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August 31, 2009

Men’s basketball releases 2009-10 schedule

The Auburn men’s basketball 2009-10 schedule was released this evening. The Tigers play 11 games against teams that made the postseason in 2008, including seven against NCAA tournament teams. Three of the team’s non-conference games are against teams from the ACC — Virginia, N.C. State and Florida State

Auburn opens its season Nov. 13 against Niagara at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum. Its SEC opener is Jan. 9 against South Carolina at home.

“We have a very demanding schedule this year with three ACC teams on it and a couple of good road games,” Auburn head coach Jeff Lebo said. “We have a return game at Missouri State, and we will play in Huntsville. A couple of years ago, we wanted to play in different parts of the state so we have been to Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile and now we are going to be up in Huntsville. That will be great for our Auburn fans in that area and in northern Alabama.

“We play at Florida State, which went to the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina State and Virginia in Auburn. We have a good mixture of some high level teams.”

All 16 of Auburn’s SEC games will be televised, as will its SEC tournament games.

2009-10 AUBURN BASKETBALL SCHEDULE (all times Central)

  • Nov. 6: Miles College (exh.), 7 pm
  • Nov. 13: (1) Niagara, 8:30 pm
  • Nov. 16: at Missouri State, 7:05 pm
  • Nov. 20: (2) Central Florida, 5 pm
  • Nov. 21: (2) IUPUI, 5 pm
  • Nov. 22: (2) North Carolina State, 7:15 pm
  • Nov. 25: High Point, 6 pm
  • Dec. 1: (3) at Alabama A&M, TBA
  • Dec. 4: Troy, 7 pm
  • Dec. 7: Virginia, 7 pm
  • Dec. 17: at Florida State, TBA
  • Dec. 20: Sam Houston State, 1 pm
  • Dec. 22: Alabama State, 7 pm
  • Dec. 29: Charleston Southern, 7 pm
  • Jan. 2: Georgia Southern, 1 pm
  • Jan. 5: West Georgia, 7 pm
  • Jan. 9: South Carolina (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
  • Jan. 14: at Tennessee (ESPN/2, ESPN360), 6 pm
  • Jan. 16: Kentucky (SEC Net), 3 pm
  • Jan. 20: at LSU (SEC Net), 7 pm
  • Jan. 23: at Vanderbilt (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
  • Jan. 28: Ole Miss (ESPNU), 6 pm
  • Jan. 30: Alabama (SEC Net), 3 pm
  • Feb. 6: at Arkansas (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
  • Feb. 10: Georgia (CSS), 8 pm
  • Feb. 13: at Mississippi State (FSN), 6 pm
  • Feb. 18: at Florida (ESPN/2, ESPN360), 6 pm
  • Feb. 20: Arkansas (FSN), 6 pm
  • Feb. 24: at Ole Miss (SEC Net), 7 pm
  • Feb. 27: LSU (FSN), 6 pm
  • Mar. 3: Mississippi State (SEC Net), 7 pm
  • Mar. 6: at Alabama (SEC Net), 12:30 pm
  • Mar. 11-14: (4) SEC Tournament (SEC Net/ABC), TBA

(1) Glenn Wilkes Classic (Auburn, AL)
(2) Glenn Wilkes Classic (Dayton Beach, FL)
(3) Huntsville, AL (Von Braun Center)
(4) Nashville, TN (Sommet Center)
* All Times Central

LIVE chat coming Wednesday

OK, folks. We’ve hammered down a date and time for our second shot at a live chat. It will be Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET/noon CT. When I get a link to chatroom, I’ll post it here.

Please follow along. These things are much more fun when there are plenty of participants. And come prepared with your best questions.

Lunchtime links: Monday edition (8/31)

Here’s something I’m planning on doing every day now that the season’s here. I’m going to peruse online articles and link a few notable ones on the blog around lunchtime every day Buster Olney-style, especially stuff about Auburn’s upcoming opponent.

This is a new experiment, so it might take a while for things to settle in with it, but bear with me. We’ll keep this limited to Louisiana Tech stuff today. Now for the links …

  • Derek Dooley wants to build his program around players he recruits from high schools, not transfers from major schools or junior colleges, writes Ethan Conley. Regardless, the Bulldogs do have some talented transfers that could make a difference in the Auburn game.

