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August 13, 2013

Auburn football: Starting right tackle battle ongoing, Rhett Lashlee says Tunde Fariyike ‘improved’ snaps since spring

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Reese Dismukes isn’t worried about the right tackle position.

Auburn’s starting center knows whoever winds up winning the job — be it redshirt freshman Avery Young or sophomore Patrick Miller — will man it capably.

Patrick Miller (51) is continuing to battle Avery Young to become Auburn's starting right tackle. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Patrick Miller (51) is continuing to battle Avery Young to become Auburn’s starting right tackle. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“They’re both coming out every day, competing hard and that’s what we need,” Dismukes said following Tuesday morning’s situational scrimmage. “They’re getting the best of each other and that’s what happens when you get a competition going like that. I think that they’re just doing the best they can and whichever one wins the job we’ll stick with.”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee wasn’t worried, either, saying both Young and Miller “are good players.” When the job is finally settled, Lashlee said it will also have implications for the rest of the offensive line.

“How does it work shuffling everything else, from backup guards to centers to left tackle, all those things will play into that (right tackle) position,” he said. “Those guys have really come along and gotten much better. Whoever wins that job will also alter how we go in with our top six, seven, eight linemen going into the game.”

Four spots on the line seemed set heading into the season, with Greg Robinson at left tackle, Alex Kozan at left guard, Chad Slade at right guard and Dismukes at center.

Kozan, specifically, has impressed Dismukes.

“He’s taking a big step in the film room,” he said. “Really just focusing on technique each and every day and just going out there every day and getting better. That’s the big thing he’s done. Still same guy he was in the spring. He’s just kind of set himself apart in the fall. I think that’s what he wanted to do and that’s what’s happening.”

Lashlee felt the same about Tunde Fariyike, noting the gains he has made snapping the ball after struggling during the spring. Though he’ll likely serve as Dismukes’ backup this season, Lashlee said Fariyike’s versatility makes him a valuable asset.

“He’s a guy that could maybe get in the mix at other spots on the line too in a reserve role,” Lashlee said. “I do think we’ve got three or four guys that can snap the football behind Reese, (who) certainly is kind of the leader and anchor of that unit. We got to be very cautious with him and he’s very important to us, but if something were to happen, we feel like we’ve got several options, with Tunde being one of them.”

Dismukes said he does his best to assist his teammates — linemen or otherwise — any way he can.

“My main goal is for us to win football games,” he said. “Whatever guy needs help out there, whether a receiver needs help or quarterback needs help, I just try to help them. I think everybody can be replaced.”

August 6, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/6: Tigers don full pads for first time, Demetruce McNeal inactive once again

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to approximately 20 minutes of practice on Tuesday, the first time the team donned full pads during practice. It also marked Day 5 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

This wide-lens photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn's practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

This wide-angle photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn’s practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • This was the least-interesting practice reporters have had a chance to see thus far. And that’s being generous. Due to rain, most of the Tigers’ drills were forced to take place inside, and the ones on display likely wouldn’t enrapture the fan base. But we’ll forge on nonetheless.
  • Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson finally lifted the curtain on what’s been ailing Demetruce McNeal on Monday: The senior safety had an infection that required a minor surgery. Johnson figured McNeal would be out for “several more days,” and his prediction was right. Safety No. 16 at least seemed to be moving around well on Tuesday, bobbing his head and twirling a football on his fingertips. He also had some fun with right tackle Avery Young during stretching drills. After Young finished one of his steps, McNeal jogged by and tapped him on the helmet with a football. “You know I got you, dog,” Young told him.
  • The quarterbacks didn’t throw any passes while media members were present. Jonathan Wallace was a holder on field goals, with the rest of the quarterbacks off to the side running with ropes tied to them. Jeremy Johnson paired up with Tucker Tuberville and Kiehl Frazier did the same with Nick Marshall.
  • The first-team offensive line stayed the same, with Greg Robinson at left tackle, Alex Kozan at left guard, Reese Dismukes at center, Chad Slade at right guard and the aforementioned Young at right tackle. There was a change on the second-team line, however, as Will Adams replaced Jordan Diamond at right guard. The rest of Auburn’s second-team offensive line: Shon Coleman at left tackle, Devonte Danzey at left guard, Tunde Fariyike at center and Patrick Miller at right tackle.
  • The only contact that took place during the viewing portion was courtesy of the defensive backs. Coach Melvin Smith had his unit working on jamming drills.
  • The punt returner group was identical to Monday, consisting of wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens as well as cornerback Chris Davis. The punt returns were also the only unit adversely affected by practicing indoors, as many of Steven Clark’s kicks reach the roof of the facility. (Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a running tally, though I saw at least five bounce off the ceiling.) Wide receiver Sammie Coates was a new face among the kick returners on Tuesday. He joined a trio of running backs in Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Johnathan Ford, wide receiver Ricardo Louis and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Read more here: http://www.wareagleextra.com/#storylink=cpy

