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April 30, 2010

Auburn baseball heads to Arkansas

The Auburn baseball team is at Arkansas for a crucial three-game series this weekend. The Razorbacks (34-8, 13-5 SEC) are leading the SEC West. They are three games ahead of the Tigers (28-14, 10-8).

Read all about it by clicking here.

I’m heading out of town this weekend, so I probably won’t have any blog updates about how the team is doing, but I’ll update it once I get back.

Here’s a look at the pitching matchups:

Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET
  • Auburn: LHP Cory Luckie, 5-2, 6.64 ERA, 39.1 IP, 35 K, 11 BB
  • Arkansas: LHP Drew Smyly, 6-0, 2.22 ERA, 56.2 IP, 62 K, 23 BB
Saturday, 3 p.m.ET
  • Auburn: TBA
  • Arkansas: LHP Randall Fant, 3-0, 2.60 ERA, 27.2 IP, 23 K, 9 BB
Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
  • Auburn: LHP Grant Dayton, 4-2, 5.14 ERA, 56.0 IP, 37 K, 13 BB
  • Arkansas: RHP Brett Eibner, 3-3, 4.04 ERA, 49.0 IP, 45 K, 12 BB

New NCAA rule will prevent future Tiger Prowls

Auburn will have to keep the limos in the garage next year.
The NCAA passed legislation Thursday night that prevents more than two assistant football coaches from visiting a high school in one day during the spring evaluation period, a measure aimed at preventing the all-out recruiting blitz employed by Auburn and several other schools recently. The news was first reported by the Athens Banner-Herald.
The rule is effective immediately.
The spring evaluation period is for coaches to gather information on prospective recruits from coaches, administrators and guidance counselors. Coaches are not allowed to make contact with the players.
But Auburn has created a buzz the last two years with the controversial tactic of sending its assistants en masse to high schools in and around Alabama in stretch Hummer limousines.
The NCAA said such actions were “just as much to be seen as to actually conduct an evaluation,” concluding that schools are “unnecessarily expending resources in order to have multiple assistant coaches attend these evaluations as a result of the perceived recruiting benefit.”
The measure specifically mentioned the use of limousines and “extravagant buses.” Although Auburn used a decorated bus for fundraising rallies this spring, it did not send it to schools on recruiting trips.
Other schools, although less flashy, have followed Auburn’s lead, and Carver High, home of highly-touted recruits Gabe Wright and Isaiah Crowell, has been the center of attention.
Georgia sent six assistants to Carver on Monday. After Auburn sent six Tuesday, Florida State arrived with four Wednesday.
On Thursday, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik distanced himself from the “Tiger Prowl” phrase Auburn has used to describe its evaluation forays the last two springs.
He said “Tiger Prowl” had “nothing to do with recruiting” during an SEC teleconference, drawing a distinct line between Auburn’s recruiting efforts in the morning and fundraising rallies — what he called the actual “Tiger Prowl” — at night. Auburn used the large bus painted in team colors and emblazoned with logos at the fundraising events.
Chizik said he unsure what effect the limousines and the en masse approach has had on Auburn’s recruiting.
In February, after his first full year of recruiting on the Plains, Chizik and his staff landed a consensus top-five class. The Tigers have already secured commitments for 2011 from three highly-rated offense linemen — Spencer Region, Thomas O’Reilly and Reese Dismukes.
“I don’t know whether that’s something that played a huge part in our signing class or not,” Chizik said. “We like to think that there are some things that we did that added to the success of the recruiting class, but at the end of the day it’s about relationships and about how hard you work to get young men and convince them this is the best place for them and their families.”

Spring recap: Defensive line

After yesterday’s quarterback diversion, we’re back on track with the position-by-position breakdowns following spring practice. As a programming note, I’ll take the weekend off and resume with special teams and the offense next week.
If you missed the first two installments, you can click here to read about the secondary and linebackers.
Now for the defensive line …

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • DE Antoine Carter, 6-4, 260, Sr.
  • DT Mike Blanc, 6-4, 289, Sr.
  • DT Nick Fairley, 6-5, 314, Jr.
  • DE Michael Goggans, 6-3, 261, Sr.

RESERVES

  • DL Zach Clayton, 6-3, 293, Sr.
  • DE Nosa Eguae, 6-2, 249, rFr.
  • DE Dee Ford, 6-4, 233, So.
  • DL Derrick Lykes, 6-2, 281, So.
  • DE Craig Sanders, 6-4, 240, Fr.
  • DT Jamar Travis, 6-0, 292, So.
  • DE Chris Humphries, 6-2, 225, So.

