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April 30, 2012

A.J. Greene signs with the Chicago Bears

Former Auburn left tackle A.J. Greene has had a change of heart about pursuing a career in the NFL and signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears.

Greene was invited to the NFL Combine in February, but he turned down the invitation, telling the Montgomery Advertiser at the time that he intended to retire from football and pursue a career in music. Greene, a 6-5, 295-pounder who sat out most of the 2010 season with a broken tibia and a dislocated ankle, has long been involved with producing music.

He did not participate in Auburn’s Pro Day, although he showed up briefly to watch the proceedings.

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Spring football recap: Defensive line

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Slowly but surely, the blog continues to make its way through a position-by-position look at how Auburn’s roster ended up shaking out at the end of spring, and what it might look like when the footballs start flying around for real on September 1st in Atlanta.

As always, any depth charts listed below are only my best guess. Nothing more, nothing less. By now, most Auburn fans know that the Tigers do not usually release an actual depth chart after spring practice, and this season was no different. With so many players out on defense and new schemes being installed on both sides of the ball, a spring depth chart can only mean so much anyway.

As always, feel free to disagree with my take. At this point, with such a young roster, everything’s open to discussion.

For a look at the other four position groups in the series, take a look at the following links:

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PROJECTED STARTERS

  • DE: Corey Lemonier, 6-4, 245, Jr.
  • DT: Jeffrey Whitaker, 6-4, 301, Jr.
  • DT: Kenneth Carter, 6-4, 294, Jr.
  • DE: Dee Ford, 6-2, 237, Jr.

RESERVES

  • DE: Nosa Eguae, 6-3, 262, Jr.
  • DT: Gabe Wright, 6-3, 305, So.
  • DE: LaDarius Owens, 6-2, 255, So.
  • DT: Angelo Blackson, 6-4, 316, So.
  • DT: Devaunte Sigler, 6-4, 295, So.
  • DE: Keymiya Harrell, 6-4, 260, R-Fr.
  • DE: Craig Sanders, 6-4, 263, Jr.
  • DT: Jamar Travis, 6-0, 296, Sr.
  • DE: Justin Delaine, 6-5, 250, So.
  • DT: JaBrian Niles, 6-2, 292, R-Fr.
  • DT: Tyler Nero, 6-2, 290, Fr.
  • DE: Gimel President, 6-4, 255, Fr.
OTHERS
  • DT: Brian Walsh, 6-3, 302, R-Fr.

WHAT ANDY WROTE LAST YEAR

“Of the Tigers’ position groups, this one has perhaps the most promise. The group was a force to be reckoned with on A-Day, although “sacks” were usually the result of breathing on the quarterback during that scrimmage. Still, they were an active group, putting pressure on the quarterback all afternoon. That’ll be important for a team whose secondary is still relatively young. Auburn proved last year that you can overcome a lot of deficiencies in your pass coverage if you can rattle the quarterback with your line. If you can do that without committing 6 or 7 blitzers, all the better. Which is why this group must make big strides for the Tigers to be successful. With Eguae, Lemonier, Ford, Carter, Whitaker and Wright, Auburn has a solid nucleus. It’s simply a matter of getting them the proper experience while filling in some key reserves to give them a breather every now and then.”

OVERVIEW

Plagued by injuries throughout the season, the defensive line failed to put the kind of pressure on quarterbacks that it showed during that spring game. Other than Corey Lemonier, who put together a breakout season with 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss to earn second team All-SEC honors, the rest of Auburn’s defensive linemen failed to produce big plays on a consistent basis. Dee Ford, who showed promise, had to sit out most of the season due to back surgery, LaDarius Owens missed six games with a stress fracture, and both Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright were hampered by injuries. Unable to stay healthy, Auburn’s defensive line failed to play in the opponent’s backfield much at all.

