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August 31, 2010

Early notes: Newly-minted starting DT Zach Clayton avoiding injuries with ‘prehab’

A few players stopped by for some interviews before practice. Here are the fine points:

  • Zach Clayton, a newly minted starter at defensive tackle, said he’s been as healthy as he’s been on the Plains this August. He credits it to prehab, which might have been a word he made up on the spot. “It’s not technically rehab because I’m not injured,” he said. “It’s doing things off the field like ankle exercises, just keeping up with that kind of stuff so the injuries don’t sneak up and catch you off guard.” He hopes it can help him avoid the nagging ankle injury that cost him most of last season.
  • Safety Linebacker Daren Bates was officially named the starter at the right linebacker spot, although it was assumed he would get it after making the position switch in the winter. “I knew there was going to be competition out there,” he said. “People want to play. When I stepped back I knew I had to keep it up and keep my job alive and hopefully I can have the starting job.”
  • He knows Arkansas State well. The Memphis-born Bates originally committed to the Red Wolves before an Auburn offer came along. “I got a couple friends on the team now,” he said. “The coaches made it look real nice. They have facilities, for their type of division they have real nice facilities. The talent was nice and all that.”
  • Bates said he feels like a linebacker now. “Sometimes I still have safety tendencies,” he said. “I think more practice and the more drills you do, I feel like I’m all right. … That’s why we practice. Practice you do the same things over and over. You just have to convert it to the game time. I don’t think I’ll go back and forth.”
  • TE Philip Lutzenkirchen said he feels more comfortable as a blocker this year, which will be important for Auburn, which doesn’t have many tight ends his size on the roster. “If you’d have asked me that a year ago, I’d probably have said receiver,” he said. “Now I’d say blocker. I’m a lot more comfortable with blocking. I do it a little more than receiving now. I know that’s going to help me get into the league. That’s what you have to do.”
  • Lutzenkirchen said things are different as he approaches his second year. “Last year, you prepared as if the starter goes down, you have to be ready,” he said. “This year, I’m a lot more focused and into it and ready to go full speed the whole game.”
  • He thinks quarterback Cam Newton might have some nerves after how long he’s had to wait to be in the spotlight. “I’m sure he’s going to be nervous — as we all probably are,” Lutzenkirchen said. “It’s not normal if you’re not nervous coming into a game. He might be a little uncomfortable at first. Once he settles down and gets used to Jordan-Hare, I think he’s going to do a good job.”
  • Quindarius Carr said he expects the coaches to go with one punt returner come Saturday and not rotate a group in. Carr, Darvin Adams and Trovon Reed are listed as possible starters at the position. Asked if he expects to be on the field, he simply said, “Yes.”
  • Bates on Auburn flying under the radar. “We don’t have to fight for the attention but I just think we need to get to the championship,” he said. “That’s what we’re working on, to get from good to great. That’s really our intentions, just to get there.”

Auburn releases depth chart

Here’s the full thing:

QB: 2 Cameron Newton (6-6/250/Jr./College Park, Ga.)
14 Barrett Trotter (6-2/211/So./Birmingham, Ala.)

RB: 27 Mario Fannin (5-11/228/Sr./Hampton, Ga.)
23 Onterio McCalebb (5-10/171/So./Fort Meade, Ga.)
5 Michael Dyer (5-9/215/Fr./Little Rock, Ark.)

HB: 32 Eric Smith (5-10/240/Jr./Seffner, Fla.)
4 Shaun Kitchens (6-3/217/Fr./College Park, Ga.)
1 Trovon Reed (6-0/181/Fr./Thibodaux, La.)

TE/WR: 43 Philip Lutzenkirchen (6-4/258/So./Marietta, Ga.) — OR–
18 Kodi Burns (6-2/207/Sr./Fort Smith, Ark.)
80 Emory Blake (6-1/192/So./Austin, Texas)

WR: 81 Terrell Zachery (6-1/210/Sr./Wadley, Ala.)
9 Quindarius Carr (6-1/186/Jr./Huntsville, Ala.)
3 DeAngelo Benton (6-2/201/So./Bastrop, La.)

WR: 89 Darvin Adams (6-3/185/Jr./Kennesaw, Ga.)
82 Jay Wisner (6-2/190/Sr./Bozeman, Mont.)
87 Derek Winter (6-0/208/Jr./Tampa, Fla.)