OTHERS

  • DE Robert Hill, 6-1, 239, Jr.
  • DL Joe Jones, 5-11, 308, rFr.
SIGNEES
  • DE Joe Bonomolo, 6-3, 245, Jr.
  • DE Justin Delaine, 6-5, 225, Fr.
  • DE Corey Lemonier, 6-5, 223, Fr.
  • DT Kenneth Carter, 6-5, 267, Fr.
  • DT Jeffrey Whitaker, 6-3, 295, Fr.

WHAT I WROTE LAST YEAR

“(Antonio Coleman) had at least two sacks during one scrimmage that was dominated by the defensive line and should be a force next year if he can avoid the minor bumps and bruises that limited him last season.”

OVERVIEW
True to form, Coleman suffered some injuries that limited his production during the first half of the season. But the senior was a terror the second half, finishing with 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for a loss. He led the SEC in both categories. But he’s gone now, along with defensive tackle Jake Ricks, meaning Auburn will need some new faces to step up on the line. The good news is that there are plenty of candidates, with a solid blend of experience and youth. The bad news is that none of the players has as much of an upside as Coleman, who was a standout performer for most of his career. The Tigers might be deeper on the line this year, but they’ll have to account for losing their star.

GOOD THINGS

If anyone is going to step into AC’s place, it’s another AC — senior Antoine Carter. Carter showed what he was capable of near the end of last season once he was fully recovered from offseason knee surgery. He became the bookend pass rusher Auburn needed to pair with Coleman to keep opposing quarterbacks wary at all times. The question is this: was Carter’s success tied to all the attention Coleman was getting on the other side? In addition to Carter and Goggans, who mans the other end position, Auburn has developed some young talent. Ford and Eguae are blossoming players, perhaps not quite ready for a primetime role, but ready to contribute nonetheless. In the middle, Blanc is primed for a big season after quietly registering 6.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks last year. But Fairley has the biggest potential. The former junior college transfer has worked on consistency this offseason, trying to get his assignment grades to match his production grades. If he gets better at lining up in the right place and plugging the right hole on a more consistent basis, the Tigers could have a strong defensive front.

BAD THINGS

It remains to be seen if anybody in this group can consistently produce, especially at stopping the run, where Auburn was abysmal last season (156.1 yards allowed per game ranked 10th in the SEC). Carter has shown it in spurts. Goggans started 18 games before some minor injuries and poor production led to Carter replacing him int the starting lineup. Fairley and Blanc have done OK, but there are questions about the backups. Clayton has never stayed healthy (including this spring). Eguae and Ford are pretty ripe. Lykes has been quiet his entire career. And you can get a pretty good sense of what the coaches think about Travis after burning his redshirt to fair catch a short kickoff last year. Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker will have to develop that second line if he plans on wholesale substitutions like he did during the latter part of last season.

ARRIVING SOON

Defensive line is usually a difficult place to come in and play right away, but Auburn has some candidates in its signing class. Whitaker and Carter are both four-star players at tackle, where there’s not a line of superstars ahead of them. And Whitaker is big enough (295 pounds) that size won’t be a detriment to getting on the field. One the ends, Bonomolo, a junior college transfer, should be ahead of the game in terms of game-readiness, having played two seasons (or one and a half if you take into account his shoulder injury) at Fullerton (Calif.) Community College. Lemonier, a signing day addition who announced on ESPN, is highly-rated but needs to add some size (223 pounds). Auburn planned to redshirt Ford, who was in similar spot last year, but played him in third-down situations when injuries forced the coaching staff’s hand. Perhaps a similar role is in the talented Lemonier’s future. Sanders, meanwhile, already got a jump on learning the system by enrolling in January.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Eguae. Coaches and teammates had great things to say about him end during two-a-days last August, calling him one of the likeliest freshman candidates to get on the field. But doctors discovered a stress fracture in his foot one the eve of the season. He thought about playing the second half of the year but decided to redshirt. It might be to Auburn’s benefit. Eguae thinks the year off helped his development, able to add some size and gain a little more knowledge about the game before being thrown into the fire. He doesn’t appear to care what his role is, even if it’s as a backup. “Whoever is in front of me,” he said, “I don’t want no decrease of play to happen between me and the guy that’s in front of me.”