GOOD THINGS

According to Brian VanGorder, Gene Chizik and anybody else who was asked, the defensive line had the best spring of any position group, and the competition for that title wasn’t even close. Healthy after having surgery to repair a herniated disc, Ford was so impressive as a pass rusher that he earned the starting job opposite Lemonier, and the coaches are encouraged by his progress. Late in the spring, LaDarius Owens and Keymiya Harrell both came on as pass rushers who can back up Lemonier and Ford on the edge. In the middle, Jeffrey Whitaker, a two-gap plugger in Ted Roof’s defense, showed that he can get into the backfield well after dropping weight to improve his quickness. Even little-used senior Jamar Travis had a big spring, enough that VanGorder thinks he’s headed for playing time next season.

BAD THINGS

Three of Auburn’s players expected to be battling for starting spots — Eguae, Carter and Wright — all missed the entire spring due to injury, and for the moment, VanGorder is saying they will provide depth alone due to all the missed time on the practice field. At the other defensive tackle spot, next to Whitaker, neither Angelo Blackson or Devaunte Sigler seemed to generate the same kind of praise that the rest of the defensive line earned.

ARRIVING SOON

No incoming freshmen on Auburn’s roster face a tougher road to the playing field than Tyler Nero and Gimel President. On the line, the Tigers are intensely deep, and it’s likely that both players will redshirt. If one player is going to make a push for playing time, the bet here is that it will be Nero, who had a big performance at the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and jumps into a position that’s a little less set than defensive end.

POTENTIAL BREAKOUT

Ford has been around for a while, but a combination of injuries and depth chart obstacles have kept him from making a big impact in game action. VanGorder’s scheme changes that. Instead of playing behind the already-established Lemonier, Ford can line up on the opposite side, and all indications have been that Ford has “special traits” when it comes to rushing the passer. Extra playing time means more opportunities for sacks.

BATTLE TO WATCH

When Carter and Wright get back on the practice field in the fall, both will presumably resume a battle for playing time that raged hard at the end of last season, this time with some combination of Blackson, Sigler and Travis also battling for a chance to get on the field. Of the five, Wright has shown the most ability to penetrate in games so far, but his recovery from a foot injury could rob him of some explosiveness. For the moment, Carter earned some mention from VanGorder in his post-spring press conference, so he’s on the coordinator’s radar.

THEY SAID IT

“Jeff Whitaker. He’s probably someone who surprised you. I didn’t anticipate that he’d perform like he did in our system. I saw a guy who was a line-of-scrimmage player a year ago. He was able to do that effectively — penetrate and do some things that I didn’t know he could do.” — Brian VanGorder

NUMBERS GAME

1 — The highest number of sacks recorded by any Auburn defensive lineman not named Corey Lemonier in 2011.

THE END OF THE DAY

For the second straight season, the defensive line was the star unit of A-Day, but that’s a trend that followed the rest of the narrative from spring football. Unleashed by VanGorder’s scheme, which doesn’t require the linemen to read before they attack the line of scrimmage, instead simply asking them to penetrate. Lemonier’s already a proven pass rusher, and if Ford is what the coaches have been saying, the Tigers should have two dangerous players off the edge. With Eguae, Owens, Harrell and Sanders, there’s plenty of depth on the outside, and Whitaker appears to be a fit in the new defense. Even though Auburn’s defensive line didn’t play to its potential in 2011, it’s possible that the playing time gained last season could be the springboard to a big season next fall.

Spring football recap: A look around the SEC

Photo by Todd Van Emst

The blog has already put this in today’s edition of the Ledger-Enquirer, but the information is universal enough that I thought it best to re-post and take a look back at the SEC’s 14 teams after the spring now that all 14 schools have wrapped up spring practice.

Texas A&M was the final school left on the docket, and the Aggies finished up on Saturday.

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ALABAMA (12-1)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 4 defense, 3 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 14; A-Day: White 24 , Crimson 15

Pressing question: Replacing seven starters and a stockpile of draftable talent on defense is still a work in progress. Safety Vinnie Sunseri appears to be ready to make an impact, but the front seven needs work.