LT: 73 Lee Ziemba (6-8/319/Sr./Rogers, Ark.)
75 Brandon Mosley (6-6/299/Jr./Jefferson, Ga.)

LG: 66 Mike Berry (6-3/316/Sr./Antioch, Tenn.)
53 Bart Eddins (6-4/304/Sr./Montgomery, Ala.)

C: 50 Ryan Pugh (6-4/297/Sr./Hoover, Ala.)
63 Blake Burgess (6-2/278/RFr./Vestavia Hills, Ala.)

RG: 57 Byron Isom (6-3/291/Jr./Jonesboro, Ga.)
76 Jorrell Bostrom (6-3/322/Sr./Nampa, Idaho) –OR–
79 Jared Cooper (6-4/300/Jr./Brewton, Ala.)

RT: 77 A.J. Greene (6-5/291/Jr./Madison, Tenn.)
71 John Sullen (6-6/312/So./Auburn, Ala.)

LE: 45 Antoine Carter (6-4/256/Sr./Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
55 Corey Lemonier (6-4/227/Fr./Hialeah, Fla.)
95 Dee Ford (6-4/240/So./Odenville, Ala.)

DT: 98 Zach Clayton (6-3/296/Sr./Opelika, Ala.)
54 Jeffrey Whitaker (6-3/308/Fr./Warner Robins, Ga.)

DT: 90 Nick Fairley (6-5/298/Jr./Mobile, Ala.)
93 Mike Blanc (6-4/297/Sr./Pompano Beach, Fla.)

RE: 49 Michael Goggans (6-3/261/Sr./Alexander City, Ala.)
94 Nosa Eguae (6-2/258/RFr./Mansfield, Texas)
13 Craig Sanders (6-4/248/Fr./Clio, Ala.)

LLB: 46 Craig Stevens (6-4/229/Sr./Tallahassee, Fla.)
21 Eltoro Freeman (5-11/225/Jr./Alexander City, Ala.) –OR–
35 Jonathan Evans (5-11/230/So./Prichard, Ala.)

MLB: 17 Josh Bynes (6-2/235/Sr./Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.)
58 Harris Gaston (6-1/231/RFr./Bessemer, Ala.) –OR–
5 Jake Holland (6-0/231/Fr./Pelham, Ala.)

RLB: 25 Daren Bates (5-11/203/So./Memphis, Tenn.)
33 Jessel Curry (6-1/214/Fr./Buford, Ga.)
38 Jawara White (6-1/243/Fr./Troy, Ala.)

LC: 14 Demond Washington (5-9/182/Sr./Tallassee, Ala.)
22 T’Sharvan Bell (6-0/180/So./Kissimmee, Fla.)

S: 4 Zac Etheridge (6-0/213/Sr./Troy, Ala.)
16 Ikeem Means (6-0/204/So./Wetumpka, Ala.)

S: 2 Aairon Savage (5-11/200/Sr./Albany, Ga.)
26 Mike McNeil (6-2/208/Jr./Mobile, Ala.)

RC: 15 Neiko Thorpe (6-2/186/Jr./Tucker, Ga.)
3 Chris Davis (5-10/182/Fr./Birmingham, Ala.) –OR–
6 Jonathon Mincy (5-10/180/Fr./Decatur, Ga.)

PK: 18 Wes Byrum (6-2/216/Sr./Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)
36 Cody Parkey (6-0/184/Fr./Jupiter, Fla.)

P: 17 Ryan Shoemaker (6-0/177/Sr./Birmingham, Ala.)
30 Steven Clark (6-5/232/Fr./Kansas City, Mo.)

DS: 61 Josh Harris (6-1/230/Jr./Carrollton, Ga.)
64 Forrest Hill (6-1/238/Fr./Morrow, Ga.)

H: 19 Neil Caudle (6-3/198/Sr./Hoover, Ala.)
15 Clint Moseley (6-3/223/RFr./Leroy, Ala.)

PR: 9 Quindarius Carr (6-1/186/Jr./Huntsville, Ala.) — OR–
89 Darvin Adams (6-3/185/Jr./Kennesaw, Ga.) –OR–
1 Trovon Reed (6-0/181/Fr./Thibodaux, La.)