BATTLE TO WATCH

There seem to be pretty defined lines of who is a starter and a reserve on the line this year. If I had to pick a battle, I’d say watch one of the end positions. Goggans didn’t exactly dominate last year, losing his starting job halfway through the season (although that was to an up-and-coming Carter). Eguae might not be there yet, but if he’s as talented as the coaches are saying, he should start to make strides throughout the season and push for more playing time.

THEY SAID IT

“The thing we need is leadership. That’s probably the most important thing is getting those guys up front to try and lead.” — Rocker, wondering who is going to step up in Coleman’s place.

NUMBERS GAME

25 — Rushing touchdowns allowed by Auburn last season, by far the most in the SEC. Alabama, by comparison, allowed only five.

THE END OF THE DAY

While there is no star the caliber of Coleman, Auburn has some nice pieces here. Rocker was fond of rotating in wholesale substitutions last year, like it was a hockey line. He’s got something to work with this year, with Carter, Goggans, Blanc and Fairley on the first line and Ford, Eguae, Fairley and Lykes on the second, with the possibility of some youngsters mixing in right away. The biggest thing to look at is how this group will stop the run. The Tigers can’t go through another year where teams run rampant on them — especially in the SEC.

Monday: Special teams

April 29, 2010

New video: QB1 reactions abound

Here’s a new video from about Auburn’s quarterback decision. It’s got Gene Chizik and Cam Newton, aka QB1 (for all you Friday Night Lights fans out there). Enjoy.

Not into moving pictures? Read today’s newspaper story by clicking here.

Newton: ‘This is not the end of the road’

Cam Newton, who was named Auburn’s No. 1 quarterback yesterday, just sat down with reporters for a few minutes. Here’s what he had to say, with some more from head coach Gene Chizik as well.

  • Newton didn’t expect the announcement to come when it did. “I was working out and Rick came down and got me and said, ‘Go meet with coach Chizik and coach (Gus) Malzahn .’ My first thought was I ain’t did nothing wrong. So I was kind of nervous at first. When they told me, I just wanted to scream. I had to keep my composure.”
  • While overwhelmed by the news, he realized he hadn’t necessarily been named the starter, just the No. 1 quarterback for now. “This is not the end of the road,” he said. “If anything, the microscope gets more focused on what I really do on and off the field. So I’m going to need 100 percent focus all throughout whatever I’m doing.”
  • He didn’t see it changing his role this summer too much. “I won’t put any more pressure than what’s already been on my back, unneeded pressure. I’m just going to continue to do what I do. That’s just lead by example. I’m not going to go outside my means, going outside my persona to do something I’m not. So I’m just going to keep doing what I do. Evidently it’s worked so far.”
  • Newton said he wasn’t nervous that he wasn’t named the starter during spring practice. He said it didn’t even cross his mind.
  • Newton spoke with his fellow quarterbacks after the decision was made. He doesn’t see his new standing as being a problem. “I think the whole overall vibe from the whole team was they’re behind me 100 percent,” he said. “I talked to Barrett (Trotter), Clint (Moseley), all those guys. It’s nothing that I see as it being a problem, I hope to god it’s not a problem. I don’t sense that by any means. I’ve been getting a lot of good nudges to push me to success.”
  • Chizik answered the question everyone wanted to know — why now? “We think it’s very critical, especially at that position, to be able to have that leadership going through the summer: Who is the guy? We felt like that was an important part of the puzzle for the next three months. The difference between this time and last year is we didn’t have all the information on all the quarterbacks last year. It’s a little bit different scenario. From a leadership standpoint is we need them as early as we can to know who that leader is.”
  • Chizik on why Newton: “We had to take everything into account. He’s been in the offense less time than anyone we’ve got. We felt like we had a great comparison from last year, meaning that looking to the quarterbacks who had been in the system that short of time, what their production was versus what his production was this spring. We thought his upside is huge. We felt like, from a leadership standpoint, he really has a great intangible, the leadership skills he brings to the table. He’s very confident, but not too confident. His presence is known and felt by the other players when he’s in there. He manages the offense. He was very good protecting the football this spring. His completion percentages were very high in scrimmages. He brings an element to the table in terms of escapability, of running game, that we feel can create problems for defense. All of those things mixed together were the things that we see.”
  • Chizik said Newton’s attitude has been great: “He’s just come in here and basically closed his mouth and went to work. He’s worked really hard.”
  • Chizik put his defensive coordinator hat on and explained why Newton is so hard to defend. “There’s a running dimension of the game that he brings that’s impressive,” he said. “There’s an escapability. You’ve got to watch what coverages you play when there’s a guy holding the football with great escapability. You can’t have a lot of your defenders with their backs to the football. To a certain degree, that can limit you some on what you play. I think it definitely gives guys problems when you know there’s a very athletic guy back there that can do something with the ball in his hands.”
  • Chizik on why he didn’t name a starter earlier: “We tried to just go through spring and stay very open-minded about giving everybody their shot. I think as spring unfolds, you can see in scrimmages and some things that are kind of things you can’t coach — the leadership things. You can watch how they command the respect and the attention of the other players on the field and there’s some things that, as you evolve through spring, you can obviously see. Those are part of the decision-making process. We just felt like, as we were going through, that it might be going in this direction and we just really wanted to go back and revisit it film-wise and go back at it and say, ‘Hey.’ After 15 practices, you go back to the beginning and you see some things that you have forgot about. That was all in the process. As we went on, you could see some things that you thought might be leading in this direction. But again, there’s really a lot of other good quarterbacks out there too that we saw a lot of good things from.”
  • The decision was tough on the other quarterbacks. Here’s what Chizik said about that: “Like we told them, we said, ‘Look, this is where we’re at coming out of spring ball. It’s a long journey. Keep working and keep doing the things you’re doing.’”

