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April 30, 2013

SEC Notes: Slive no-comments Auburn allegation reports, demands better basketball

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

ncf_a_slive_b1_600BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Athletic director Jay Jacobs and former head coach Gene Chizik were clearly indignant, debunking reports of Auburn committing NCAA violations and otherwise wrongdoings by ESPN and Roopstigo.com.

While fans both for and against Auburn weighed in, active coaches (like Gus Malzahn) and players weren’t touching the subject.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, predictably, was in the latter camp when asked about it Monday at an Associated Press Sports Editors conference.

“I never comment on that kind of thing. I mean, I just don’t comment on those things,” Slive said.

Asked if he thought Jacobs acted in the appropriate manner, Slive still didn’t bite.

“I read Jay’s defense,” Slive said. “It’s just something I don’t deal with publicly.”

Oops, hoops: Nobody’s questioning the SEC’s prowess on a football field, yet the nation mocks that same conference come men’s basketball season.

The SEC earned just three NCAA Tournament bids this spring, and it could have been two if not for Ole Miss’ stunning run to the league tournament championship. The Rebels joined regular season champ Florida and league newcomer Missouri, while defending NCAA champion Kentucky lost in the first round of the NIT.

Yes, it is a concern, and yes, it is something that the league office is thinking about and should be thinking about,” Slive said. “No school’s an island when it comes to scheduling basketball, and we’re going to take a very hard look at the importance of who our people play in non-conference.”

Slive proudly reminded the crowd of the SEC’s three recent national championships – Florida went back-to-back in 2006-07.

“The answer is we’ve had a lot of success, and last year was not indicative of who we are in basketball,” Slive said. “We’re a lot more than that.”

Cracking down: It was a bizarre, can-that-actually-happen moment, when Auburn sophomore defensive back Jonathon Mincy was thrown out of the spring game for targeting a defenseless receiver above the head.

Yes, the spring game. The one that doesn’t count.

But that’s what the NCAA wants to enforce early and often, as player safety concerns are heightened with the horrors of additional research.

The new rule, passed in March, permits referees to authorize immediate ejections, rather than deferring to league review of questionable hits over the weekend – which in the past were punishable by one-game suspensions for the following game.

“One of the premises was how do you impact behavior immediately, rather than waiting and getting into a lot of dialogue about the nuance of the (action),” Slive said. “The idea here is if a player knows that he’s going to be ejected from the game – and he is gone – that is, I think in the final analysis, the most effective way to modify behavior. Waiting until Sunday or Monday does not (do that.)”

Kickoffs could be an endangered staple of football. Time will tell.

“What’s important here is we continue to use the rules for the benefit of the health and safety of our student-athletes,” Slive said. “We’ll keep looking at the data and keep talking about it. This was a giant step forward, making it clear that if you target somebody, you’re going to be ejected right then and there. Hopefully that will change behavior.”

Worldwide leader: No, Slive doesn’t think ESPN has become too powerful in the college sports landscape.

“I can’t control what other people think,” Slive said. “Through ESPN, we have a lot of distribution. We’re very excited about the future, and we’re going to be in a position where we can even enhance the exposure to not just the so-called football and basketball sports, but other sports of ours.

“I can’t speak for others, but I can tell you we have enjoy the relationship we have with ESPN, and with CBS.”

Although its purpose has not formally been announced, Thursday’s press conference in Atlanta – rescheduled from April 16 due to the Boston Marathon bombings – is expected to declare the creation of an SEC Network in partnership with ESPN.

April 29, 2013

Slive, SEC ready for College Football Playoff

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

7.20p sliveBIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The fans, finally, got what they begged for.

Now begins the next step of the process, ensuring the right four teams are participating each year for a national championship.

Putting smiles on the faces of everybody from Les Miles to Georgia fans in SEC country is the new “College Football Playoff” decision to abolish the BCS’s previous one-team-per-conference stipulation.