KR: 14 Demond Washington (5-9/182/Sr./Tallassee, Ala.) &
27 Mario Fannin (5-11/228/Sr./Hampton, Ga.)
23 Onterio McCalebb (5-10/171/So./Fort Meade, Ga.) &
15 Neiko Thorpe (6-2/186/Jr./Tucker, Ga.)

Some thoughts:

  • Not a lot of surprises here. The exception is Clayton at one of the starting defensive tackle spots over Blanc. He’s apparently been healthy all August and Gene Chizik said he’s had one of the best pre-fall camps of anybody on the roster.
  • Weird group at HB. That’s because the position is so versatile and different players are in different spots on the field.
  • Carr and Wisner as the backup wide receivers is a mild surprise. Benton as a third-stringer isn’t, considering his injury situation.
  • Burgess is the backup center, but Berry can still slide over in a pinch.
  • Initially listed as an “OR” situation, Chizik said Shoemaker is the starter.
  • Some young defensive linemen should get on the field. Lemonier, Whitaker and Sanders are all on the two-deep.
  • Etheridge and Savage won the starting safety jobs, although McNeil and Means should play.
  • No real decisions at punt returner, where there is a three “OR” situation.
  • There are 12 true freshman on the two-deep. Eight are on defense.

Live blogging Gene Chizik’s press conference

Gene Chizik has wrapped up his press conference. Here’s what he said:

  • Daren Bates is the starter at the RLB. “Whenever we can increase the speed of the defense, we’ll do that. … He learned everything at a pretty rapid pace. He’s a physical football player. That’s suited for him.”
  • H-back is an eclectic group. “They’re all kind of different in their own right, but when they’re in the game, they can be in different places. … That’s a position where you can get creative so you have different types of guys.”
  • Excited to have starters Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage back on the field. “We need those two captains back there to direct traffic.”
  • Arkansas State offense similar to Auburn’s. Up tempo and fast.
  • Difference from Year 1 to Year 2: “Just a comfort level, players and coaches.”
  • Can’t put a tag on what will make the team better. Then he talked about consistency. Too many highs and lows last season. “Are we maintaining that high level as much as we were last year,” he said.
  • The consistency line applies to the offensive line too. “They’re lumped into the same category as everybody else.”
  • The most important thing for Cam Newton. “Anybody can be good when it’s good. We want to know how everybody responds when it’s not, especially the quarterback.”
  • Quindarius Carr, aka “Q”, has done some good things this August to grab a backup receiver spot. Has confidence to throw the ball to him.
  • On Kirk Herbstreit‘s pick that Auburn will win the SEC West. “It’s flattering. I don’t think anybody’s expectations are higher than ours. … The bottom line is our expectation of ourselves is high.”
  • Chizik did not know that was coming. Herbstreit never talked to him.
  • Four walk-ons on the two-deep.”Every one of those guys are guys we identified who can upgrade our football team. All four of those guys have done everything we’ve asked them to do and earned that spot.”
  • First start for A.J. Greene at RT. “That can get exciting for us. … He’s going to have to go out there and prove he can do it on game day. We feel confident he’s the best guy for the job.”
  • On the punting competition: Ryan Shoemaker will start.
  • LaDarius Owens not on the depth chart. Still transitioning from DE to LB.
  • Chizik doesn’t expect DT Derrick Lykes to be back any time soon. Might have surgery. Will know today.
  • DT Zach Clayton was one of the guys who had the best first part of practice. Chizik said he’s been healthy the entire time, which helps.
  • FB Ladarious Phillips (foot) will not be ready for the opener.
  • Chizik thinks Arkansas State is tough. Took Iowa, Texas to the wire in recent years. Strong defense year-in and year-out. “Arkansas State is not going to come in here and be wowed by all thing.”
  • On playing a Thursday night game next week: “Right now, we’re focused on this game. It’ll be a fast turnaround, but we’re not looking ahead to Game 2, Game 4, Game 6.”

Quarterback Cam Newton ready for second chance as season-opener nears

I wrote a story for today’s newspaper about Cam Newton and his brother Cecil, who is a center for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here’s how it starts.

AUBURN, Ala. — Butterflies upset Cam Newton’s stomach as he prepared to make his first high school start at quarterback.