Chizik: Newton a ‘very impressive’ quarterback

Auburn coach Gene Chizik just spoke to reporters about the decision to name Cam Newton the No. 1 quarterback coming out of spring. Here’s a quick rundown of what he had to say:

  • Chizik thinks it was important to get a No. 1 named heading into summer workouts, so the quarterback can get his timing down with receivers and linemen.
  • Chizik and the staff re-evaluated all of the practice tapes from the spring before making the decision.
  • He listed a few things about Newton that stood out, calling him “very impressive” overall:
  • an intangible leadership quality
  • he energizes the offense
  • his high completion percentage in practice
  • his “escabability”
  • Chizik on Newton: “He’s not told everyone what he’s going to do. He closed his mouth and went to work.”
  • Chizik reiterated that the staff wasn’t going to make a decision until they were ready. They wanted to stay open-minded throughout the process.
  • He said it was tough on all of the quarterbacks to get hear the decision but noted that Newton is merely the No. 1 quarterback right now, not the starter. “It’s a long journey,” he said. “Keep working.”
  • Chizik said he has not spoken yet to QB Tyrik Rollison, who sat out the spring to “focus on academics,” but he DOES NOT expect Rollison to be back next year. Rumors that Rollison planned to transfer emerged in the offseason.

Back with more a little later.

And a quick programming note: Because of the Newton decision, I’m pushing back the defensive line recap until tomorrow.

April 28, 2010

Cam Newton emerges as Auburn’s No. 1 QB

Auburn’s quarterback quandary won’t spill over into the summer after all.

Head coach Gene Chizik surprised many Wednesday by announcing that Cam Newton has been named the Tigers’ No. 1 quarterback coming out of spring practice.
Chizik informed the team during a meeting.
“After thoroughly evaluating our quarterbacks during spring practice and over the last week, Cam has emerged as our post-spring No. 1 quarterback,” Chizik said in a press release.
“Obviously, he will have a lot of work to do over the summer and during two-a-days to continue along this path. We fully expect our other quarterbacks to continue to work hard and compete with Cam during the offseason and into fall camp.”
Newton beat out senior Neil Caudle, sophomore Barrett Trotter and redshirt freshman Clint Moseley.
The announcement came only a week after Chizik said he expected the competition to continue into the summer. He and the coaches wanted more time to review the performance of all four quarterbacks from the spring before naming a No. 1.
While the timing of Wednesday’s announcement was a surprise, the decision itself was not. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Newton was the presumed frontrunner all along after transferring to Auburn in January from Blinn (Texas) Community College.
He won the 2009 NJCAA National Championship with the Buccaneers, throwing for 2,833 yards and 22 touchdowns and running for 655 yards and another 16 scores. The dual-threat was ranked the No. 1 junior college prospect by Rivals.com.
Before Blinn CC, he spent two years at Florida, where he served as Tim Tebow’s backup. Newton is a native of College Park, Ga.
Despite Newton’s credentials, Auburn rotated its quarterbacks almost evenly throughout spring drills. The Tigers gave three — Newton, Caudle and Trotter — the majority of series during the A-Day scrimmage on April 17.
Both Caudle and Trotter outperformed Newton in that game. Caudle went 17-for-21 for 199 yards and a touchdown. Trotter was 7-for-9 for 154 yards and two scores.
Newton, with limited passing opportunities, went 3-for-8 for 80 yards. He showed off his arm strength on a 61-yard deep ball to Quindarius Carr but overthrew an open Jay Wisner in the end zone on back-to-back passes.
Despite a less-than-thrilling performance during A-Day, Newton satisfied his own goals during the spring.
“In a short period of time, I think I’ve grasped the offense pretty much,” Newton said. “I still have a long way to go, don’t get me wrong, but as far as getting the base of the offense, I’m pretty much comfortable with it.”
Newton also made strides in winning over his teammates.
“Strong, athletic, fast. He’s everything they talked him up to be,” linebacker Craig Stevens said. “He’s earned a lot of people’s respect. He didn’t come in too arrogant or anything. He just came in, got to know everyone and that’s crucial at that position.”