Physical practices a balancing act for Auburn

I wrote a story today about how Auburn, being low on numbers but wanting to instill a physical mindset, approached practice this August. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — From the moment he took the Auburn head coaching job, Gene Chizik vowed to return the program to its smashmouth roots.

But ingraining that physical mentality while managing a short-handed roster this August has been a delicate balancing act.

After a physical spring session, Auburn has had to be careful with the amount of hitting it has done so far, practicing at different tempos and levels of tackling throughout the preseason to preserve a healthy roster of players for when the games actually start.

Now, less than a week away from Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech at Jordan-Hare Stadium, questions about Auburn’s physical preparedness remain.

“I don’t know exactly where we are in that department,” Chizik said. “We’re trying to go enough of our first teams against each other, where we stay sharp in that department. Because that is a concern if you don’t do that.

“But there is a fine line with us doing too much of that versus doing too little of it. But I feel good with where we’re at. I still feel like our plan is smart.”

Read the rest here. Also, follow the blog on Twitter for instant news.

Late practice notes: Tigers upbeat as season nears

AUBURN, Ala. — A clock that counts down the number of days until the start of the season hangs on a wall in the Auburn locker room. As of Sunday night, the time until Tigers’ Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech was down to five days and some change.

“It’s real close,” senior tight end Tommy Trott said. “It’s a lot different than the summer when the thing says 160-some days. So it’s right around the corner.”

There was a different tenor to the Tigers’ full-pad practice Sunday night, one fueled by the thoughts of an actual game breaking the monotony of preseason practice.

“Tonight was really kind of an upbeat practice I thought, tempo-wise,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “The guys had a little bit more of a bounce in their step as you would imagine going into game week.”

Auburn’s preparation will differ slightly from a traditional game week, when it devotes most of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practices to its opponent. The Tigers began Louisiana Tech prep last week, mixing it in with their normal drills.

“We don’t feel like we’re in a real game-week scenario yet,” Chizik said. “So we’ll try to taper off and get our legs back under us yet before Friday.”

Follow the blog on Twitter.

