals and flags on the side to announce the school’s presence within Alabama.

The group started in Mobile earlier this week and has been moving north. They hit Central High in Phenix City and Smiths Station on Wednesday morning (stangely they didn’t cross the border into Georgia) before moving on to the Auburn/Opelika area and eventually Montgomery. The Birmingham area is on the docket for tomorrow apparently.

Keep in mind, the Auburn coaches cannot talk to the players. This is ostensibly just a fact-checking trip, to brush up on transcripts of some players and meet coaches. But it certainly is a different approach to recruiting.

Here’s what some coaches had to say:

RON NELSON, Central High coach

On seeing the limo pull up
Everybody saw them coming. You knew where they were coming from.


On meeting seven assistant coaches
I think the biggest thing is, and I really think what Coach (Gene) Chizik and them are trying to do, is a lot of times you come in to recruit and you meet one guy that recruits your area and you don’t know the other guys. Right now, we sat down for about an hour today, we had a chance to meet all seven of these guys and build a relationship with them. When I call, they’ll know who I am and vice versa.

Was there a buzz around their arrival?
They just happened to be here during a class change and I think a lot of kids saw them in the halls, so the buzz from that standpoint is there.

On Auburn’s commitment to recruiting the state
I think they know that they’ve got to get some players from the state of Alabama. And I think that’s one of the big things they’re doing to make their presence known and to let people know that Auburn will recruit you.

MARK ROSE, Smiths Station coach (it should be noted that Rose was a four-year letterman at Auburn, a teammate of current defensive line coach Tracy Rocker back in the Pat Dye era)

On the visit
“I know they don’t go everywhere, so it’s a privilege to have them come by.”

On if the staff showing up in a limo was unique
Yeah. I guess that would be a little unique. But I think that’s a good thing.

On the Auburn staff’s commitment to recruiting Alabama
Knowing those guys, I know they’re committed. They’re working non-stop. Like I said, I’ve had some dealings with a lot of them since they’ve been here and knew several of them from before. There’s no doubt they’re committed and they’re working for Auburn.


Spring wrap: Running backs

DEPTH CHART

Running backs
  • RB Ben Tate, Sr., 5-11, 217
  • RB Eric Smith, So., 5-10, 234
  • RB Onterio McCalebb, Fr., 5-10, 165

H-backs

  • HB Mario Fannin, Jr., 5-11, 226
  • FB John Douglas, So. 6-2, 235
  • TE Bailey Woods, So., 6-5, 230

Walk-ons

  • RB Justin Albert, rFr., 5-8, 169
  • RB Michael Alexander, So., 5-10, 201
  • RB Michael Gibson, Jr., 5-11, 227
  • RB Davis Hooper, So., 6-0, 201
  • FB Jason King, Jr., 6-0, 223

OVERVIEW

Once the bedrock of a Auburn’s football program, the Tigers’ running game hit a snag last season. Tony Franklin‘s offensive system didn’t lend itself to the power running game Auburn fans had grown accustomed to. The end results were disastrous. Tate led the team with 664 rushing yards, the lowest output from the team’s leading rusher since 2001. Brad Lester all but disappeared by the end of his senior season as Fannin, a wide receiver when the year started, emerged as the go-to back down the stretch. Now, everybody is going to get involved. Gene Chizik and new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn have made it clear that Auburn is going to return to its smashmouth roots. That means running the ball more than throwing it, despite the perception that Malzahn’s offensive is of the throw-it-first variety.

GOOD THINGS

Fannin was the team’s offensive MVP last year. So what does Auburn do? It moves him to a different position. Odd move, for sure, but Malzahn has been successful in utilizing a versatile H-back in the past, which seems to suit a bulked-up Fannin just fine. That means a refreshed Tate will likely be the feature back, and early indications are that the senior is taking that responsibility seriously. Running backs coach Curtis Luper was very impressed with Tate throughout the spring, saying he had 1,000-yard potential, something Auburn hasn’t seen out of a rusher since Kenny Irons ran for 1,293 yards in 2005. Smith and McCalebb seem like great complementary parts, Smith providing the power, McCalebb the speed. And don’t count out Fannin from getting some carries as well. There certainly is not shortage of bodies in the backfield.