Spring recap: Linebackers

We’re doing a position-by-position analysis of Auburn after spring practice. Click here to read the first installment about the secondary. Today, it’s the linebackers’ turn.

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • MLB Josh Bynes, 6-2, 239, Sr.
  • OLB Craig Stevens, 6-3, 224, Sr.
  • S/OLB Daren Bates, 5-11, 202, So.

RESERVES

  • LB Eltoro Freeman, 5-11, 223, Jr.
  • LB Jonathan Evans, 5-11, 216, So.
  • LB Harris Gaston, 6-1, 229, rFr.
  • LB Jessel Curry, 6-1, 209, Fr.
  • LB Ashton Richardson, 6-0, 202, Jr.
  • LB Wade Christopher, 6-1, 218, Jr.

OTHERS

  • LB Chase Erickson, 6-0, 203, rFr.
  • LB Joey Caldwell, 6-1, 226, So.
  • LB Watson Downs, 6-0, 213, So.
  • LB Patrick Butler, 6-0, 244, Sr.
SIGNEES
  • LB Jake Holland, 6-1, 228, Fr.
  • LB LaDarius Owens, 6-2, 225, Fr.
  • LB Jawara White, 6-2, 220, Fr.
WHAT I WROTE LAST YEAR
“(Bad things) — Depth, depth, depth. Auburn doesn’t have any. Behind Bynes, Stevens and Freeman, who have a pretty good shot at starting, the Tigers are hurting.”

OVERVIEW


Yup, pretty much nailed that one, although I was perhaps a bit generous in putting Freeman in the group of reliable starters. Make no mistake: it was the Bynes and Stevens show last year at linebacker. Every other linebacker that got thrown in there was just along for the ride. The best example of the duo’s ironman duties was the Outback Bowl, where neither came out for any of the 115 defensive snaps the Tigers played against Northwestern. It wasn’t by choice. Nobody else stepped up as a third option. Freeman was erratic, a beast one game, a bust the next, his head never quite in the same place. Adam Herring was a decent option but never spectacular. Now his career is done with a heel injury. And while Evans had an impact in the Alabama game, he was still in over his head as a freshman, making the addition of depth the No. 1 priority this offseason.

GOOD THINGS

The spring did little to change the fact that Bynes and Stevens are the alpha dogs of the defense. There aren’t two players on the defense that defensive coordinator Ted Roof praises more than those two, and from all accounts, they had a good spring. But that was a given. Where Auburn appears to have made strides is in cross training the linebackers at different positions to create a situation where the next best player, regardless of position, gets on the field in an injury situation. Stevens, a strong-side linebacker last year, worked on the weak-side this spring. Evans worked all over. Curry, a middle linebacker in high school, moved to the outside. And Freeman, a starter on the outside last year, worked behind Bynes in the middle.