In other words, if, say, Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Texas A&M are the country’s best four teams in 2014? Then it’ll be an all-SEC festival in the semifinals.

“It was an important piece. There is no limit,” said SEC commissioner Mike Slive, beaming over the development when speaking to reporters Monday at an Associated Press Sports Editors conference at the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, across the street from SEC headquarters.

“We’re looking for the best teams to play in the playoff. We didn’t want to create artificial limits. That was basically an artificial limit in the old system.”

Cowboys Stadium in Arlington was identified last Wednesday as the site of the first national championship on Jan. 12, 2015 as part of a four-team playoff – the first time in 37 years the title game takes place in North Texas.

There are still semantics to sort out for the SEC, such as continuing a relationship with the Sugar Bowl and replacing the Cotton and Chick-Fil-A Bowls with other league-affiliated postseason bowls when those particular games are occupied by national semifinals.

Another major step, nationally, is creating the selection committee.

“Clearly what you want: we want a committee that has football expertise, and we need to find the right people,” said Slive, who met last week with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock and other officials in Pasadena.

“We want integrity, and we want transparency, because this is our opportunity to make sure that not only are we comfortable but you’re (the media) comfortable and all the fans are comfortable that this process is the way it should be. It’s not going to be easy.”

Slive said the scope would include and not necessarily be limited to former players, coaches, officials, media and other key individuals.

The league boss for the past 11 years, Slive is a former chairman of the NCAA men’s basketball selection group for March Madness, which he hopes can be emulated by the football committee in the future – especially when impartiality is considered.

“When you come into the committee as a member of the basketball committee, the concept is you leave your hat at the door,” Slive said. “If you come in and you’re there to represent football and what’s in the best interest of football and the playoffs, there’s a foundational culture from which we can work.

“Now we have to adjust it to football and the fact that we’re not picking 68 teams – we’re picking four.”

Slive estimates the football committee will contain “somewhere between 14 and 20” members, as compared to 10 for basketball.

Because hidden ballots on coaches’ polls have been a sticking point in the past, open voting is something College Football Playoff organizers are pursuing.

“I don’t want to speak for the committee because it doesn’t exist yet. They’ll have to make some of their own rules, but the concept of transparency is a major concept,” Slive said. “At the same time you have a lot of data, what we call the metrics: the kind of data you can put together whether it’s the RPI or whatever.

“I would expect with this committee that we would develop metrics … and be able to use whatever they deem appropriate in coming to the conclusion as to what four teams ought to be in the playoffs.”

BROTHERS ARE RAMS: Emory Blake joins Lutzenkirchen, Bates in St. Louis

Clemson_Auburn9_9-1-12

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

BIRMINGHAM – Depending on who makes 53-man rosters, Sept. 26 and Dec. 1 will be two dates for Auburn fans to watch in the 2013 NFL season.

St. Louis, which hosts its NFC West rival on the former date, signed tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, linebacker Daren Bates and wide receiver Emory Blake as unrestricted free agents within 48 hours of the conclusion of last week’s NFL draft.

Any and all former Tigers could face their longtime teammate, defensive end Corey Lemonier, selected in the third round Friday by San Francisco, the site of the second matchup this fall.

“It’s going to be cool to go into this with some familiar faces around you,” said Blake, who signed with the Rams Monday morning. “You can kind of go through it together, which is good.”

Lutzenkirchen’s family, from suburban Atlanta, hosted Blake, an Austin, Texas native, during their freshman season in 2009. As high school seniors, those two and Bates were together at Auburn’s spring football scrimmage – the first on-field appearance by ex-head coach Gene Chizik.

Bates, Blake and Lutzenkirchen won a national championship in 2010 as sophomores, suffered through a 3-9 collapse as seniors, and now will scratch and claw for a chance to jumpstart their professional careers in the same uniform.

“We all came in together, we’re all part of the same class and we’ve been through a lot together,” Blake said. “We’ve always been close.”