Here are some other notes from Sunday interviews …

  • Junior Mario Fannin said he is the team’s No. 1 punt returner. “It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I think it’s going to actually enhance my game more as far as focusing and being tuned into the game. It will help me make wiser decisions when it comes to other things on the field.” Fannin, a do-all utility back, has returned only one punt in his life during a game. It was in high school. He took it back for a touchdown. He returned kicks last year, averaging 22.5 yards per return, but added punt returns to his repertoire this offseason. “It’s been a learning experience,” he said. “Now, the ball is traveling higher and you have faster guys running down the field toward you. It’s mainly just focusing on the ball and making the right decision.” The team has gone live on a few occasions, just to replicate the pressure of catching high-hanging punts with gunners bearing down on you. “I didn’t drop it,” Fannin said. “That’s the main thing.”
  • Fannin also said he’ll be in the mix on kick returns, as will Onterio McCalebb, Terrell Zachery and Harry Adams.
  • Chizik plans to release a depth chart later this week. We’re assuming it will be earlier than Saturday morning.
  • Chizik also said freshman safety Daren Bates will get in the game in some manner, whether it’s on defense or special teams.The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Bates has made a quick impression after arriving to camp two days late because of the NCAA Clearinghouse process. With junior Mike McNeil still sidelined by a broken leg suffered last April, Bates has a chance to jump Mike Slade and Drew Cole for playing time at the safety position opposite Zac Etheridge. “He got a late start, but over the last eight or nine days, you can really see the light coming on,” Chizik said. “You can see him do some things that make you think he’s got a chance to contribute. One of those is being a physical player. I think he’s going to be that. I think he’s one of those guys that’ll stick his face in there and be an aggressive football player at the safety position — and that’s what you need.”
  • Chizik said offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips is “doing well.” The freshman, who transferred this summer from Florida State, had a non-football related medical episode early in camp that has kept him in street clothes since. “He’s in meetings and he’s with our football team, so we’re excited about that,” Chizik said, not offering a date for his return. “He’s doing better.” Chizik also said he has not received word from the NCAA as to whether Phillips would be immediately eligible to play this season.
  • Kodi Burns said he expects to be the Wildcat quarterback Saturday. “We’ve worked on it a little bit,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in this game.”
  • Chizik had great things to say about Louisiana Tech, which returns 17 starters from a team that went 8-5 last year and won its first bowl game (the Independence Bowl) since 1977. (Click here to read a Q&A on the Bulldogs I did with one of the team’s beat writers this summer). “Well, I just think coach (Derek) Dooley has done a great job with them. They’re really, really talented. They’ve got some great special teams players. If you look at their special teams, that certainly stands out right at the top at how good they were in really every phase last year. They do a great job with that. What they are is a very sound team. They do everything that makes sense. They don’t take a lot of chances. They’re just a very sound football team. They play physical. They have a great scheme on defense that is very aggressive but very sound. Offensively they do a lot of great things with throwing the ball. Their offensive line, they’re big, they’re physical, so they run the ball much better. It’s just a much improved team from over the past few years that you would imagine. But they’re really impressive.”
  • Not to spoil what’s going to be my advance for Friday, but Auburn’s players had great things to say about the Bulldogs as well. “It’s kind of scary,” defensive end Antonio Coleman said. “You can’t underestimate them because they have a great football team. I’ve seen some film on them. I’ve got a DVD right here on them. They’ve got a good football team. You can’t roll your helmets out and beat them just because you’re Auburn. We’re just going to go out there and play football.
  • Trott had similar sentiments, speaking a whole lot of truth at the end of this particular quote. “It might as well be their Super Bowl, their finale. I’m sure they’re geared up, they’re excited, fired up. I mean, what a way to start the season. And after watching what they did to Mississippi State, we’ve watched the game, we’ve watched all kinds of cut-ups from that game. It really lets you know that you’ve got to be on top of your game. You’ve got no business going out there and thinking that you should win that game, because let’s be honest, last year we were a 5-7 ballclub . Besides a whole lot of summer preparation, we haven’t proven anything different on the field.”
  • Coleman on the excitement of it being game week: “It’s been a long time coming, like I said before. Since that last loss to Alabama it’s been nothing but a lot of hard work for the last eight months.
  • Trott had some very insightful things to say about Auburn’s offense, which, he accurately says, has not been feared in quite some time. “It’s not just last year or this year,” he said. “I know there was a lot of excitement and hope for last year’s offense, but since that ’04 team really, I can’t remember a time when we’ve been feared as an offense that’s going to go out there and put a lot of points on the board. Coach (Trooper Taylor) says it all the time: ‘Why aren’t y’all working? Why aren’t y’all staying after practice? Look through the papers and tell me the last time somebody said something nice about you as a receiver, a receiving corps.’ Or somebody’s really predicted this offense to be something special. It’s just been a while and people haven’t had a lot of nice things to say about us as an offense, not necessarily us as a team, because this defense has been carrying us for a few years now. But definitely, I mean, we want to go out there and prove that we’re capable to not only help this team win ballgames, as opposed to hurting it, which it feels like we were doing from time to time last year, but also help carry this team too.
  • Trott says his knee is 100 percent after undergoing surgery last fall. “I don’t even think about it any more, to be honest,” he said.
  • Chizik sees CB Neiko Thorpe as having a great future in this game called football. “He’s very talented, he’s very blessed,” Chizik said. “He’s got to learn the game, he’s got to learn the intricacies of playing back there, which I don’t think he fully gets yet. That usually comes, like with any position, with time. But he’s got a chance to be a really good one. It’s hard for me to go out on a limb and say things like that about younger players because the jury is mostly timed out. I say it, if he keeps progressing, if he keeps working like he does, he’s got a chance to be a very good football player and another one in a long line of really good DBs that have come out of here in the last few years.”
  • We got plenty of material from the veteran players trying to soothe the nerves of the newcomers who will be playing in front of a large crowd for the first time in their careers. “As far as the gameday experience, coach (Tracy) Rocker is just telling them calm down, don’t get nervous,” Coleman said. “You’re going to be nervous, but just get out there and if you know what to do everything will be fine.” Coleman recounted his first game. “I wasn’t so much nervous but when I got out on the field it was like I was stuck in mud,” he said. “I don’t know what it was, but it was like I was running with 50-pound shoes on. After a series or two you get out of that and you get a feel for the game. It’s way faster than high school ball.”
  • Burns on his first bit of playing time: “My first rodeo was the Mississippi State game, and I had no idea I was going to get to play. Coach (Al) Borges sat me down and talked about it, but in the back of my mind it was, `There’s no way I’m going to play.’ Sure enough, I was sitting down on the bench and they said my name, and said to go in the game. It was a really exciting feeling. I really wasn’t too nervous. I really don’t get nervous. I just wanted to go out there and prove what I had.”
  • One more from our “Remember When …” series. Here’s cornerback Walt McFadden: “It was crazy. Tiger Walk. That just blew me away. I remember on kickoff, I was supposed to run down the field like 40 yards and I ain’t even make it down there because I was so excited just looking in the stands. I got in a lot of trouble for that. I think the play was a touchback and our tradition was to run all the way to the end zone to get the crowd to start jumping up and down. I didn’t even make it down there. I was so excited that I ran right off to the sidelines. It wasn’t a good thing.”
  • While we were interviewing McFadden, defensive lineman Antoine Carter hovered over some reporters’ shoulders before chiming in with a question of his own, asking Walt, “What are some of the goals of the defense coming into the first game?” To which Walt responded: “We want this game to be a shutout. I believe that’s going to be a goal for us. A whole bunch of three-and-outs, a whole bunch of turnovers, a lot of big plays and just to show the world we’re back.” Burns, who was waiting to be interviewed next, then chimed in with a question of his own. “How many times has Kodi Burns burned you for a TD?” McFadden answered quickly. “That’s a negative.” Many guffaws were had.