It was 2003. Newton — who will make his debut as Auburn’s starter Saturday — got the starting nod as a freshman for Westlake High in its televised game against Mays that all of Atlanta would be watching.

Despite his nerves, Cam had a security blanket in his brother, Cecil Jr., the team’s senior center.

“It was just the kind of far-fetched thing you can only dream of as a parent,” their father, Cecil Sr. said. “It was unbelievable … until they botched the snap.”

The story has a special place in Newton family lore. It was first-and-goal. Cecil Jr., as he still does, snapped the ball hard. Cam, wide-eyed and inexperienced, wasn’t quite ready for it. The ball bounced away as the crowd groaned.

“We were getting looks like, ‘Man, you guys are brothers. How can you fumble the snap?’” Cam said. “‘You’re supposed to be snapping to each other while you’re asleep.’”

Read the whole thing here. And follow the blog on Twitter or be a fan on Facebook.

August 30, 2010

Video: Sunnier skies, a secondary standout and SEC title dreams

I put together a video from tonight’s interviews. It’s got head coach Gene Chizik, defensive coordinator Ted Roof, defensive end Antoine Carter, linebacker Josh Bynes and quarterback Cam Newton. Enjoy.

Late night practice notes: Different feeling for Auburn as Arkansas State opener approaches

Nearly two full days away from the field and colder weather brought a noticeable change to the tenor of Auburn’s football practice Sunday.

Although neither probably had as much of an effect as the sobering thought of the fast-approaching season opener against Arkansas State on Saturday.

“You get to the grind of the everyday practice and all the things that go with pre-fall camp,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “And at some point it’s like there’s no end in sight, and now they’re finally seeing for the next 14, 15 weeks, we’ve got games. …

“I think it changes mentally the whole outlook for those guys.”

It’s only six days until the No. 22 Tigers kick off the season at Jordan-Hare Stadium against the Red Wolves, ending an offseason of rising expectations in Year 2 of the Chizik regime, both externally and internally.

“It’s way more confident than we were last year,” linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We feel it, not just from media but we feel it within ourselves, that we don’t see anything less than an SEC championship year. And that’s the feeling from the get-go.”

“It’s put up or shut up,” quarterback Cam Newton said. “Go hard or go home. That’s words I live for before the game. If you’re not going to give your all, why are you out here?”

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There was plenty of other ground to cover from tonight. Let’s get to the bullet points:

  • One more quote on how different Sunday compared to the rest of August, courtesy of DE Antoine Carter: “It’s like the clouds moving out of the way and the sun coming out to shine.”
  • Freshman wide receiver Trovon Reed didn’t practice Sunday, instead doing conditioning drills on the side because of a bruised knee cap. He injured himself last week diving for a pass. It’s a different knee injury than the one that kept him out of practice earlier this month. He hopes to be ready Saturday. “I’m not going to rush anything, because I was taught if you rush, bad stuff happens,” Reed said. “And I go by that motto. So I’m not going to rush it and I’m going to know my role.”
  • If he can’t go, Reed has different goals. “I’ll cheer my team on,” he said. “I’ll be the biggest cheerleader on the sideline.”
  • Chizik had great things to say about sophomore cornerback T’Sharvan Bell, who has built off his two-interception performance in the Outback Bowl. “Top option at nickel, top option at both sides,” Chizik said. “He’s right on the brink. The way he’s played so far in the first month, he can very well, you might as well pencil him in and say he’s a starter as well. He’s played as good as anybody out there in the secondary.”
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof seconded that motion, saying Bell has improved most on being consistent. “He’s become a dependable football player, and I couldn’t say that about him this time last year,” he said. “To his credit, he’s just kept his mouth shut and gone to work.”
  • The coaches were brutally honest with Bell last year that he wasn’t physical enough. That aided his transformation. “I took it personally,” he said. “I didn’t want anybody thinking I was soft out on the field. It was a personal thing. They say: Don’t take anything personally. Them telling me that I’m not being a physical football player — I took it personally.” And now? “They don’t tell me that anymore,” he said.
  • There’s been a lot of cross-training at the safety spots between strong and free. “We’d like them to be interchangeable parts,” Chizik said. Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage have enough experience to play either. Mike Mcneil has worked mostly at free. Ikeem Means has been mostly at strong.
  • Chizik estimated that 10 to 20 freshmen could play right away, although he didn’t want to get locked into a number. “It’s going to be important that we get these guys in the game, whether we have the lead or not,” he said. “It’s hard as a coach right now to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get my guy in in the middle of the second quarter,’ but you’ve got to force yourself to do that. That’s where you’ve just got to bite the bullet and let all the young guys play regardless of where you’re at.”
  • No decision yet on a starting punter between Ryan Shoemaker and Steven Clark. “Hopefully early in the week,” Chizik said. “I don’t know how early it is. That’s my druthers, but again, both of them are really doing a nice job, so it’s a nice competition.”
  • The Wildcat job appears up for grabs too. Incumbent Kodi Burns said he’s worked there, but he’s also helped out “the young guy,” a reference to Reed. Burns said he still throws every day. “I haven’t stopped doing what I’ve done since I’ve been here,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in a game.”
  • Burns is working at the “5″ receiver spot, a slot position. It’s an eclectic group, with him, Emory Blake, Philip Lutzenkirchen and others. “It’s a very versatile spot,” Burns said. “How I fit in there is exactly how you said — Emory is a little guy and Lutz is a bigger guy and I’m somewhere in the middle. I feel like I’m pretty versatile. I can play slot and I can go outside and have a new role this year. I feel like I’ll be on the field a lot.”
  • Some fans might be concerned about Newton driving a moped around campus. Chizik thinks his starting quarterback drives responsibly. “I’m going to hope that he’s very cautious when he proceeds on that moped, which I’m sure he is,” he said. “We trust him. He’s got to drive carefully.”
  • Burns was asked about Newton’s moped. “I know what that deal is,” he said. “Scootin’ Newton? I’ve seen him a little bit.” Asked if he ever wanted one himself, Burns poked a little fun at Newton with his answer. “Back in the day … when I was in fifth grade,” he joked. “I just walk. No umbrella when it rains. Man stuff.”

August 28, 2010

Varez Ward finalizes transfer to Auburn

I was covering a high school football game tonight, but while I was out, news broke that Tony Barbee‘s beleaguered men’s basketball team might be getting some immediate help.

Guard Varez Ward finalized his long-rumored transfer from Texas and is enrolled in classes at Auburn, according to AuburnUndercover.com and Inside the Auburn Tigers.

Although transfers usually have to sit out a year, the 6-foot-2, 192-pound Ward hopes to be granted a waiver by the NCAA. He played at Jefferson Davis High in Montgomery and is moving to be near his mother, who has a heart condition.

Ward averaged 4.2 points in 32 games for Texas his freshman season in 2008-09, although he averaged 9.8 points in four postseason games. He suffered a knee injury after only three games last season.

Auburn can use the help. Guard Frankie Sullivan and forward Ty Armstrong, two projected starters, are expected to miss the season after suffering ACL injuries this summer.

August 27, 2010

Ziemba, Pugh named to Lombardi watch list

Auburn offensive linemen Lee Ziemba and Ryan Pugh have been named to the watch list for the Rotary Lombardi Award. The award is limited to down linemen on offense or defense and linebackers.

Ziemba, who is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy, is a consensus first-team All-SEC preseason pick this year. He’s started every game since arriving at Auburn in 2007, a streak of 38 starts. If he starts every game this year, he’ll break the school record for consecutive starts of 49 held by Will Herring.

Pugh, who was also named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, has 31 career starts, including 25 straight at center. he was a second-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press last year after leading the Tigers with 70 knockdown blocks.

Both players helped Auburn set team single-season records in 2009 for points (433), total offense (5,613yards) and passing touchdowns (25).

Here’s a rundown of which Auburn’s players on watch lists:

  • Pugh: Rimington, Lombardi, CLASS Award
  • Ziemba: Outland, Lombardi
  • Mario Fannin: Doak Walker
  • Darvin Adams: Biletnikoff
  • Josh Bynes: Butkus, Bednarik
  • Craig Stevens: Butkus, Nagurski
  • Demond Washington: Paul Hornung
  • Wes Byrum: Lou Groza

Video: FWAA reax, the Bear and Seabiscuit

Here’s a new video I put together from tonight’s interviews. It’s got head coach Gene Chizik, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, backup quarterback Barrett Trotter, center Ryan Pugh and, as a finale, wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor. Enjoy.