Question answered: Even though Eddie Lacy sat out the spring, the Crimson Tide have plenty of talent at running back. Freshman T.J. Yeldon dominated A-Day, and Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart both made strides.

Still searching: Backup quarterback Phillip Sims has decided to transfer, leaving the Crimson Tide with only redshirt freshman Phillip Ely and incoming freshman Alec Morris, who hasn’t taken a snap yet.

ARKANSAS (11-2)

Returning starters:7 offense, 6 defense, 3 special teams.Spring practice ended: April 21; Spring game: Red 65, White 0.

Pressing question: Bobby Petrino is gone after a scandal that rocked Arkansas. John L. Smith takes over on an interim basis. How that changes the Razorbacks’ chances in 2012 remains to be seen; Smith was hired after spring practice ended.

Question answered: Three Arkansas receivers were taken in the NFL Draft, but the Razorbacks haven’t missed a beat. Cobi Hamilton had 11 catches in the spring game, tight end Chris Gragg also played well and Marquel Wade, Maudrecous Humphrey are next in line.

Still searching: New defensive coordinator Paul Haynes is trying to remake a unit that has held Arkansas back, but the Razorbacks were missing some playmakers on defense this spring. Haynes says tackling has to improve.

AUBURN (8-5)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 16; A-Day: Blue (offense) 36, White (defense) 27.

Pressing question: Auburn did not name a starter at quarterback. Kiehl Frazier appears to have grabbed the momentum, but Clint Moseley and, to a lesser extent, Zeke Pike, will still have a chance to overtake Frazier when two-a-days start.

Question answered: Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s new scheme allows defensive ends Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford to rush the passer at will, and the Tigers’ rushers made huge strides in the spring. LaDarius Owens and Keymiya Harrell have also shown promise.

Still searching: As many as five running backs – Onterio McCalebb, Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Mike Blakely and incoming freshmen Jovon Robinson – are battling for carries, and there’s no clear-cut leader. Auburn’s coaches want the running backs to be more physical in the Tigers’ new offense.

FLORIDA (7-6)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 9 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 7; Spring game: Blue 21, Orange 20.

Pressing question: Neither Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel took command of a quarterback race that won’t have a clear-cut starter until the fall. Coming out of the spring, Will Muschamp said the two are very close, with similar skill sets, and he thinks Florida can win with either.

Question answered: At running back, senior Mike Gillislee will be the starter after flashing a combination of power and speed in the spring, with Mack Brown handling backup duties despite the loss of both Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps.

Still searching: Defensive end Ronald Powell tore his ACL in spring practices, an injury that could force him to miss the start of the season. Powell led the Gators with six sacks last season, and if he can’t go, somebody will have to step up in his place.

GEORGIA (10-4)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 10 defense, 1 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 14; G-Day: Red 32, Black 31.

Pressing question: Right now, it’s impossible to tell how much the suspensions, both real and possible, of Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, Branden White and Alec Ogletree will affect Georgia early. That’s a lot of first-unit talent likely to miss games.

Question answered: Georgia might have more depth at running back than anybody else in the country. Carver product Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome both had strong springs and big G-Day performances, and freshman Keith Marshall flashed talent before injury

Still searching: Malcolm Mitchell led Georgia in receiving yards-per-game as a freshman, but he’s moving to defensive back full-time. How Georgia uses him on offense and special teams — he will play both — remains to be seen.

KENTUCKY (5-7)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 21; Spring game: Starters 35, Reserves 28.

Pressing question: Kentucky’s offense may be more wide-open due to the talents of sophomore receiver Demarco Robinson, quarterback Maxwell Smith and the rest of the skill-position players. Coach Joker Phillips says they want to throw it 45 times a game.

Question answered: Unlike most SEC teams, Kentucky has no competition at quarterback. Smith, the sophomore who took over late last year, is the starter, and he was 29-of-45 for 353 yards in the spring game.

Still searching: Right now, Kentucky has no punter. The Wildcats’ punters were so subpar in spring ball that Phillips did not have the team punt in the spring game, and he has repeatedly said the team’s punter is likely not on the team yet.