August 30, 2009

It’s college football preview time!

Our college football preview section ran in today’s newspaper. Click here to read everything, including full coverage of Alabama, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Troy, Northern Alabama, Tuskegee, LaGrange College and more.

Here are a couple of stories I wrote that are Auburn related:

Here are team capsules for the SEC:

And here is the main story on how there’s been a shift in the Iron Bowl rivalry (note: not for Auburn fans who are faint of heart):

One more thing: I think we’ll be doing a live chat at some point this week, probably Wednesday around the lunch hour. These things are fun if people participate, so I encourage you to bring your best and most burning Auburn questions. I will post (and tweet) the exact time of the chat as soon as we finalize a time, so you might as well follow the blog on Twitter just to make sure you don’t miss it.

I’ll post again tonight after we do interviews with players following practice, but it will be late.

Auburn cornerbacks low on depth but high on talent

I wrote a story for today’s newspaper about Auburn’s cornerbacks. Here’s how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — At 22 years old, Walt McFadden feels old. The fifth-year senior is by far the dean of the Auburn cornerbacks — a wise, battled-tested veteran leader whose younger teammates have taken to calling “Daddy Walt.”

“I’m trying to get away from that,” McFadden said, feeling even older because of the nickname. “I’m still their age, you know?”

While McFadden doesn’t necessarily enjoy the moniker, he has embraced taking under his wing the youthful trio of Neiko Thorpe, Harry Adams and Demond Washington, a group of cornerbacks expected to get the majority of playing time this season.

“I don’t think there’s a weak link back there,” McFadden said.

For the full story, click here. Also, f0llow the blog on Twitter for instant updates.

August 29, 2009

Caudle named Auburn’s No. 2 quarterback; Rollison’s redshirt still undecided

AUBURN, Ala. — It wasn’t the quarterback news he had hoped to hear two weeks ago, but Neil Caudle will take it.

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik announced after Friday’s practice that Caudle will be the Tigers’ No. 2 quarterback, beating out true freshman Tyrik Rollison for the backup role to starter Chris Todd.

“He’s worked really, really hard for this,” Chizik said, eight days before Auburn’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. “I’m really proud for him. If he has a chance to go in the football game, we feel like he gives us the best chance to win.”

A 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior from Spain Park High in Hoover, Ala., Caudle has only played in mop-up duty during his three-plus years at Auburn. He has thrown eight career passes, completing four of them for 32 yards.

He and Kodi Burns dueled to a virtual tie for the top quarterback spot at the end of the spring, but Todd, who missed spring drills while rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, re-claimed the starting job Aug. 13. Burns moved to wide receiver while Caudle and Rollison battled it out for the No. 2 job.

“I wanted the No. 1 job. I couldn’t have that,” Caudle said. “To see improvement is definitely a good thing. I’ve been throwing the ball well. I’ve been more comfortable out there. The game has been slowing down for me.”