BAD THINGS

While Roof was pleased with the progress of the linebackers not named Bynes or Stevens, he didn’t give any of them the blessing of being the “third linebacker.” Given numerous opportunities, Roof continued to say that plenty of work needed to be done, especially by Freeman, whose inconsistent play seems to mystify coaches. The most disappointing part of the spring might have been the injury situation. While Gaston lost out on a chance to advance his game, the bigger missed opportunity was with Bates, who played safety last year but will play more of a hybrid linebacker role this season in an effort to get the Tigers faster on defense. Auburn coaches made the move in the offseason, but Bates wasn’t able to participate because of shoulder surgery. He sat in on linebacker meetings and has learned the playbook, but transitioning that to the field is always a concern. When the team resumes practice, Bates will only have two-a-days to get himself comfortable in his new situation. (Then again, that’s all he needed last year at safety, and that worked out pretty well.)

ARRIVING SOON

Auburn certainly reinforced its ranks. After taking only two high school linebackers in 2009, the Tigers signed four in February, with Curry enrolling early to participate in spring drills. The others look like they could compete for playing time if things play out correctly. Holland and Owens are both four-star recruits who look like they have the size (228, 225 pounds, respectively) to step in right away. Holland was the No. 10 player in Alabama. Owens was No. 4. White might take a little bit longer, but Auburn can at least feel a little more comfortable about its future once Bynes and Stevens are gone.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

I said it last year, I’ll say it again: Eltoro. He showed glimpses of what he could do last year, like his 7-tackle, 2-TFL, 1-sack performance at LSU. Of course, that came after he did next to nothing or didn’t dress the previous four weeks. Such is the Eltoro dilemma. The key, as mentioned before, is consistency. Auburn doesn’t need him to be Superman on every play. What it does need is for him to step up into the right gap and stop a ballcarrier when it’s his turn. That was a problem last year, with Freeman roaming out of position and other teams running through the spot he vacated. But the potential is still there. And while he’s still here, there’s a chance he could tap into it.

BATTLE TO WATCH

Obviously it’s the outside linebacker spot not filled by Stevens. I projected at the top of this post that Bates would be a starter, based on the fact that I can’t imagine the coaching staff moving a freshman All-SEC performer to a new position and not playing him. But not every situation is going to be ideal for Bates. He’s still not that big for a linebacker, and although he likes to throw his helmet in the pile, a more traditional outside ‘backer will probably still have a role on this defense. Between Freeman, Evans, Gaston, Curry and the incoming Holland and Owens, Auburn, at the very least, has plenty of options.

THEY SAID IT

“We’re making progress in that area. We’re rolling a lot of guys through there … to have our system interchange enough where we can put the next best guy in there and not get bogged down by just pigeonholing guys at this position, but to be able to put the best linebacker in there. But as far as anybody jumping out at this point, the answer is no.” — Roof, on the third linebacker spot

NUMBERS GAME

89 — tackles made last year by linebackers not named Bynes and Stevens. Bynes led the team with 104 stops. Stevens, who was second, had 95.

THE END OF THE DAY

Bynes and Stevens are All-SEC candidates, so Auburn is going to be solid in this group regardless of how the others fare. But Bates is going to be the key. If he can successfully transition to linebacker — and with the way he was willing to be a physical safety last year, there’s no reason to think he won’t — that’s a solid group. The backups have plenty of question marks, but there is more promise in that group this year than last. And, most important, there are plenty more bodies, giving the coaching staff at least a little flexibility. Who knows? Bynes and Stevens might actually come off the field for a few snaps this year.

Tomorrow: Defensive line

April 27, 2010

Tiger Prowl crosses state line into Columbus

Auburn’s Tiger Prowl recruiting tour crossed over the state line for the first time in its two-year history, stopping at Columbus’ Carver High Tuesday morning.
Six Tigers assistant coaches made the trip — Tracy Rocker, Tommy Thigpen, Phillip Lolley, Trooper Taylor, Curtis Luper and Jay Boulware. They arrived in a white Hummer limousine.
Carver, as some might know, has two of the top prospects around in running back Isaiah Crowell and defensive lineman Gabe Wright. Both are considering Auburn and have visited the campus this spring.
Here’s what Carver coach Dell McGee had to say about the visit from Auburn’s coaches:

(On the Tiger Prowl)

“I guess it’s a little something they’re doing to make a different influence on the kids in a sense. It shows camaraderie on their part, trying to show prospects that they’re on a united front together and they’re targeting some of the better kids in Georgia and Alabama. They weren’t here long. They just kind of eye-balled the kids, introduced themselves and kind of talked as coaches amongst one another, just giving out information about their home life and grades and test scores and football ability. Things of that sort.”