LSU (13-1)

Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: March 31; Spring game: White 24, Purple 17.

Pressing question: LSU threw the ball down the field a lot in its spring game, and the Tigers may be looking to be more explosive after a lack of offensive punch cost them the national title in 2011.

Question answered: For the first time in a while, LSU has a clear-cut starter at quarterback. Mettenberger grabbed the job in the spring and won’t let go after showing off a solid combination of poise and arm strength.

Still searching: Undersized linebacker Tahj Jones won one starting spot at outside linebacker, but a freshman will likely hold down the other spot next to middle linebacker Kevin Minter. Right now, Ronnie Feist leads the pack.

OLE MISS (2-10)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 3 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 21; Spring game: Red 24, Blue 23.

Pressing question: The trigger man for Hugh Freeze’s wide-open offense is still a mystery. Barry Brunetti and junior college Bo Wallace are battling it out for the spot. Freeze has said he may play two quarterbacks next season.

Question answered: Former quarterback starter Randall Mackey has a new role in Freeze’s offense as a slash player. At times, Mackey, the starting passer at the end of last season, will line up at receiver, running back and Wildcat quarterback.

Still searching: An offensive line that gave up 33 sacks in 2011 has gotten no better, and the depth at the position is very thin. No matter who the quarterback is, it’s going to be hard to get going if Ole Miss can’t protect against SEC West defenses.

MISSISSIPPI STATE (7-6)

Returning starters: 5 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 21; Spring game: Maroon 33, White 22.

Pressing question: Finding somebody to block is becoming problematic. Talented guard Tobias Smith missed the spring to recover from knee surgery, and in his absence, the line remained in a state of flux throughout the spring.

Question answered: The days of Dan Mullen using three quarterbacks in the same game are over. Tyler Russell is the Bulldogs’ starter, and he’s going to throw it a lot after completing 24-of-43 for 312 yards in the spring game.

Still searching: At safety, the Bulldogs have few answers despite returning a starter in Nickoe Whitley, who was limited in the spring. Without a healthy Whitley, Mississippi State has very little in the back end of the defense.

MISSOURI (8-5)

Returning starters: 5 offense, 6 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 14; Spring game: Reserves 34, Starters 10 (first-half only).

Pressing question: Returning quarterback James Franklin is supposed to recover from a torn labrum by the time the season starts. If healthy, Franklin instantly becomes one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks. If not, the Tigers face an uphill battle.

Question answered: If Franklin is healthy, he has plenty of targets to throw to. Entrenched No. 1 receiver T.J. Moe was dominant, Dorial Green-Beckham arrives in the summer and Gahn McGaffie emerged this spring as a versatile piece out of the slot.

Still searching: At defensive tackle, the best athlete, Sheldon Richardson, missed the spring, and a former tight end, Matt Hoch, beat out incumbent Jimmy Burge for a starting spot. Beyond those two, the depth is thin in the middle of Missouri’s defense.

SOUTH CAROLINA (11-2)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 14; Spring game: Black 38, Garnet 24.

Pressing question: Marcus Lattimore still hasn’t made lateral cuts on his surgically-repaired left knee — that happens Wednesday — and the talented back could be the key to the Gamecocks’ push for an SEC title. Whether or not he’s healthy in the fall will be a situation to closely monitor.

Question answered: Quarterback Connor Shaw appears to have improved now that he’s the undisputed No. 1. Used sparingly in the spring game, Shaw still hit on 6-of-7 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns, and he looks ready to add a passing dimension to the Gamecocks’ offense.

Still searching: A pair of projected starters in the secondary, safety D.J. Swearinger and cornerback Akeem Auguste, missed the spring due to injury, and the Gamecocks are trying to replace NFL draft picks Stephon Gilmore and Antonio Allen.

TENNESSEE (5-7)

Returning starters: 10 offense, 8 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 21; Spring game: Orange 17, White 14.

Pressing question: Tennessee’s defense is switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri, and the results have been mixed so far. In the spring game, the new 3-4 gave up 236 rushing yards.