BAD THINGS

The are nit-picky, but … Smith had to deal with a knee injury near the end of spring drills, which kept him out of action A-Day. It doesn’t sound serious, but you never know. It sounds like fumbles were a problem for part of the spring. During one scrimmage, Tate and McCalebb both lost the ball, which accounted for a narrow defensive victory that day. Also, Fannin’s move is a bit puzzling. Anyone who watched last year’s Georgia game realizes the kind of big-play potential that he has as a running back (then again, one of his touchdowns came on a pass after he went in motion out of the backfield). It would be a shame to see him not get as many carries because he’s lined up in different spots of the field where he can’t be handed the ball as easily.

ARRIVING SOON

There is no shortage of help on the way. McCalebb is technically a freshman after transferring from Hargrave, but he’s already in school, so I won’t count him here. Beyond that the Tigers signed Dontae Aycock, a four-star converted quarterback who signed late in the process, Brandon Jacobs, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound back who brings a bruising reputation like former Auburn back now with the New York Giants, and Demond Washington, a do-it-all junior college transfer who will start out on the offensive side of the ball. That’s a lot of talent coming in to a situation that doesn’t sound too conducive for a youngster to step in and play. Auburn has all of its running backs roles filled with experienced players (Every down: Tate; Versatility: Fannin; Power: Smith; Speed: McCalebb). It seems like it would be very tough for one of these players to get on the field immediately. If I had to guess, I’d say Washington has the best chance, simply because he’s gone through the rigors of two junior college seasons and his eligibility clock is ticking.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Speed is usually the trump card in football, and McCalebb brings a ton of it. He’s fast — legitimately fast. Everyone on the team agrees. Malzahn’s system seems like it can free up running backs in open space quite a bit, where McCalebb can be most dangerous. Get him in the open field and you’re going to have a tough time bringing him down. In my time covering college football, the fastest back I’ve seen was Michael Bennett when I was in college at Wisconsin (these two games stand out in my mind). A legitimate track star, Bennett was good for a 50- or 60-yard touchdown run in every game, simply because the Badgers’ line got him a hole and nobody could touch him. Bennett’s problem was that he was a featured back and he physically broke down by the end of the year from repeated poundings. Tate is Auburn’s featured back, meaning Malzahn can be smart about getting McCalebb into the game on a limited basis and keep him fresh. That’s a big benefit. And if anybody questions McCalebb’s determination in succeeding immediately, his back story should provide all the information you need to know about his focus and where it lies.

BATTLE TO WATCH

I don’t know how many battles there will be in this group just because the roles seem pretty well-defined. I guess I would say the biggest battle would be between Smith and McCalebb for who get the bulk of carries behind Tate, who has solidified his spot as the featured back. Fannin complicates the battle for carries, since he’ll probably shift to running back for at least part of the time in addition to his many other duties. How the carries will be divvied is the biggest question mark next season.

THEY SAID IT

“Some people always tell me when I run, I never look fast. I’m like, ‘Really? Well race me.’ Most of the guys on our team think I’m fast, but everybody else, they be like, ‘I don’t know.’ It doesn’t really matter because all I tell them is, ‘Let’s race.’ I tell everybody: ‘Let’s race.’”
— Tate, on the perception that he is slow

NUMBERS GAME

1,650 — rushing yards by the Tigers last season, their lowest season total since 1999, when they ran for a 748 yards. From 2000-07, Auburn averaged 2,183 rushing yards per season.

THE END OF THE DAY

Auburn has a strong backfield, but whether than translates to success in the running game depends on so many other variables (a strong offensive line, an effective passing game to to keep a defense honest) that it’s hard to tell how the Tigers will do this year. If the running game sputters, though, it won’t be because the backs aren’t pulling their weight. Tate seems refreshed after a sub-par 2008. Fannin is a weapon that can be used in many spots. And there are plenty of capable young players who can step in for a series or two and not be a detriment on the field. Give this group enough carries and some holes to run through and it should thrive.