There’s a pipeline here: Rams head coach Jeff Fisher’s son, Trent, is a rising senior safety for Auburn.

“I’ve talked to Coach Fisher a few times. I’ve definitely seen his face around, we’ve had some conversations,” Blake said. “It was good to have a previous relationship with the coach and know what he’s like and how good a guy he is.”

The third of the trio to sign, Blake ranks fifth in school history in all three major receiving categories: 128 catches, 2,012 yards and 16 touchdowns.

“I knew there was a chance I wouldn’t get drafted. It wasn’t a shocker, but still definitely disappointing,” Blake said. “You want the best for yourself, you feel like you’ve done enough and worked hard, so of course it was disappointing for me.

“I’m just excited and happy for the opportunity.”

Lutzenkirchen’s 14 touchdown grabs are the most among tight ends in Tigers history. His career figures are 59 catches in 44 games, for 628 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Bates led the Tigers in tackles each of the past two seasons.

This isn’t the only Auburn undrafted tandem hoping to continue on together. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, tailback Onterio McCalebb and offensive lineman John Sullen signed with the Bengals.

Final four questions answered from spring | Grading each position, guessing 7-5 season

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. — Back on Feb. 13 – I know, that seems eons ago to me too – I was the Auburn beat writer rep answering a few questions entering spring football for The Saturday Edge, a web site dishing out info on the SEC and college football.

In the same style as before, here’s a wrap-up Q&A before we enter the dog days of summer. Answers are my own. I was particularly intrigued to answer the third of these four questions.

Gus Malzahn

What was the biggest takeaway this past month? Were any of the pre-spring question marks successfully addressed?

Easily, the storyline was howfreakingfastAuburnwillmoveonoffense. The players’ heads were spinning after just one practice, and I’m not sure they ever got completely used to their old offensive coordinator slash new head coach’s tempo, which clearly trickled down to all the new assistants who obliged to Gus Malzahn’s orders.

Name a few unknown players who could have breakout seasons.

Justin Garrett is known to beat writers and diehard, attentive fans who read the coverage. To the rest of the SEC and nation at the moment, he’s just a guy with two first names. That’ll change as soon as he produces his first impact game with double-digit tackles or two forced turnovers. He’s loving that “star” hybrid spot in Ellis Johnson’s defense. Also file away names like tailback Cameron Artis-Payne, receiver Jaylon Denson and defensive end Kenneth Carter.

Grade each position group & special teams (ex. QB – B, RB – B+, etc) …… time permitting, if the grade is exceptionally high or low, can you expand on why you believe this to be so?

QBs: C. Nobody separated himself. Troubling news.

RBs: A-. Tre Mason wants three 1,000-yard rushers. Might not be so outlandish.

WRs: B-. Decent options. Not great right now. Check back in August.

OL: B+. Starting five seems in place, but they’ll have their hands full with SEC Ds.

DL: B. Rodney Garner has to be salivating over the incoming freshmen.

LB: C+. Some uncertainty here, even though the potential is fairly respectable.

DB: A. Corners have been great, Garrett’s locked in at star. Just need a free safety.

ST: B-. Punter and kicker are solid seniors, but return game lacks playmakers.

Are there any “surprises” we can expect from this team (is there a reason that makes you think this team is better or not as good as the pundits/public think they are)?

I’d say the consensus is Auburn’s looking at a 7-5 regular season, and maybe a Gator or Music City Bowl appearance. Which would pretty much match Gene Chizik’s first year in 2009 coming off a bowl-less season. Gus Malzahn’s system has the capability to fire off an upset at LSU or in Jordan-Hare Stadium vs. Georgia. Conversely, the young Tigers, still licking wounds from 3-9, are just as susceptible at home to Mississippi State or Ole Miss the first five weeks of the season.

Generally, this fan base would settle for a bowl game. Considering the steady yet unspectacular progress, the schedule appears too daunting to expect a 10-win renaissance … but as J.P. said in Angels in the Outfield: “hey, it could happen.”