“If you just look at him right now, he feels like he has just a better comfort level now than maybe he did two weeks ago,” Chizik said. “We figured that would happen over time. We figured someone would separate (himself) and Neil’s done that.”

If you followed the blog on Twitter, you would have found out about this seconds after Chizik said it. Seriously. So I encourage you to follow along.

Here’s some more news and notes from Friday …

  • The quarterback news was nice for Caudle, whose career has been dotted by a number of false starts. He separated his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage in 2007 and never factored into last year’s quarterback competition between Burns and Todd when Tony Franklin was offensive coordinator. “Neil to me is the ultimate tough guy,” Chizik said. “He has been through a lot of adversity. He just keeps coming back. … I’m proud for him. I’m proud of him. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
  • Chizik said Friday’s decision does not necessarily mean a redshirt year for Rollison, the 6-foot, 194-pound dual-threat jewel of Auburn’s 2009 recruiting class. The coaches gave the freshman the majority of reps with the second team after naming Todd the starter, just to see what he was capable of. “We don’t have any intention in that direction yet,” Chizik said of redshirting Rollison. “We’re going to keep working with Tyrik and we’re going to keep, slowly but surely, feeding him pieces of the offense. Right now, there’s some things he does really well and we feel like there’s some things we can really build on. (We’re) just kind of increasing his library of what he can and can’t do within the offense.”
  • Chizik said Rollison took the news well. “He just wants to win and he wants to be a great teammate,” Chizik said. “He knows he’s very talented, which he is, and he knows he’s got work to do. With a really, really good heart, he’s accepted it and will continue to work every day like he’s done.”
  • Those looking for this as a sign that Caudle has a leg up on the competition for the 2010 quarterback job are getting ahead of themselves. Todd is a senior, meaning the quarterback race next season will likely come down to Caudle, Rollison, Barrett Trotter, who is out this year after tearing an ACL, and freshman Clint Moseley, a likely redshirt candidate. “Every year is a new year,” Chizik said. “It’s really hard to say. I don’t know that that would be a fair assessment at this point because every year is new and we’ll start it all over again.”
  • Chizik said the depth chart isn’t complete, but it’s getting closer. I have to imagine backup quarterback was a big one to cross off the list.
  • Auburn probably will play anywhere from 10 to 15 true freshman this season by most estimations. That’s pretty daunting for most first-year players. “It’s tough,” Chizik said. “You can do all you want on the practice field, and then all of a sudden you put 90,000 out there and it changes. Conventional wisdom would say it shouldn’t, but it does. And so they’ve got to get used to the speed of the game. I mean, think about all these guys who came out of high school right now. They’ve gotten used to practice speed against their own guys, but game speed is different. And there’s a lot of challenges that come with that and I’ve experienced it first hand. So we’ve just got to again work through the growing pains that come with it because we’d rather not be in this situation, but it is what it is. And we’re here. So they’ll grow, they’ll make their share of mistakes, we know that. We’re trying to put them in positions where they don’t make mistakes, but we know that’s what comes with the territory, but it’s tough. It is.”
  • Running backs coach Curtis Luper doesn’t have a No. 2 back picked out quite yet. “I’ll kind of determine that starting next Saturday,” he said. “Generally – hopefully – someone will emerge as the guy after the first couple of weeks.” Mario Fannin, Onterio McCalebb and Dontae Aycock are all options for carries behind starter Ben Tate.
  • Luper would like to have a change-of-pace back to Tate. Eric Smith, who has not practiced with the team since his arrest for third-degree assault, figured to be the power back. Now, the Tigers are still searching. It might be Aycock, who at 225 pounds is a little bigger than Tate and McCalebb. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense because they can get accustomed to one style of guy and then here comes a guy that’s totally different,” Luper said. “A lot of times you hear of guys like thunder and lightning. You’ve heard that comparison – an analogy used to describe two different kinds of backs. It keeps the defense off balance and it presents certain issues for them.”
  • Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had questions about his backup group. How did he feel about them Friday, eight days before the season opener? “Still questions,” he said with a smile. “Not ready to say anything about any one guy that guy that’s going to be a backup at this spot at that spot. Certainly you want to have those decisions made as soon as you can. But sometimes it’s not a bad thing for guys to know they’re competing all the way up to the end. You get the best preparation out of all the guys you can if they’re still competing. I know a little bit more than I did a week or two ago, but not where I ready to name anybody as backup at any spot yet.”
  • Grimes said in the past he’s had a sixth lineman who is close to the starting five in ability. “If that’s the case, I’ll rotate a guy in there,” he said. “Certainly you like to do that because it develops a little more depth and you have guys with game experience. But if you’re in the position where you don’t have a guy that’s anywhere close to the starters, you’re not going to throw somebody out there just to do it.” Asked if that’s the case this year, Grimes smiled again and said, “We’ll see.”
  • Grimes confirmed that the starting five everybody expected up front will be that way. Just for reference, this is the starting lineup: LT Lee Ziemba, LG Mike Berry, C Ryan Pugh, RG Byron “Lee” Isom, RT Andrew McCain.
  • Grimes’ hope for Game 1: “My hope is that we step out there and we make a statement with how we play the game, in terms of our style of play more than anything else. Certainly we want to be technically proficient, we don’t have to have penalties, we don’t want to give up sacks or anything. The main thing is I’m looking for five guys that will just dominate the game up front and play it the way I think it ought to be played. And if that happens, it’ll show up. If we play hard, play physical, and do what we need do, that gives us a chance to do what we need to do on offense. Nothing can happen if we don’t do that.”