Tomorrow: Quarterbacks

April 28, 2009

Spring wrap: Wide receivers/tight ends

DEPTH CHART

  • WR Tim Hawthorne, Jr., 6-3, 214
  • WR Terrell Zachery, Jr., 6-1, 209
  • WR Darvin Adams, So., 6-3, 184
  • WR Montez Billings, Sr., 6-2, 184
  • WR Harry Adams, So., 6-0, 185
  • WR Philip Pierre-Louis, rFr., 5-8, 157
  • WR Quindarius Carr, So., 6-1, 181
  • WR Derek Winter, So., 6-0, 200
  • TE Tommy Trott, Sr., 6-5, 237
  • TE Bailey Woods, 6-5, 230

Walk-ons

  • WR Trevor Barden, rFr., 6-4, 172
  • WR Woody Parramore, Sr., 5-8, 167
  • WR Patrick Collier, rFr., 5-11, 188
  • WR Nathan Taylor, So., 5-10, 173
  • WR Gabe Barrett, Jr., 5-10, 170
  • WR John Cubelic, Jr., 6-0, 207
  • WR Nick Padgett, Jr., 5-8, 173

Transfer (can’t play this year)

  • WR Ralph Spry, Jr., 5-10, 161

Status in the air

  • TE Gabe McKenzie, Sr., 6-5, 252

OVERVIEW

Auburn’s passing game was nothing short of a disaster last season. There’s no other way to put it. And while the quarterback mess and Tony Franklin‘s inability to truly install his offense were main causes for the Tigers’ passing problems, the lack of talent at wide receiver is just as responsible. Things didn’t get better in the offseason either. Rod Smith, the team’s most consistent receiving threat, graduated. Chris Slaughter, who had a huge game at Ole Miss, left the program. Robert Dunn, an erratic home run threat, exhausted his eligibility and is now pursuing a rap career (Google DunnCity and “Goose & Patron” if you’re interested). Auburn’s leading returning receiver (Billings) had only 24 catches last year, so yes, there are some big questions around the receiving corps. But there is a ray of light, and it comes in the form of receivers coach Trooper Taylor. The coach has instilled new life in the group, trying to get the receivers to forget about their lack of past production and look forward. It will certainly be a process to get things going in the right direction, but it seems Auburn has at least taken a good first step.

GOOD THINGS

Taylor consistently praised Hawthorne throughout the spring for his maturation as a receiver and ability to go over the top of the defense, a positive sign for a player who caught only eight passes last year. He could emerge as the team’s top receiving threat. Harry Adams, one of the fastest players on the team, moved over from cornerback to give the receiving corps a burner who can stretch the secondary. Although he only played there briefly, early returns were positive. And Zachery appeared to take a step forward, as evidenced by his 70-yard run in the spring game.

BAD THINGS

Oh, where to start. How about the lack of a No. 1 wideout? Or maybe the academic situation that kept Billings a spectator all spring? Or how about the fact that Taylor never seemed to have anything good to say about last year’s two-a-days darling Pierre-Louis? Or just that Pierre-Louis, seven months removed from knee surgery, still wasn’t participating in many contact drills? Or that Carr, despite having all the physical tools, hasn’t been able to translate that to the field? Or that Harry Adams has been playing receiver now for (what time is it?) … about 15 minutes? Or that Darvin Adams’ name rarely comes up in conversations? Or that it’s unclear if McKenzie will return to the team after dealing with an undisclosed medical issue? Yes, there are some questions about this receiving corps.