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Auburn defensive line, linebackers & defensive backs spring rundown

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This is the third and final piece of a three-part series, revisiting the past month in Auburn spring football and taking stock of valuable developments.

Adopting the style of WarEagleExtra.com’s popular “7 at 7” features, let’s go through seven bullet points of what you need to know about the Tigers’ defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs.

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Photo by Todd Van Emst

We learned the most promising defender Auburn has to offer isn’t, in fact, a lineman, linebacker, cornerback or safety.

But he is a star in the making. A shooting star. A star on the rise. And other groan-worthy puns you’re bound to hear over and over connected to junior hybrid Justin Garrett.

“Justin Garrett’s been the best player we’ve had on defense, if you just measure all 12 full-speed practices we’ve had at this point,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “He’s probably made as many impact plays and has played as well as any player on that side of the ball. So that was a very pleasant accomplishment.”

He’s fast enough to play safety and large enough to play linebacker, but mainly, Garrett’s hard-hitting presence is why his expectations have soared.

“I’ll tell you what, he has had an outstanding spring,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “Coach Johnson, I believe, has him in the right position, letting him play.”

Unless Garrett’s humble to a fault in his first month in the spotlight – entirely possible – he’s not even sure he’s close to fulfilling his potential.

“I feel like overall (my spring) was OK. I’ve just got to get back and watch film on my own and see what I can do better,” Garrett said after A-Day. “Technique and fundamentals, I feel like I can improve a lot.”

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We learned Malzahn is hands-off with the defense. Johnson has the keys, Charlie Harbison’s riding shotgun, and Rodney Garner and Melvin Smith are back-seat drivers … but the vehicle is titled in Malzahn’s name. If that makes sense.

Let me put it this way: Malzahn fielded ten questions after the A-Day scrimmage pertaining specifically to the offense. He took three on the defense.

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We learned playing against the hurry-up, no-huddle offense for three and a half weeks will work to naturally benefit Auburn’s defense.

“It’s real. At the beginning of the spring it was tough but we figured we would eventually get used to it,” senior defensive end Nosa Eguae said. “It’s hard to get used to that pace but you just come out there every day and you get better. You have to focus on the technique and the little things.

“We came out and continued to work, and we’re starting to get used to that pace for sure.”

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AUBURN FOOTBALL

We learned cornerback should not be a problem position in 2013.

Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy are entrenched with the first unit – Johnson specifically mentioned them as starters – but there’s plenty of depth behind them in Joshua Holsey, Jonathan Jones, Ryan White and Robenson Therezie.

“I think our corners have tackled extremely well,” Johnson said. “This offense forces your perimeter players to make a lot of open-field tackles, and our corners have been outstanding.”

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We learned safety might be a problem position in 2013.

Because of Demetruce McNeal’s absence the final five practices including A-Day (though a recent tweet indicated he might be good to go) and Erique Florence leaving the program, Harbison had to squeeze water from a rock. Jermaine Whitehead better stay healthy and maintain his progress. Because other than him, it’s Ryan Smith, former walk-on Trent Fisher with a sore ankle, Holsey moving over from corner, and walk-ons.

Brandon King will have his chance from day one. So will Khari Harding and maybe Mackenro Alexander. That position’s a little frightening right now.

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10Auburn1 (2)

We learned the first four on the field at defensive line were ahead of the rest of their backups in the middle of spring. Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter on the ends, and Jeffrey Whitaker and Gabe Wright at tackle seemed to be the top group, though Angelo Blackson had a nagging shoulder.

Eguae should get reps, Keymiya Harrell’s leg will heal and Carl Lawson arrives this summer, so the DE depth should improve. Speaking of incoming freshmen, it’s been said all along: Montravius Adams probably makes the rotation from day one. But Garner’s goal of five game-ready tackles and five game-ready ends by Labor Day seems a bit ambitious at the moment.

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We learned we’re going to find out real quick what Jake Holland’s made of.