(On Gene Chizik and his staff’s attention to Columbus)

“Last year when coach Chizik initially got hired, he made a trip over the day after he got hired. From that day forward, he says he’ll make a commitment to recruiting the city of Columbus and making the city of Columbus a priority and just trying to get things back the way things used to be. Coach (Pat) Dye had a big, big influence and had a big hand over here in Columbus. So he’s kind of stayed true to his commitment in that regard.”

(Was that lacking before?)

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that. We’ve had kids go to Auburn and … I can’t speak for every school, of course, but they’ve been recruiting Columbus since I’ve been here. And I just think it’s just a different focus. Coach Chizik and his staff have made it a point to make it a recruiting spot for them.”

(Did the kids have a positive reaction to the Tiger Prowl?)

“Yeah, they did. A lot of kids have different values and different impressions that they get from those type of things. But that’s not going to be the basing of why they go to a school or not go to a school. They want to make sure they get comfortable with their position coach and the head coach, also look at academics and comfort with their family, so they can have that influence on that decision, and feeling comfortable with the university.”

Spring recap: The Secondary

Have you ever noticed how position-by-position reviews always start with the quarterbacks? Well, the blog is trying something different this year. We’re going backward, starting with the secondary and doing the defense first before getting to the offense. It’s like starting roll call with the letter Z. I’m sure all the Zyzinskis out there appreciate it.

Like last year, I’ll be reviewing all the positions in the next few weeks, recapping the spring and giving an outlook for next year, with some opining as well. (And while we’re here, let’s give a quick plug to following the blog on Twitter.)

Without further adieu, let’s start with the secondary:

PROJECTED STARTERS

  • S Zac Etheridge, 6-0, 210, Sr.
  • S Aairon Savage, 5-11, 200, Sr.
  • CB Neiko Thorpe, 6-2, 192, Jr.
  • CB Demond Washington, 5-9, 183, Sr.

RESERVES

  • CB T’Sharvan Bell, 6-0, 179, So.
  • S Drew Cole, 5-11, 193, Jr.
  • CB D’Antoine Hood, 5-10, 192, Jr.
  • S Mike McNeil, 6-2, 210, Jr.
  • S Ikeem Means, 6-0, 204, So.
  • CB Anthony Gulley-Morgan, 5-9, 185, So.
  • S Mike Slade, 6-3, 191, Jr.

OTHERS

  • CB Rodney Cofield, 5-7, 156, rFr.
  • DB Tyler Mickens, 5-10, 184, rFr.
  • DB Woody Parramore, 5-8, 178, Sr.
  • DB Blake Poole, 6-0, 188, rFr.
  • DB Dorian Rhodes, 5-11, 182, rFr.
SIGNEES
  • DB Jonathon Mincy, 5-10, 175, Fr.
  • DB Demetruce McNeal, 6-1, 176, Fr.
  • DB Ryan White , 6-0, 185, Fr.
  • DB Ryan Smith, 6-2, 208, Fr.
  • DB Chris Davis, 5-11, 175, Fr.
WHAT I WROTE LAST YEAR
“Finally, a position Gene Chizik and Co. don’t have to worry about getting the numbers up. The Tigers seem to have a solid starting lineup already in place, with Savage as an option to start or come in as a key reserve. Behind them, there’s plenty to work with, so you won’t see any iron man action out there this season. All in all, one of Auburn’s most solid groups.”

OVERVIEW

Riiiiiiiiiight. This group took more blows than any other last year, proving that you can never have enough depth in college football. It started when McNeil broke his leg last spring, continued when Savage injured his Achilles’ in the summer and concluded when Etheridge suffered a scary neck injury that briefly left him motionless on the field against Ole Miss. Throughout it all, Auburn did a patchwork job. Daren Bates stepped in and did more than anyone ever imagined for the least-touted member of the 2010 class, starting every game at safety and earning Freshman All-SEC honors. After Etherdige’s injury Washington got a crash course at safety and moved there for Auburn’s final three games. The team’s lack of depth in the secondary was exposed against pass-happy Northwestern in the Outback Bowl, when a motley crew of Bell, Cole and Hood played major roles. But this year there appears to at least be more bodies — even with Bates moving to a hybrid DB/LB position — assuming the trio of McNeil, Savage and Etheridge return to their pre-injury forms. But that’s a big assumption.