Late night notes: Trotter, Greene win spots

You know the news by now: Barrett Trotter is Auburn’s backup quarterback, A.J. Greene the starting right tackle. Here’s what folks had to say about both after practice tonight, plus a few more notes after that.

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  • Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn gave the impression that Trotter wasn’t that far back of Cam Newton for the starting gig last spring. “He was in the mix until the very end when we named Cam the starter,” he said. “He came back in fall camp and has not missed a lick. We feel very good about him. We know what we’re going to get. He’s a tough guy. Throws the ball with great touch. Understands protections. Very solid quarterback.”
  • Trotter missed last year after tearing his ACL in the spring of 2009 but said he’s come back better than he thought he would. “I thought when I got out there in the spring, I thought it was going to hinder me and I’d be thinking about it,” he said. “But really, when you’ve been playing football since fourth grade, when you get on the field, it’s just football and back to doing what you know how to do. So it’s been no transition.”
  • Despite entering his third year at Auburn, Trotter has not played in a game. “You want to get in every game you can and I haven’t been able to yet,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’ve been looking for.”
  • Malzahn, especially, had good things to say about Trotter: “Barrett’s a competitor. Last year was very good for him. He stood on the sidelines. He got to see the game and see our offense from a different standpoint, working our board and seeing how things go on the sideline. I know that’s really helped him. Our players have a lot of respect for him.”
  • Auburn did not designate a backup between Neil Caudle and Clint Moseley. “I’ve said this all along, we’ve got four guys that can move the football and know our offense,” Malzahn said. “Quarterback is one of our deepest positions, and that’s a very good thing.”
  • Caudle, a fifth-year senior, said he had a sense that Trotter had moved ahead of him. Caudle is still in line to be the starting holder, though. “Anyway I can get on the field to help the team is good with me,” he said. “Whether that’s doing whatever, whether it’s holding, whether it’s doing certain plays, I’m excited to do whatever I can do.”
  • Now for Greene, who came out of nowhere to win the right tackle job. (Props to Jay G. Tate of the HABOTN for the photo at the top.) How much of a long shot was he? Well, he came to Auburn as a defensive lineman. He had played in only three games in three years. And he was one of the few veterans who did not have his own page in the media guide. “I wouldn’t say a long shot,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “Maybe a dark horse. … What happens with offensive linemen … those guys, they just kind of come on at different times in their careers. You can’t give up on a lineman too soon. You never know when the light’s going to turn on for that kid.”
  • Grimes said he noticed Greene make a leap this summer, when the 6-foot-5, 291-pound junior committed himself in the weight room. It carried over to the field, and the rest of the coaches began to think he had a shot at the right tackle job a few weeks ago, when he started taking first-team reps. “He’s really flipped the switch,” Malzahn said. “He’s a different person.”
  • Greene took his promotion humbly. “I know not a lot of people expected me to win the starting spot, but I just used that as motivation and pushed myself even harder,” he said. “It does make me feel proud, knowing how hard I worked, but I have to remind myself that I still have a lot of room for improvement.”
  • Right guard Byron Isom doesn’t think it will take long for Greene to mesh with the four returning starters. “He pretty much had a good grasp of the offense from the tackle perspective, which is pretty much the same on both sides,” he said. “So I think he’s going to fit in well.”
  • Sullen, who has dealt with an undisclosed injury recently, will continue to work at different spots along the line. He’ll enter the season as the No. 2 right tackle and right guard. “I just told him that we’re still going to need him,” Grimes said. “He’s a young guy who’s really come on. … He’s a guy that could play either spot and that makes his role even more valuable to the team.”
  • Things don’t sound as good for junior college transfer Roszell Gayden, another right tackle candidate who has been slowed by a knee injury. “There’s no question that he’s been held back,” Grimes said. “We’re still hopeful that he’ll be able to get better and get to the point where he can do more.”
  • Here’s the official offensive line two-deep, per Grimes:
  • LT — Lee Ziemba, Brandon Mosley
  • LG — Mike Berry, Bart Eddins
  • C — Ryan Pugh, Blake Burgess
  • RG — Isom, Sullen