Johnson praised Holland early and often for his maturity, trusting him to learn both mike and will linebacker positions. But when Holland had to miss numerous practices for a mandatory course in his major, the senior fell behind on the depth chart, giving Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy every opportunity to take the job away.

Holland has played in 31 games, starting 16. He hasn’t always been the most popular player on the team to fans or message board lurkers. As a rare senior on this team, Holland’s senior leadership could hold the same value as T’Sharvan Bell last year, and that’s nothing to be taken for granted.

April 28, 2013

Mike O’Neal can’t complete perfect April

STAFF REPORT

Michael O’Neal couldn’t cash in on a perfect April, taking his first loss since March 23 in Auburn’s abbreviated defeat 3-1 at Missouri Sunday afternoon.

The left-handed O’Neal’s start was postponed a day due to inclement weather Saturday, and turned into the first game of a doubleheader. Per SEC rules, both games on Sunday must be seven innings long.

A Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley product, O’Neal entered the weekend 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA this month. True to routine, he was thoroughly solid with the exception of one bad inning, when Missouri took advantage of two singles and two hit batters in a three-run third inning.

Auburn’s offense got nothing going, producing just a Garrett Cooper RBI single in the first inning on six hits. O’Neal (8-3) and his counterpart, Keaton Steele (4-2), each handled all the pitching for their clubs; O’Neal struck out three Tigers and allowed three hits in six frames.

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Auburn quarterbacks, offensive line & special teams spring rundown

10Auburn6

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This is the second of a three-part series through Monday, revisiting the past month in Auburn spring football and taking stock of valuable developments.

Adopting the style of WarEagleExtra.com’s popular “7 at 7” features, let’s go through seven bullet points of what you need to know about the Tigers’ quarterbacks, offenslive line and special teams.

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We learned the quarterback has to play in a two-minute offense, but the decision on who that’ll be will resemble a 14-play, grind-it-out marathon to the end zone.

Here’s what we know: every time head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who will impart a very specific set of skills on all their quarterbacks, were asked about the QBs’ progress, they resorted to vague statements indicating slight progress in their abilities but none in the individual battle.

Here’s what we can reasonably infer: junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace, who each started and completed four games last season, are good guys who want to get better and will roll with the punches of re-learning an offense they mastered in high school.

Here’s what we don’t know: because Lashlee was politically correct in never once identifying one guy ahead of the other throughout spring, is that a bad sign that neither candidate has what it takes to separate himself?

Here’s what we know: Jeremy Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jason Smith will be on campus very shortly to fill out the quarterback pool.

Here’s what we also know: Nineteen weeks until the Washington State opener. Don’t hold your breath on Auburn naming a starter.

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We learned where there’s uncertainty at quarterback, there is chalk on the offensive line. Left tackle? Greg Robinson. Center? Reese Dismukes. Right guard? Chad Slade. Duh, duh, and duh. Right tackle looks like Patrick Miller, though Avery Young will get a chance to win the spot back once his shoulder’s totally healed; but honestly, J.B. Grimes can’t go wrong with either of those guys over on the right side.

That leaves left guard up for grabs. John Sullen graduated, so who replaces him? Jordan Diamond got the first crack, then Alex Kozan seemed to hang onto the job for most the spring, though Devonte Danzey got a look late. Kozan’s probably the pick. Offensive line requires chemistry and continuity, and Grimes must be very pleased it’s been a relatively drama-free spring selecting his starting five.

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Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28

We learned Cody Parkey can’t just cruise into his senior season. A 75 percent career kicker, he really struggled in the fast-paced field goal fire drill sessions we saw. A couple times, I saw Parkey with a forlorn look on his face on the sideline moments after missing a 45-yarder or so. Because this coaching staff tends to brandish a go-for-it mentality, Parkey will have to prove he’s reliable enough from well outside 40 to get the nod when those tough decisions come up in October.