Question answered: Sophomore Marlin Lane appears to have taken control of the starting job at running back. Lane rushed for 106 yards and two explosive touchdowns on just nine carries in the spring game, and he will try to breathe life into one of the nation’s worst rushing attacks.

Still searching: At Jack linebacker, the spot occupied in Alabama’s defense by Courtney Upshaw, Jacques Smith is trying to duplicate that kind of pass rush, and getting to the quarterback will be key if Sunseri’s new scheme is going to work in the first year.

TEXAS A&M (7-6)

Returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense, 2 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 28; Spring game: White (offense) 48, Maroon (defense) 44.

Pressing question: Jameill Showers appears to be the frontrunner as the starter after completing 20-of-31 passes for 203 yards in the spring game, but new head coach Kevin Sumlin hasn’t named a starter between Showers and Johnny Manziel.

Question answered: Replacing the production of departed running back Cyrus Gray and the possible delayed recovery of Christine Michael should not be a problem. Ben Malena and Will Randolph both played well enough in the spring to soothe any fears.

Still searching: Texas A&M’s depth on defense looks painfully thin. For a unit that was torched at times in 2011, that’s problematic, especially if injuries strike at some point in the Aggies’ first season in the SEC West.

VANDERBILT (6-7)

Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense, 3 special teams.

Spring practice ended: April 14; Spring game: Black 33, Gold 0.

Pressing question: Vanderbilt seemingly has a proven starter at quarterback in James Rodgers, but coach James Franklin has repeatedly said there is no starter yet. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels is Rodgers’ competition for the job.

Question answered: Former quarterbacks Josh Grady and Kris Kentera moved to slot receiver and H-back, respectively, and both will play big roles for Vanderbilt as playmakers. Grady can play Wildcat quarterback, and Kentera’s a natural receiver.

Still searching: Vanderbilt’s offensive line had only seven players healthy for spring ball, which made it impossible for the Commodores to identify a starting lineup. Heading into the fall, Vanderbilt has to get guys like returning starter Ryan Seymour and prospect Chase White healthy.

Auburn catcher Blake Austin named SEC Player of the Week

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Auburn sophomore Blake Austin’s big weekend against Tennessee has earned him SEC Player of the Week honors after he went 9-for-14 over the course of the Tigers’ four-win week against Troy and the Volunteers.

Austin was 7-of-11 with two doubles, a homer and 10 RBI against Tennessee to help Auburn get back on track in the SEC race with a sweep of the Vols. In Sunday’s finale, Austin was 3-for-4 with a double, home run and five RBI to help the Tigers overcome an early 4-1 deficit and win 11-4.

For the season, Austin ranks third on the Tigers with a .355 batting average, two homers and 19 RBI. He’s also slugging .527 on the year.

Behind the plate, Austin cut down two of the three base runners that tried to steal on him. He’s tossed out 16 base runners on the season.

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April 29, 2012

Auburn sweeps Tennessee to get back into the SEC race

Photo by Missy Hazeldine

Another big day from red-hot catcher Blake Austin pushed Auburn past Tennessee 11-4 despite spotting the Volunteers a 4-1 lead early to give the Tigers their first series sweep in SEC play this season.

Austin belted a double, a homer and finished 3-for-4 with five RBI. For the weekend, he was 7-of-11 with two doubles, a homer and 10 RBI.

Auburn reliever Slade Smith took over for Trey Cochran-Gill to earn the win, and newly-minted reliever Derek Varnadore got the save.

Given the Tigers’ recent struggles, Auburn’s shellacking of Tennessee this weekend — Auburn outscored the Vols 35-12 over three games — came at exactly the right time to get back in the SEC race.

Auburn (25-19, 10-11 SEC) moved out of a three-way tie for ninth in the conference standings to a three-way tie with Ole Miss and Mississippi State for the sixth seed. Given that the Tigers hold series wins over both, Auburn would be the sixth seed if the tournament started today, but the Tigers still have Florida, Georgia and Arkansas left on the SEC schedule.