ARRIVING SOON

Here’s where it could get interesting. Receiver is a position where freshmen typically can step in and play right away at the college level, simply because there isn’t the same physical barrier there is on the line or the same mental challenge of a position like quarterback. And Auburn has a solid receiving class coming in, headed by DeAngelo Benton, a former five-star player who has spent the last two years trying to qualify academically, and Emory Blake, a signing day addition from Texas. It seems like both have the physical attributes to contribute immediately at a position that is one of the weakest on the Auburn roster. Travante Stallworth and Anthony Gulley are two more incoming freshmen with 4.4 speed. LaVoyd James is the other receiver in the class. At tight end, Philip Lutzenkirchen seems like he should be able to play immediately. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end, considered one of the jewels of the class, fits the mold of what Gus Malzahn wants in a tight end, big enough to stay on the line and versatile enough to work at many different spots in the receiving game.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Hawthorne has the makings of being the No. 1 guy Auburn so sorely lacks. He’s big (6-3, 214), fast, not lacking in confidence and clearly in the good graces of his position coach, which always helps. That’s a good recipe for a breakout.

BATTLE TO WATCH

The entire group is engaged in an ongoing position battle. Malzahn will use all sorts of receivers in his offense, so there will be plenty of passes to go around. Right now, though, the starting lineup isn’t even set. Harry Adams has been backing Hawthorne up at one of the outside spots. Zachery has a pretty good chance to start, but where does Billings fit in if and when he comes back? A number of guys have rotated in the slot position, including Trott. Playing time seems legitimately up for grabs right now across the board.

THEY SAID IT

“To be real honest, the talk that’s happened before we came around, that’s all B.T.T. I say that’s before Troop time. I don’t care anything about any of that. It’s what we have now.” — Taylor, using one of his many Trooperisms to forget about his receivers’ past struggles

NUMBERS GAME

2 — number of returning receivers or tight ends who caught more than 10 passes last year (Billings and Trott)

THE END OF THE DAY

This might be Auburn’s weakest unit overall in terms of talent and production, and while Malzahn has stressed Auburn is going to be a run-first team, he still needs play-makers to step up in the passing game to provide any kind of threat and take defenders out of the box, something last year’s team could not do. There are some positive things going on, though, and with the addition of a recruiting class that was receiver heavy, the Tigers appear to be on their way to remedying what has been a problem position for a couple of years. But it won’t happen overnight, which means there probably will be some growing pains this season.

Tomorrow: Running backs

April 27, 2009

Spring wrap: Offensive line

DEPTH CHART

  • LT Lee Ziemba, Jr., 6-8, 304
  • LG Mike Berry, Jr., 6-3, 313
  • C Ryan Pugh, Jr., 6-4, 287
  • RG Byron Isom, Jr., 6-3, 293
  • RT Andrew McCain, Sr., 6-6, 295

Reserves

  • OL Bart Eddins, Jr., 6-4, 290
  • OL Jared Cooper, So., 6-4, 300
  • LG Darrell Roseman, Jr., 6-4, 294
  • OT Vance Smith, So., 6-2, 255
  • OL A.J. Greene, So., 6-5, 279

Walk-ons

  • OL Rudy Odom, Sr., 6-5, 293
  • OL Charles Bates, rFr., 6-4, 291
  • OL Andrew Parmer, rFr., 5-10, 266
  • OL Stephen Gibbons, rFr., 6-0, 235

Status in the air

  • OL Kyle Coulahan, So., 6-4, 314

OVERVIEW

A year after struggling to adapt to the pace and technique required in Tony Franklin‘s spread offense, the offensive line has had a makeover. The svelte, nimble group packed on the pounds this offseason. Ziemba, Pugh and Isom added about 30 pounds each. McCain put on some weight too. Berry simply maintained (for obvious reasons). All of it was in order to better play in Gus Malzahn‘s fast-paced yet run-based offense, which will not shy away from running into the teeth of opposing defenses. So far, so good. Four starters are back and say the extra weight should give them a better shot against the physical defensive lines of the SEC. And the group has not surprisingly been all in favor of the smashmouth philosophy Malzahn and line coach Jeff Grimes hope to install. Now it’s a matter of seeing it on the field.

GOOD THINGS

Auburn has plenty of experience in its starting lineup. Ziemba and Pugh are two-year starters. Isom started last year before a concussion sidelined him late in the year, at which point Berry stepped in. And McCain, the tight end-turned-defensive linemen-turned right tackle, seems ready to embrace a prominent role at right tackle in his final season with the team. It also helps that a couple linemen will be more comfortable this year. Ziemba had a bothersome left knee operated on in the offseason and says he feels great, a plus for a player who labored through the second half of last year. And Pugh, who bounced back and forth between center and tackle last year, is back home at center, where he’s comfortable.