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We learned there’s a really good chance Wallace has become the wild playmaker/play breaker, and Frazier has evolved into the safe-guarded game manager. Why? Well, could be Frazier’s gun-shy to draw the boos again after making mistakes, and Wallace figures he’s got nothing to lose but flinging it out and seeing if he can hit the home run. Wallace was explosive yet precarious on A-Day, while Frazier took what was given more often.

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We learned Shon Coleman’s more determined than you and me. Debilitating injury and illness – not least of which is cancer – has derailed careers on so many unfortunate occasions. Yet there’s Coleman, backing up Robinson at left tackle and deadset on finally suiting up and maybe appearing in his first college game after beating leukemia in 2010.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

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We learned punt and kick returner is, uh, a couple of jobs up for grabs. Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Ricardo Louis, Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, Jonathan Jones, Jonathon Mincy, Chris Davis, Robenson Therezie … I mean, I think I saw Aubie out there shagging returns a few times this spring.

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We learned Frazier and Wallace don’t hate each other’s guts.

Well, to be fair, we knew that already.

“We are good friends off the field, and it’s competitive on the field,” Frazier said. “I’m rooting for him to do well, but at the same time everybody wants to be the starter. But that’s not really something we focus on. We’re just focusing on getting better this spring.”

Wallace pointed more to the journey both young men continue to plod, since they know whoever ends up taking control of this offense will face a restless fan base in the fall.

“It’s been a lot of work. A LOT, a lot of work,” Wallace said. “We’ve been able to get a lot of reps, and everything. We’re different guys. Of course, the receivers run different routes, the backs, one may be faster than the other. But overall, we were able to have some type of competition as well and push each other. That was good this spring.”

Kiehl Frazier

April 27, 2013

Only one drafted player from Auburn, but six new assistants celebrate former pupils

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. — Six new Auburn assistant football coaches had a reason to smile and pump their fists for former pupils in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Now, of course, they’re tasked with ensuring their new team can get back to being a factory for professional prospects.

Defensive end Corey Lemonier was the lone Auburn player selected over the past three days – drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round Friday – matching the Tigers’ meek output from a year ago.

Tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, tailback Onterio McCalebb, wide receiver Emory Blake and the rest of the outgoing Tigers become unrestricted free agents.

Auburn’s 16th-ranked recruiting class of 2009 (according to Scout.com rankings), the first of former coach Gene Chizik’s tenure, has had only one player drafted out of 27 commits: defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a junior college transfer who entered early for the 2011 NFL Draft and was picked by the Lions in the first round.

The only two players remaining on the active roster from  that class are defensive ends Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae.

But the new position coaches heard some good news.

EJ Manuel was Dameyune Craig’s quarterback at Florida State the past three years, and was a surprise selections by the passer-needy Buffalo Bills with the 16th overall selections.

In a quarterback-weak draft, Manuel was the first selected, going ahead of quarterbacks such as West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and USC’s Matt Barkley.

Melvin Smith, previously the defensive backs coach at Mississippi State, saw Johnthan Banks (Tampa Bay) and Darius Slay (Lions) move on as 2nd-round selections. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s linebacker from Southern Miss, Jamie Collins, was also taken in the second round by New England.

Rodney Garner’s Georgia defensive line was represented twice in this year’s draft, by tackle John Jenkins in the third round (Saints) and end Cornelius Washington in the sixth (Chicago.)

Tim Horton’s tailback, Knile Davis of Arkansas, went to Kansas City in the third round and Charlie Harbison’s safety, Jonathan Meeks of Clemson, joined Manuel in Buffalo in the fifth round.

New head coach Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and offensive line coach J.B. Grimes came from Arkansas State. EDIT: A-State had a safety, Don Jones, selected 250th overall – or fifth-to-last – by Miami. The previous article saying the Red Wolves did not have a draft pick was incorrect. The writer regrets the error.

The coaching staff is rounded out by tight ends/special teams coach Scott Fountain, promoted from Auburn’s support staff.