GOOD THINGS

Washington has been able to focus on one position this spring — corner — and learn all the ins and outs of it, a major advantage for someone who bounced around last year. He started showing his cornerback chops last season right before Auburn needed him at safety. If he can seamlessly return to corner, it’ll lessen the blow of losing McFadden. Meanwhile, Means, a walk-on, drew rave reviews from the coaches for his willingness to make plays and knack for forcing turnovers. Coaches made him sound like the second coming of Bates, provided he continues to progress this summer, meaning playing time on the regular defense isn’t out of the question. While Thorpe had a quiet spring, missing the A-Day scrimmage with what looked like a non-serious wrist injury, Bell and Gulley-Morgan got valuable reps. Bell capped an erratic year by intercepting two passes in the Outback Bowl. Gulley-Morgan made the full-time switch to defense at the end of the year. Both need as many looks as they can get to be viable options as backups.

BAD THINGS

It’s still hard to tell just how the injured players will return to the fold. Etheridge didn’t participate in spring drills and while coaches seem to be counting on him to return, one can’t forget how major of a neck injury he suffered last season. Those kind of injuries can affect someone in many ways and it’s not clear if he’ll be the same player upon his return. Savage didn’t participate in contact this spring and, after missing the last two years because of injuries, you have to wonder how sharp he’ll be once he gets back on the field in a full capacity. And McNeil, who found praise from the coaches hard to come by, still showed a slight limp on the leg he broke last spring in the latter part of practices. Coaches brushed it off as a fatigue matter, something that will work itself out once he’s fully recovered. But these are the same coaches who were pleased with the news last spring that McNeil suffered a “clean break” of his leg, fully expecting him to be back for last season. We saw how that worked out. That’s a lot of question marks for Auburn’s top-three safeties.

ARRIVING SOON

As usual, Auburn signed a class of lesser-known defensive backs, none of which rate higher than a three on the ol’ star system. It’s worked out great in the past, though. Bates was a two-star, while Thorpe, Etheridge, McFadden, Jerraud Powers and Savage were all three-stars. So Auburn has a pretty good track record there. The important part is that all the signees get into school. Last year’s class was hurt by players not qualifying. Izauea Lanier, Taikwon Paige and Reggie Taylor all went the JUCO route, leaving Auburn with little depth. Mincy and McNeal are the top players in the DB class, with White, Smith and Davis being under-the-radar prospects. But those are the kind of players who have succeeded at Auburn. Whatever the case, it doesn’t appear they will be counted on to contribute right away other than on special teams.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Finally able to focus on one position, Washington could bust out this year. He showed signs of what he could do at cornerback, flashing his coverage skills as a nickelback in certain situations. He also showed no fear of throwing his helmet into the fray as a tackler while at safety. Add in a comfort factor after transitioning from junior college to Division I last year and Washington definitely could make a leap.

BATTLE TO WATCH

The starting safety spots will be interesting. I assume they are Etheridge and Savage’s to lose at this point. Those two, despite being limited this spring, are the most experienced of the group. And experience is a major advantage at safety, which has a major role in getting the defense set up on a play-by-play basis. McNeil, if he’s healthy, could challenge for playing time. He did, after all, start as a sophomore, finishing second on the team with 65 tackles. An even more intriguing challenger, however, is Means. If his spring performance was not a mirage, he might be in the mix. Probably not as a starter (going from walk-on to starter is quite the jump) but certainly as someone who could get reps and ease the burden of Etheridge and Savage from playing every snap.

THEY SAID IT

“At some places walk-ons think that there’s too many roadblocks to get to where they need to be, but I think he provides hope for a lot of kids. If you just do what you’re supposed to do, work hard and … when you have the opportunity, you can perform instead of going out there and laying an egg. And he’s done that and I certainly hope that that’s provided hope to a lot of other guys that may have started in his situation, because he’s taken full advantage of his opportunity.” — defensive coordinator Ted Roof on Means.

NUMBERS GAME


3 — interceptions last year by Bell, most of the returning members of the secondary. Two came in the Outback Bowl.

THE END OF THE DAY

There are a lot of “ifs” in the secondary. Auburn will be solid IF Washington makes a smooth transition back to corner, IF Thorpe becomes less prone to giving up the deep ball, IF Etheridge, Savage and McNeil return close to pre-injury form, IF Means is for real. Still, the Tigers would probably rather have a multitude of question marks than go into this season with the patched-together group it had in the Outback Bowl. IF those things above happen, the secondary could be one of the strengths of the defense.

Tomorrow: Linebackers.