“Our confidence just continues to build,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. “Offensively I thought we did so many good things and it was up-and-down the lineup, it wasn’t one guy. Blake (Austin) stepped up, Jay Gonzalez had a big base hit the other way and Zach hit a home run. A lot of guys contributed.”

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Auburn softball clinches SEC Tournament berth

For the fifth straight season, the Auburn softball team is headed to the SEC Tournament.

The Tigers (31-19, 10-15 SEC) swept South Carolina over the weekend to clinch a spot, although a seed or an opponent has yet to be determined.

Based on SEC record, Auburn would be the No. 8 seed heading into the final weekend of SEC play as they get ready for a three-game series against Mississippi State at home. The Bulldogs have only a one-game advantage on Auburn, and Kentucky has two games on the Tigers for the sixth seed.

“Making the SEC Tournament for a fifth straight year was one of our team goals going into the season,” Auburn head coach Tina Deese said. “Our team has overcome some injuries and obstacles, as most every team has to do, and achieved one of our goals. I’m very happy for the players, especially our seniors. They have worked very hard to this point, but we know there is still a lot of work ahead of us.”

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Eltoro Freeman invited to rookie camp with Green Bay Packers

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Former Auburn linebacker Eltoro Freeman has accepted an invitation to try out for a training camp spot with the Green Bay Packers in the team’s rookie orientation camp from May 11-May 13, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Freeman, measured at 5-11, 236 pounds at Auburn’s Pro Day, has not signed as an undrafted free agent, but he will have a chance to earn a training camp spot if he impresses the Packers during rookie camp.

A player who switched back and forth from outside to middle linebacker at Auburn, Freeman is almost certainly being looked at by the Packers as an inside linebacker in Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. On the outside, the Packers favor pass rushers.

Freeman exploded in the middle of the season and became one of Auburn’s most productive players after wresting the job away from Jake Holland. He finished the season with 58 tackles, three sacks, 11 tackles-for-loss and two fumbles forced.

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April 28, 2012

Auburn long snapper Josh Harris signs with the Atlanta Falcons; safety Neiko Thorpe signs with Kansas City Chiefs

Rated as the best long snapper in the draft by nearly every scout, Auburn’s Josh Harris didn’t hear his name called in the seven rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft this weekend.

But he’s already found a good landing place. Harris confirmed shortly after the draft ended that he has signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons.

“Ever since I was old enough to really know what NFL football was, the Falcons have always been my favorite team,” Harris said.  “To be able to play for a team that you grew up cheering for is a dream come true.”

Longtime snapper Joe Zelenka, an 11-year veteran who has been the Falcons’ snapper the past three seasons, re-signed with Atlanta on March 23.

But that doesn’t mean Harris has a huge uphill battle. Atlanta worked out Harris individually a week ago, and the Falcons told the three-year Auburn starter that the team was looking to get younger and cheaper at the position. The Ravens, Bengals, Lions and

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Broncos also showed interest in Harris, but he felt like Atlanta was the right fit.

“After doing some homework, researching it and seeing where I thought I had the best chance of making a roster, the Falcons were a good opportunity,” Harris said. “I went through my options and pulled the trigger.”

Former Auburn safety Neiko Thorpe, who finished second on the team with 102 tackles and led the team with three interceptions in 2011, signed a free-agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, according to AuburnSports.com.

Thorpe shot up draft boards after running a 4.40 40-yard dash and testing well on everything except the bench press at Auburn’s Pro Day. A tweener, Thorpe made 27 starts at cornerback in his Auburn career before shifting to free safety as a senior.

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Auburn blasts Tennessee 12-3 to win its first SEC series in nearly a month

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — An Auburn baseball team that had been floundering in SEC play has already taken a big step toward turning things around this weekend.

And it has all started at the plate.

For the second straight day, Auburn put together a big inning against Tennessee pitching and walked away with a 12-2 win to pick up its first SEC series in nearly a month.