  • RT — Green, Sullen, Chad Slade (Slade will stay with the varsity group)
  • Pugh was named to the watch list for the Rimington Award, given annually to the nation’s top center. “It means a lot to me personally,” he said. “But first and foremost, it’s all about wins and losses for a team, because if the team succeeds more, the awards tend to go more to players on those teams. … But I am very honored to be named to the watch list.”
  • Freshman wide receiver Trovon Reed (knee) did not practice Thursday, although wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor expects him to be ready for the opener. “I tell him, I’ve going to get Seabiscuit to the track,” Taylor said. “I’m not going to leave him in the trailer. I’m going to make sure he’ll be able to run the race. It’s probably more so me than him. He wanted to go today. For me, I’m going to trust the trainers and the doctors. If they tell me give him a break, I’m going to give him a break.” (Note: this seems to fly in the face of the “can’t make the club in the tub” mantra Trooper has held all along.)
  • Case in point: DeAngelo Benton, who has missed three weeks with a broken bone in his hand. “They’re calling him ‘Fresh Legs,’” Taylor said. “I was calling him Haynesworth because he held out for so long, missing practice.” (That’s a reference to Redskins tackle Albert Haynesworth, who held out for part of the summer.)
  • Trooper did have some positive things to say about Benton, saying the receiver had no setbacks at all. He even went to the ground on one play on his wrist and bounced back up no problem.
  • But Trooper also kind of issued a challenge to Benton to prove his worth. “What he’s got to do is work his way on some special teams,” Taylor said. “If he can do that, he’ll get on that field and be able to help us. If he doesn’t, he’ll redshirt and stay home. His value to the football team will be as a backup wide receiver and as a special teams guy.”
  • He went on: “I’m not carrying a guy just to eat and back up a guy up,” he said. “He’s not getting on that plane with me to back somebody up. We’re not held hostage anymore. Last year, we couldn’t get 70 on a trip. This year, we’re having a hard time figuring out which 70 we want to take. That makes a big difference on this football team.”
  • Trooper has a different feeling heading into this season. “Feeling like a guy who had just gotten Christmas presents seeing if the toys were going to work,” he said. “Now that I’ve had these guys for awhile, I already know which ones work and which ones don’t. It’s more of a confident deal now, rather than, ‘I wonder.’ It’s just confidence.”
  • Defensive coordinator Ted Roof (yes, despite what this post would imply, Auburn does have a defense), said he expects Eltoro Freeman to play this year, despite another injury setback in August. “He’s done a good job and picked up,” Roof said. “He’s approaching the game in a much more detailed and focused manner and as a result is playing better. Being much more accountable. Still got a ways to go but I’m pleased with how far he’s come.”
  • Freeman can play weak-side linebacker or strong side. “They’re interchangeable,” Roof said.
  • Similarly, T’Sharvan Bell sounds like the No. 1 backup at both cornerback spots. “He’s done a great job so far,” Roof said. “He’s improved a lot, he’s become more physical. He’s had a good camp and I’ve been real pleased with him. He understands the game and therefore gives us some flexibility and versatility where we can put him.”
  • There’s still an ongoing competition for the fourth cornerback spot, presumably between freshmen Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis.
  • Roof seemed pleased with the progress of Harris Gaston as well. “For the first time I felt he really cut it loose (Saturday),” Roof said. “He cut it loose. As a result that increased contact speed and that was a good thing. Now with him, he basically missed last season when he got hurt. He was redshirting and he didn’t have spring practice because he was still injured. It’s kind of like starting back over for Harris. He’s done some good things but he has to keep coming on because I look at him like I look at a freshman. Those guys have to keep coming and provide us some depth so we don’t get to a point like we did last year.”
  • Ideally, Roof would like to have at least one backup to play in a game at every position, so 22 total. “I don’t know if we’re ready to do that or not right now,” he said. “Last year, I would have said we would loved to have played 16 or 14. I think we’re getting better but games dictate that. I know this to be true is that in order to have fresh guys in the fourth quarter, you’ve got to sub guys early. You can’t put backups in the game once things have been decided one way or the other. You can’t be afraid to put them in and let them play. When you do that there’s going to be some growing pains.”