April 26, 2013

Save me, San Francisco: Auburn DE Corey Lemonier drafted by the 49ers in the 3rd round

Corey Lemonier

AUBURN, Ala. – Corey Lemonier became the first Auburn player selected in the 2013 NFL Draft Friday night, taken late in the third round by the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Lemonier, a defensive end who is considering making the switch to outside linebacker in the 49ers’ 3-4 scheme, was the 88th overall pick.

“In 29 years, we’ve never had a harder worker out here in Arizona than Corey,” said Eric Metz, Lemonier’s Scottsdale-based agent. “He would work out multiple times throughout the day, and then he would show up at 9 o’clock at night and play basketball for another hour, which nobody likes their football clients to play basketball, but he’s just a competitor on every aspect of things. He’s just a tireless worker.”

Lemonier teams up with Carlos Rogers, Auburn’s 2004 Thorpe Award winner who was taken ninth overall in the 2005 Draft by the Washington Redskins.

The 49ers’ current starting defensive ends are Pro Bowler Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, while it’s Pro Bowler Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks lining up at outside linebacker.

“Anybody that can rush the passer the way that he can is going to be a good fit for anyone,” Metz said. “There’s 100 players that thought they were going to go in the first round. So sure, everyone wants to go that high. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out there and play.”

Metz indicated the 49ers were a bit of a surprise suitor. He said the Atlanta Falcons were “extremely interested” in Lemonier, while New England, Tampa Bay and the New York Giants were also in the mix, but the 49ers did attend Auburn’s Pro Day on March 5.

“I don’t think they were one of the leading candidates because they did a very good job of concealing it, so to speak,” Metz said. “They obviously do a very good job of scouting in San Francisco, so I don’t think 20 more minutes of doing pass-rush drills at Auburn really would’ve changed anything. They already knew he could play.”

The 49ers traded up five spots with Green Bay to nab Lemonier, shipping the Packers a 7th-round selection in return.

Lemonier, 21, was a five-star defensive end prospect out of Hialeah (Fla.) in the class of 2010 after appearing in the Under Armour High School All-American Game. His best year came in 2011, tallying 13.5 tackles for a loss, 15 passes defended and five forced fumbles – earning him an all-SEC first-team nod from the coaches.

Those figures sank to 5.5 TFLs, one pass defended and one forced fumble his junior season. Lemonier had two sacks each in nationally-televised games against Clemson and LSU, but just half a sack in the final eight games.

“They ask me basically what happened that year, and I told them coming into the season, we had a dark cloud over our heads with the shooting and players getting arrested,” Lemonier said at Auburn’s Pro Day. “We didn’t have the talent to match up with teams in the SEC. It was nothing (about) character – our motivation was still there. But it was just a lack of talent.”

Lemonier’s 2010 campaign netted him all-SEC freshman team honors along with the championship ring. He contributed five tackles for a loss and six deflections.

Durability has been a strength; Lemonier appeared in all 39 career games. He struggled with critical offsides penalties and neutral zone infractions during his junior year.

Previous picks by the 49ers in this year’s draft include LSU safety Eric Reid (18th), Florida State defensive end Tank Carradine (40th) and Rice tight end Vance McDonald (55th). San Francisco lost Super Bowl XLVII to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31.

The 88th pick in the 2012 NFL Draft was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who reportedly received a four-year contract in May 2012 with a signing bonus exceeding half a million dollars.

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Auburn running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-backs

Auburn Spring Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This is the first of a three-part series through Monday, revisiting the past month in Auburn spring football and taking stock of valuable developments.

Adopting the style of WarEagleExtra.com’s popular “7 at 7” features, let’s go through seven bullet points of what you need to know about the Tigers’ running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-Backs.

