Auburn’s players have reported for the start of fall practice, and the Tigers, like most of the other teams around the country, are saying all the right things about opening day on Wednesday.
A few even decided to forego summer vacation to stay and prepare for the season.
“I stayed here in town,” Auburn defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “I didn’t go out of town. I was just looking forward to getting back. I passed by here today and I saw the field getting set up.”
All but two of the incoming freshman have been on campus for the better part of the month, meaning that Auburn could work out as a full team in the annual “captain’s practices” held over the summer.
Auburn’s captains liked what they saw.
Contrary to last year, the team brought a workmanlike approach to the summer sessions, and the older players expect that approach to pay off in a big way.
“We needed it,” T’Sharvan Bell said. “We’re going to be ahead of where the coaches expect us to be at this point. They were the best we’ve had since I’ve been here for sure.”
Auburn will start to find out what the coaches think when they hit the practice field tomorrow.
- Onterio McCalebb, the running back who is perpetually trying to gain weight, came into camp weighing 177 pounds. “I try to get bigger, but we’re always running,” McCalebb said.
- McCalebb also hinted that his role will change as a senior, so that he can be used more on the outside in the passing game. “You’ll see a lot of different stuff this year,” McCalebb said.
- T’Sharvan Bell is healthy and ready to go. “”Full speed. No holding back,” Bell said. “”I’m definitely a lot better physically than I was in the spring.”
- All the older guys were asked about younger guys helping out immediately. One name came to mind out of the three new defensive backs. “Jonathan Jones, whoa, he’s fast,” Bell said. “He’s fast. He’s going to be able to help us on special teams big-time. But as far as cornerback or defensive back, one guy being ahead of the other, they all came in eager to learn and picked it up pretty fast.”
- Bell, echoing what Tre Mason said a couple of weeks ago, also pointed out wide receiver Ricardo Louis. “Ricardo Louis,” Bell said. “He’s got talent. He can do it all, he just needs to be polished up.”
- Daren Bates had a couple of other freshmen he liked right away, including a name at Auburn’s most heated position battle. “Jovon Robinson,” Bates said. “I watch him run his routes and run the ball. He runs it hard and downhill. That just stood out to me the most out of everybody.”
- Phenix City native Jonathan Wallace also caught Bates’s eye. “Even the freshman quarterback, you see that he can be the leader in the near future, the way he can go out and operate even with the veterans on the offense,” Wallace said. “They might mess up and he’ll be the first one to try to correct them. I like that.”
- As Auburn’s leading returning tackler, Bates expects to have a big role in the defense this season, saying that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has unleashed him. “I think this year I’ll probably make more tackles than last year,” Bates said. “He’s given me the opportunity to make these plays that you have to make. Giving me more blitzes.”
- Bates also said the team isn’t buying into the expectations, which are middle-of-the-pack in the SEC West. “They said the same thing last year, they said we were going to win like four games or whatever,” Bates said. “We don’t pay attention to that because we know what we can do, what type of athletes we have, what type of players we have. All we have to do is go out there and play the games and it speaks for itself.”
- Nosa Eguae says he welcomes Auburn’s improved depth on the defensive line. “It’s about competition,” Eguae said. “That’s what this is about. We haven’t had this type of depth on the defensive line and offensive line since I’ve been here and since this coaching staff’s been here. I’m looking forward to competing.”
- Eguae won’t have to carry as big a load as he did last year, when Auburn faced a rash of injuries at the defensive end position. “Last year, midseason we had three defensive ends,” Eguae said. “It was me, Craig and Corey. And this year, at the defensive end spot, there’s six, seven or eight of us that can go out there and play. From a defensive end depth standpoint, nobody’s going to be asked to play 35-40 plays. Everybody’s going to be rolling, everybody’s going to be fresh, and I’m looking forward to it.”
- Corey Lemonier wasn’t available, but he drew plenty of praise from Eguae. “He’s a freak, man,” Eguae said. “Just the sheer athleticism he has and coming off the ball. His get-off. The way he plays, he plays relentless. That’s what you look for in a defensive end.”
- Jeffrey Whitaker’s weight is 306 and holding steady after he played at 320-plus pounds last year. “Got it where I wanted it — 306,” Whitaker said. “I’ve dropped 25-plus. I’m loving it. I got stronger and I feel great.”
- Gabe Wright and Kenneth Carter are ready to go after missing the spring due to injury. “Both healthy,” Whitaker said. “Gabe came back, he was running a little at the end of the summer. Ken has been doing great. Everybody is back.”