“We knew this was a do or die weekend,” Tigers outfielder Cullen Wacker said. “We needed two big wins, and we got them. We’re going for the sweep tomorrow.”

A week ago, Auburn (24-19, 9-11 SEC) called a players-only meeting after suffering a sweep at the hands of South Carolina, the Tigers’ third straight SEC series loss.

Auburn had dropped eight of its last nine and fallen from first in the SEC West to a three-way tie for ninth overall in the SEC standings, barely teetering on the edge of an SEC Tournament berth.

Hosting Tennessee (22-21, 7-13) at Plainsman Park this weekend gave the Tigers a chance to get back on track and hurt one of the teams sharing that ninth-place spot.

“We’ve just got to keep it up,” Wacker said. “We got some momentum, and it started Tuesday night.”

Auburn blasted Troy 7-0 on Tuesday. Buoyed by the big offensive performance, the Tigers have carried it over to the weekend, blasting Tennessee’s pitching staff for 12 runs in each of the first two games.

On Saturday, Wacker returned from a one-game suspension with four hits and four runs scored, but he was far from alone.

An RBI single from Jay Gonzalez in the first gave Auburn a 1-0 lead, and then a Ryan Tella double and an RBI single from Blake Austin added two more in the third.

A six-run fourth — highlighted by Creede Simpson’s two-run double and a bases-clearing double for Dan Glevenyak — chased Volunteers starter Robbie Kidd from the game after just 3 1/3 innings.

Zach Alvord added a homer in the sixth.

“You go out there with a lead, and it makes it a lot easier,” Auburn starter Daniel Koger said. “You let your defense work, and you fill up the zone when you pitch with a lead.”

Koger (3-4) allowed only three hits and two walks over 5 2/3 innings before giving way to Cory Luckie, who gave Auburn its second straight impressive relief performance.

After Derek Varnadore closed out Friday night’s win, Luckie shut down Tennessee over the final 3 1/3 innings to set up Auburn for a chance at the sweep this afternoon.

“When you have a lineup that is clicking up and down,” Auburn coach John Pawlowski said, “it makes it pretty tough.”

NFL Draft: Brandon Mosley picked in the fourth round by the New York Giants

Brandon Mosley, a two-year starter for Auburn at right tackle, was snapped up by the New York Giants with the 131st pick of the draft, or the 36th pick of the fourth round, a compensatory selection.

“I’m so excited to be a drafted by such a great organization as the New York Giants, who has great players and coaches.”

Mosley, who measured at 6-5, 311 pounds, at Auburn’s Pro Day, is the first Tiger off the board in the 2012 NFL Draft.

“I was getting tired of seeing everyone go ahead of me and tired of watching (the draft), so I laid down to rest and right away I got a call from New Jersey and my heart dropped and I said ‘here we go,’” Mosley said. “I was speechless when they called. I didn’t know what to say, I was so excited.”

He is seen as a high-upside player by NFL scouts because he hasn’t been playing right tackle that long. Mosley originally started his college football in junior college as a tight end, and his movement skills (40 time, short shuttle) reflect that.

Mosley fills a big need for the Giants, who lost longtime right tackle starter Kareem McKenzie to free agency.

“Big, tough, smart; just like we like in our offensive line room.  He reminds us somewhat of David Diehl (the Giants starter at left tackle),” Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. “This guy has a good concept.  He understands; knows how to play.  We think he is going to be a good addition.  We think he could go in there and play some guard as well if we needed him to play some guard.  But he is an offensive tackle.”

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NFL.com Scouting Report

STRENGTHS
 Mosley is good at mirroring the defender and keeping his man in front of him. He is not a violent blocker but can move people enough to create a hole. He has played in a spread offense where he was responsible for walling defenders off and getting to the second level, which he excels at.
WEAKNESSES
 Mosley is a clear developmental prospect for two reasons: he hasn’t played the position long, and he played in a spread offense which is far from conventional for an NFL tackle. He will have a serious developmental phase.