BAD THINGS

The Tigers simply lack bodies. From a scholarship perspective, they basically have enough for a first team, a second team and one extra person to do drills. That’s simply not enough, especially not for a position where injuries are going to happen. Auburn’s backups have plenty of issues. Smith is a converted tight end. Greene is a converted defensive tackle. Roseman is coming off a season of endless surgeries. Eddins is dealing with a knee injury. Furthermore, the backups have little to no experience. That’s a lot of question marks for a second unit that would be pressed into action if any of the starters have to leave a variety of reasons. Already, Pugh had a scare with one of his knees at the tail end of spring (relax, he’s fine according to reports), but that’s how precarious the situation is at line.

ARRIVING SOON

There isn’t much help coming in. After failing to sign a single offensive lineman in 2008, the Tigers added only two last year — Andre Harris and John Sullen. Sullen seems like a project. I can’t imagine him contributing in any way next year. The 6-foot-4, 327-pound Harris has a better chance but would need to pick things up quickly to get on the field in any capacity. I could see him perhaps adding emergency depth late in the season. But with a noticeable bubble in its junior class of linemen, it would seem foolish to waste a year of eligibility for a player to be simply a backup, especially with so few freshman and sophomore in the program.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

This isn’t so much of a breakout as a return to previous form. I think after being hobbled all of last season with a knee injury that Ziemba is determined to return to the form that made him part of the freshman All-SEC team two years ago. He’s 30 pounds heavier and has two solid wheels. Physically, he seems like he should finally be able to bang with the SEC’s big boys at tackle. It also helps that he’s going against Antonio Coleman every day in practice. I think that should benefit him once the games start.

BATTLE TO WATCH

The starting five is pretty well set, with McCain holding down the right tackle spot from the start of spring. What will be interesting is if any of them go down, who comes in next? There obviously could be a lot of shuffling up front (Berry, for instance, has worked some at center and could slide over if Pugh is out), especially since the order of the second team is so muddled. I think if someone in the backup crew proves he is able to handle getting on the field, he’ll immediately move to the top of the backup chart and Grimes will adjust positions to make it work. As of now, I don’t think anyone has done that.

THEY SAID IT

“The chaos is much more controlled.”
— McCain, describing this year’s offense vs. last year’s

NUMBERS GAME

8 — number of true offensive linemen on scholarship on the roster. Smith and Greene switched positions in the last year.

THE END OF THE DAY

This could be a major area of concern for Auburn. A lot is riding on the offensive line A) being healthy all season, and B) seamlessly returning to the smashmouth mentality that Gene Chizik thinks is the trademark of Auburn football. It appears the group is off to a good start in heading that direction. The offseason weight gain was a necessary step at getting back to being a run-first team that can move the ball against the physical defenses of the SEC. But when you play physical, there are going to be bumps and bruises. It’s inevitable. And right now, that’s a problem for a team searching for depth on the line. Maybe the summer and two-a-days will be enough time for the backups to get up to speed, but if not, the Tigers could be in a world of trouble if any of those starting five goes down.

Tomorrow: Receivers/tight ends

April 26, 2009

Powers talks about going to the Colts

Just got off a conference call with Jerraud Powers, who was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the third round of the NFL Draft today. Here’s what he had to say.

Opening statement

“This day is a big day, obviously. It’s a dream I’ve been chasing since I was 5 and it’s just a blessing. I’m just excited. I’m excited about the future and what it holds. Just happy for it to be over with and me being on a team.”

How did you get the news?

“It was the president for the Colts that called me like right before the pick was about to show up on TV. He told me that they were going to take me and just congratulating me and we laughed a lot about the whole process. And I was just excited. I started running down the hallway. It’s exciting. I just couldn’t believe it.”

Did you have any idea the Colts would take you?