Caudle named backup quarterback

Junior Neil Caudle will be Auburn’s backup quarterback, Tigers coach Gene Chizik announced Friday.

Caudle battled true freshman Tyrik Rollison for the backup role after Auburn named Chris Todd its starter two weeks ago.

“He’s worked really, really hard for this,” Chizik said. “I’m really proud for him. I really feel good about where he is. If he has a chance to go in the football game, we feel like he has the best chance to win.”

Chizik said Friday’s decision does not necessarily mean Rollison will redshirt this season.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Caudle has only played in mop-up duty during his time at Auburn. He has thrown eight career passes, completing four of them for 32 yards.

Check back for more in a little bit.

August 28, 2009

Reactions to the NCAA’s decision on Billings

AUBURN, Ala. — The NCAA has ruled Auburn senior wide receiver Montez Billings out for the first four games of the season because of an academic issue, the school announced Thursday.

Billings, who returned to practice this August after sitting out the spring, graduated in May but still had an undisclosed NCAA-related academic issue he had to satisfy before he was cleared for games. Head coach Gene Chizik recently said the issue was “out of his hands.”

“This is unfortunate for Montez, but we’ve exhausted all avenues to get him on the field as soon as possible,” said Auburn senior associate athletics director Rich McGlynn, who handles NCAA compliance. “While we don’t necessarily agree with the NCAA’s ruling, we have to respect and abide by their decision.”

Billings will be eligible to play in Week 5, Auburn’s first SEC road game at Tennessee on Oct. 3.

“We would have liked to had a decision that was more favorable,” Chizik said. “But it is what it is, like I said, and we’re moving on. He’s been great. And he’s looking forward to getting back for the fifth game of the year.”

The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Billings is the Tigers’ leading returning receiver. He caught 24 passes for 277 yards last season. Auburn’s other returning healthy receivers combined for 15 catches last year.

Billings has started 20 games in three years. The senior from Pelham, Ala., has 55 career catches for 645 yards and one touchdown.

With Billings’ status hanging in the air for the last few months, Chizik said the team wasn’t caught off guard by the Thursday’s news.

“Any time there’s a guy who you know can play for you and he’s not, you’ve got to make provisions for that,” he said. “We’ve always got a plan.”

Make sure to follow the blog on Twitter before reading this other news and notes ….