We learned, in general, that “starter” is a technical title and little more in this offense. Tre Mason should be the No. 1 guy, but Cameron Artis-Payne will get serious carries, and maybe Corey Grant too. Brandon Fulse has been the preferred first-team tight end, but it’s impossible to believe CJ Uzomah won’t be heavily involved in the passing game, and Jay Prosch must be used as a utility blocker. Receivers? Jaylon Denson and Trovon Reed seem to have the edge as starters, with Quan Bray right there with them. But the coaches love Ricardo Louis, and Sammie Coates should get his shot as well.

Whew. That’s eleven names for five spots.

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We learned if you dare traipse in his way, Cameron Artis-Payne will seek you out and run you over. The video of CAP destroying T.J. Davis in a high-tempo spring scrimmage speaks volumes.

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Brandon Fulse, Trovon ReedWe learned Rhett Lashlee has a long memory. “I keep using the analogy of the first year we were here we had a guy who only had three catches in his career and had 60 in our first year,” the 29-year-old offensive coordinator said Friday, for about the third time this spring. Check out this chart:

2008: WR Darvin Adams 3 rec, 18 yards; WR Terrell Zachery 2 rec, 24 yards; RB Mario Fannin 20 rec, 223 yards, 2 TD; RB Eric Smith, 2 rec, 3 yards

2009: Adams 60 rec, 997 yards, 10 TD; Zachery 26 rec, 477 yards, 5 TD; Fannin 42 rec, 413 yards, 3 TD; Smith 17 rec, 219 yards, TD

Of course, 2009 was the first year of the Gus Malzahn-guided offense, first year of Gene Chizik as head coach, first year of Trooper Taylor as wide receivers coach and first year of young Lashlee – just 26 at the time – serving as offensive graduate assistant.

By the way, Adams and Zachery weren’t one-year wonders; they combined for 96 grabs and nearly 1,600 yards in the 2010 championship season. It’s not just about this year, it’s laying groundwork for the future.

Why is all this relevant?

2012: WR Quan Bray 14 rec, 94 yards; WR Trovon Reed 9 rec, 122 yards, TD; TE CJ Uzomah 7 rec, 136 yards, TD; RB Tre Mason 7 rec, 86 yards; WR Sammie Coates 6 rec, 114 yards, 2 TD; WR Ricardo Louis 3 rec, 36 yards; WR Jaylon Denson 1 rec, 12 yards (!!!!), TE Brandon Fulse 1 rec, 8 yards.

Team stats – 2008: 184 rec, 1985 yards, 7 pass TD … 2012: 147 rec, 1879 yards, 8 pass TD.

Team stats – 2009: 218 rec, 2857 yards, 25 pass TD … 2013: Stay tuned.

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We learned we might not have our finger on how Uzomah and Prosch will be utilized. Those were two of the three green-jersey guys from Day 1 due to their strength and conditioning prowess (along with defensive tackle Gabe Wright), but they were often running with the second unit in media windows (and sometimes not at all.) We never heard specifically of injury issues, but Uzomah had just one catch for 20 yards on A-Day – for the blue squad – and Prosch registered no stats, albeit as the starting first-team H-Back.

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We learned Corey Grant is quietly humble, but won’t shy away from the challenge of Tre Mason; a guy who last fall didn’t actually say “Gimme the ball” but basically, yeah, said “No, seriously, gimme the ball.”

“It is important – knowing he has that mentality, you’ve got to come with that mentality also to fight for position, fight for reps, fight for carries,” Grant said. “Overall, it will help the team if you have that mentality.”

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We learned Brandon Fulse should be taken seriously as a starting skill player. Because when coaches returning to their old school and re-teaching their unique system say things like “that’s what we recruited so-and-so for,” it’s significant.

“That’s what we recruited Brandon Fulse for: for that position standing up, doing a lot of dirty work, a very physical blocker,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “The very first year, we lost Eric Smith, and so he had to do a lot of the H-Back stuff that Eric Smith did. He’s finally coming into his own at the position we recruited him for.”

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We learned Marcus Davis, Earnest Robinson, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker should be ready to compete from the time they get here. Because those five returning wide receivers hardly distinguished themselves. There are playing reps to be had.