“I didn’t know it was going to be the Colts. The Colts were one of the teams that were showing a lot of interesting, who were showing me that I can fit in their system and play in their defensive system. They showed a lot of interest, starting with the combine and going through it. So I sort of had a feeling, but this whole process, I didn’t know who was going to draft me.”

Does getting picked this early validate your decision to go pro?

“Yeah, it does. Because I think talking to the teams during this whole process and hearing what they thought about me and what they were grading me, I sort of knew that I could possibly end up as a late second or go third, but a lot of analysts and all the critics didn’t see that. So throughout this whole process, I was just going along with what all the critics were saying, just, ‘Yeah, yeah. That might happen.’ But I had a feeling that this could happen and that I could get picked kind of high and I knew it was definitely going to be a shock to a lot of people.”

How important was the combine and pro day in boosting your stock?

“It was important. You wanted to perform the best you could at the combine and pro day just because you are going against all the other guys. It’s a big competition, basically, and you want to be the one who stands out. It’s important, every bit of it, how you handle yourself during this whole process, so that’s the way I looked at it. I looked at it like it was a business and I was on a job interview.”

How do you think you fit with the Colts?

“I think I fit in well. They run a Cover 2 type scheme and they’re trying to go back to playing a lot of man, and that’s what they liked about me that I can play both. I have the toughness, they liked that I was physical as a corner. They liked that I can play zone or can line up and play man-on-man coverage.”

Where did you watch the draft?

“I was at home in Decatur, but I didn’t watch the draft at all, though. I would have probably been picking my brain cells out one-by-one after each pick. I think I could just let time go by and keep myself occupied and just wait for that phone call, because if I’m watching it pick-by-pick and my phone still doesn’t ring, I know my name is not going to get called. I was just trying to keep myself busy and just wait for that phone call. And that’s what happened.”

Green goes to San Diego in the fourth

Guard Tyronne Green was taken by the San Diego Chargers in the third round of the NFL Draft with the 133rd overall pick.

Green, a Pensacola, Fla., native, started the final 25 games of his Auburn career at left guard. He appeared in 42 games during his four years on the Plains.

Scouts Inc. gave him above average grades in agility, awareness, pass protection and run blocking. The 6-foot-2, 309-pound Green had an average mark in the strength/toughness category, lacking “jarring upper-body power.”

ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said this was about where Green would go, in the third or fourth round. He called Green a “battle-tested performer.”

Auburn has now had at least three players taken in the draft in every year since 2004.

UPDATE: According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Chargers drafted Green to play center, not guard.

Powers taken by Colts in third round

Now here’s s surprise: Former Auburn cornerback Jerraud Powers was selected in the third round of Day 2 of the NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts with the 92nd overall pick.

Powers, who skipped his senior season to enter the draft, was expected to go much later in the draft.

Powers fought through some injuries last season to finish with 47 tackles and two interceptions.

Still waiting to see where OG Tyronne Green goes. I’ll have another update when it happens.

UPDATE: Just checked out Powers’ Scouts Inc. profile on ESPN.com. He got his highest marks in production, character and ball skills (attacking the ball, natural hands). He got his lowest mark in run support (doesn’t always shed blocks quickly). There are also questions about his closing burst and recognition skills/toughness.

Here’s a partial analysis from ESPN.com: “Powers does a good job staying low in his backpedal and does an adequate, but not great, job of opening his hips when he’s forced to turn and run. He’s also strong enough to re-route receivers at the line of scrimmage, but he doesn’t always play with enough of an edge.”

UPDATE: Just checked into the Colts’ situation in the secondary. They have three cornerbacks on the roster who started last year — Kelvin Hayden (10 starts, 62 tackles, 3 INT), Marlin Jackson (7 starts, 57 tackles) and Tim Jennings (12 starts, 74 tackles, 1 INT). Another, Keiwan Ratliff (4 starts, 32 tackles, 2 INT) signed as a free agent with the Steelers in the offseason.

Jackson, a four-year veteran from Michigan, went on injured reserve with a knee injury for the second half of the season.