  • So what does that mean for Billings in the interim? His practice role diminished as Auburn began preparation for its Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech. He has worked with the scout team this week, sporting a blue, nameless No. 19 jersey during Thursday’s practice instead of his usual No. 84. “He’s in the all meetings, in terms of staying with our offense,” Chizik said. “He’s going to help our football team anyway we ask him to help it. Scout team, if that shoe fits, then that’s what we’ll do. But he’s certainly going to stay up on everything because we’re looking forward to getting him to help us.”
  • And what does that mean for the Tigers’ receiving corps? Auburn has several options in Billings’ absence. Freshman DeAngelo Benton recently moved up to the top spot on the depth chart at the “9” position, according to Taylor. Other options include Darvin Adams, a slot receiver who missed Thursday’s practice with an undisclosed injury, and converted quarterback Kodi Burns.
  • Emory Blake, a polished freshman from Austin, Texas, will be in the mix as well. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound receiver had worked mostly as an outside receiver on the other side of the ball (the “2” position), but is taking reps at the “9” now. “Coach Troop says every day is an interview and the doors are always open,” Blake said. “You just have to come in and make plays every day and if you do that, you’ll see your way on the field.”
  • Sophomore Quindarius Carr, who can play all three receiver positions, is also in the running for playing time. “He’s kind of my catch-all,” Taylor said. “I feel like I can move all the way around.”
  • Special teams coordinator Jay Boulware wouldn’t say for certain that punter Clinton Durst and place-kicker Wes Byrum will start when Auburn opens its season against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 5, but he made it sound like that will be the case. “It’s sure looking that way,” Boulware said.
  • Durst, a second-team preseason All-SEC pick who averaged 42.1 yards a punt last year, briefly quit the team in January in a scholarship dispute. He returned for spring ball and battled Ryan Shoemaker for the starting job. Durst separated himself with a strong August, and head coach Gene Chizik rewarded the senior with a scholarship less than two weeks ago.
  • Byrum has bounced back from a 2008 season during which he went 11-for-19 on field goal attempts. He briefly lost the top spot to walk-on Chandler Brooks in the spring but has since come on strong, pulling ahead of Brooks and Morgan Hull. During a live kicking drill at the beginning of Thursday’s practice, the junior drilled a 50-yarder to cap the session, clearing the bar with yards to spare. “We’ll see how Byrum carries over,” Boulware said. “He’s done a phenomenal job for us this camp and he’s had a number of days where he’s knocked every field goal through at the top of practice, and that’s big. Last spring he couldn’t do that. So we’ll see where he ends up.”
  • Injured wide receiver Tim Hawthorne, who has been sidelined with a broken foot since the summer, was not in pads Thursday, but he also was not wearing a protective boot on his right foot for the first time while participating in catching drills with receivers. Does that mean the receiver is any closer to a return? “I don’t really know,” Taylor said. “I would like to (play him). If he can help us, I’ll put him out there. I’m definitely going to give him a shot because he’s earned it with his leadership, what he’s done this summer and even while he’s been hurt. He’s been incredible as a leader with these young guys.”
  • Auburn has been spared by the flu bug that’s affected much of the area recently. Other than backup quarterback Tyrik Rollison, who missed Tuesday’s practice, and Hawthorne, nobody else has shown flu-like symptoms so far. “We’ve been really good,” Chizik said. “I think our training staff has done a good job of being proactive to prepare us for that. It’s running rampant, obviously, around the state. We’ve been pretty fortunate up to this point.”
  • BB&T Corporation has replaced Colonial Bank as one of the corporate sponsors of Auburn athletics. The North Carolina-based bank, which recently secured the assets of the Montgomery-based Colonial BancGroup Inc., will sponsor the university’s football, basketball and baseball programs, placing its logo at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum and Plainsman Park. Colonial Bank was founded by Bobby Lowder, an Auburn Trustee and prominent Tigers football donor. BB&T acquired 90 branches in Alabama with its purchase of Colonial and is now the fourth-largest bank in the state.
  • DE Antonio Coleman talked about coming out of a stance where he’s standing up. “It just lets me get out in space and drop in coverage or come off the edge,” he said. “I’m used to it. I’ve done it before, but it’s been a couple years. I did it with (Will) Muschamp. We did some of it last year, but it wasn’t much at all. I’m just getting back used to it. … I prefer both. I like to be multiple – outside linebacker, defensive end – just moving around and giving the offense problems. ” Coleman says he envisions his future NFL career being a hybrid type role. “That’s what I’m banking on,” he said.
  • LB Adam Herring told us that he had surgery on his heel in December. That’s the mysterious injury that’s kept him out until this week.
  • Auburn will go to Jordan-Hare Stadium today for its final practice this week. Chizik plans to do situational work at the stadium. The Tigers will take Saturday off before going into their regular game week schedule starting Sunday.