Other cornerbacks include Dante Hughes (third year, California), Nick Graham (third year, Tulsa), T.J. Rushing (fourth year, Stanford), Michael Coe (third year, Alabama State) and Brandon Sumrall (first year, Southern Miss).

All in all, it doesn’t look like a bad situation for Powers. With Ratliff out of the mix and Jackson coming back from a major knee injury, it appears like Powers should have an opportunity to get some playing time early on.

UPDATE: Here’s a post form a live chat from Colts beat writer Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star about the Powers pick: “It wasn’t a surprise the Colts addressed their defense with their third-round pick. But it might have been a surprise they opted for Jerraud Powers, a cornerback out of Auburn. Starters Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson return, as do key backups Tim Jennings and Dante Hughes. Team president Bill Polian, though, always goes with the best player, regardless of position. Powers is a 5-10, 192-pounder who will provide a physical presence and more depth. The pick should light a fire under Jennings, a 2006 second-round pick, and Hughes, a 2007 third-rounder. Neither has fulfilled expectations, especially Hughes.

Marks taken by Titans in second round (updated Sunday)

Sen’Derrick Marks turned out to be a first-day NFL Draft pick after all. The Tennessee Titans took the former Auburn defensive tackle in the second round with the 62nd overall selection in Saturday’s draft, two picks before the end of the first day.

“I just went crazy,” Marks said. “When I went to visit the Titans, I asked coach (Jeff) Fisher how it all works on draft day, and he asked if I really wanted to know and he told me. When he just called me, he said, ‘Didn’t I tell you that it was going to be a great feeling?’”

The Titans needed help on their interior line after losing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to free agency in the offseason. The All-Pro signed a 7-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins in February.

The 6-foot-2, 306-pound Marks, who bypassed his senior season at Auburn to enter the draft, turned out to be their solution. He was the sixth defensive tackle taken Saturday.

“Sen’Derrick Marks is perfect getting up the field,” ESPN analyst Todd McShay said shortly after the pick. “He is best when he’s on the move. A little bit undersized, but I think early on he can come in and rush the passer from the interior. Certainly Tennessee needs some depth at that defensive tackle position. I think Marks will provide some of that.”

ESPN’s Scouts Inc. gave Marks high grades in agility and quickness but had questions about his strength, toughness and durability.

Many of those doubts arose after an injury-plagued junior season during which he had 32 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and two sacks. A projected first-rounder before the season, Marks’ stock dropped considerably by the time he declared in December.

Those concerns were exacerbated by an offseason hamstring pull he suffered at the NFL Combine in February, an injury that affected him during a sub-par showing at Auburn’s pro day just a few weeks later.

But Marks met with several teams individually in the last month to temper concerns about his hamstring, which he declared “100 percent” earlier this week. One of those teams was Tennessee.

“The Titans complex was the only facility that I went to visit and I really enjoyed it,” Marks said. “It was a lot like Auburn’s, so I felt very familiar with it. I really liked the d-line coaches and the way that they coach. I really liked my visit and enjoyed it.”

According to the team’s Web site, the Titans’ two projected starters at defensive tackle next year are Tony Brown and Jovan Haye. Brown had 52 tackles and four sacks for Tennessee last season. Haye signed as a free agent after making 33 tackles in 14 starts with Tampa Bay.

Auburn has now had a player selected on the first day of the draft in every year since 2004.

UPDATE: Here are a couple things from the Titans Web site.

First, a video with Tennessee’s brain trust about the Marks selection.

Second, an audio only interview with Sen’Derrick (who is mislabeled as Den’Derrick at the top). Some interesting stuff on here, including Marks’ impressions of Fisher and his thoughts about replacing Haynesworth, a player he idolized. He also had an interesting comment for why he went pro in the first place, other than feeling he was ready for the next level:

“There was a lot going on at Auburn, and I really wasn’t getting a grasp of what was going on. And I felt that that was really personal on me. And I know a lot of other guys felt like that.”

Not sure what he means by that, but clearly the coaching change and turmoil of December had an impact on his decision.