August 5, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/5: Demetruce McNeal sits out fourth straight practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see about 20 minutes of practice on Monday, which marked Day 4 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins on of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins one of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

  • Safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be the headliner during the media’s short stay at practice. For the fourth time in as many days of fall camp, the senior did not participate in drills while reporters were in attendance. Including the final five sessions of the spring, it marks the ninth consecutive time the College Park, Ga., native missed an Auburn practice. As he did Saturday, McNeal had a helmet on. However, with the team practicing in “shells” (helmets and pads), the safety was sans shoulder pads. In his post-practice meeting with media member’s on Sunday, Gus Malzahn said McNeal was “getting better.” But apparently not good enough to be cleared to practice just yet.
  • Avery Young was with the first-team offensive line, working at right tackle. Young and Patrick Miller have seemingly been going back-and-forth at the position (in the first-team lineup) during the first few days of fall camp.
  • The defense was working on its “dime” package, which included two of the hybrid safety/linebacker “star” position players on the field at the same time in Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie. Other members of the first-team defense (in that particular formation) had Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter manning the two ends and Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright inside. The linebackers were Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey at safety.
  • Malzahn stayed around the quarterbacks for a few minutes, but then drifted over to watch the defense running through its various formations. The quarterbacks once again practiced their footwork today as well as executing proper handoffs. Jonathan Wallace and Nick Marshall worked with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason and Corey Grant, while Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson were paired with Johnathan Ford, Peyton Barber and Patrick Lymon.
  • Punt returners were mostly the same as it was during the portions of practice reporters saw Friday and Saturday. Wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis were back, as well as cornerback Chris Davis. There was one new member, however, as another receiver — true freshman Tony Stevens — joined the fray. Kick returners mostly stayed to form, too. Mason, Grant, Ford, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Ricardo Louis were seen fielding kicks, with one new addition in Therezie.
  • Right guard Chad Slade got an earful from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes during one drill. As the line was practicing its footwork once the ball is snapped, Slade didn’t have his feet in the proper position — and Grimes let him know it. “Check your splits!” said Grimes, before moving the junior’s feet where they needed to be. “I’m trying to help you!”
  • The media once again walked out as the team finished up its stretching drills with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate while Russell leads drills, it’s that he has an incredible amount of energy. It’s no wonder the team has touted his offseason workout program at every opportunity.

July 24, 2013

Auburn notes: Chad Slade Quote Roundup

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive lineman Chad Slade met with media members on Tuesday at the Auburn Athletic Complex.

The following is a roundup of some of the junior right guard’s quotes:

On summer practice:
“I feel like the team is coming together real well. Everybody is getting good with each other, everybody is getting good with the plays. The freshmen coming in are getting good and acclimated with the plays.”

Chad Slade (62) spoke with reporters on Tuesday and discussed everything from taking on a leadership role to the exercises he has done this summer. Photo By Todd Van Emst

Auburn right guard Chad Slade (62) spoke with reporters on Tuesday and discussed everything from taking on a leadership role to the exercises he has done this summer. Photo By Todd Van Emst

On taking on a leadership role on the line along with center Reese Dismukes:
“We know that we’re the leaders. We know that we’re the older guys of the group, so we have to take on the responsibility of the O-line this year. It’s a role that we’ve taken on for two years now. So we’re getting better and doing pretty good so far with it.”

On what he’s seen out  of the left guard position (Alex Kozan, Devonte Danzey, Jordan Diamond, etc.):
“They’re getting with it. They come in here and do extra stuff, and watch film, and if they need help, they’ll come to me or even Reese can help. He has to know everything with every position. … They’re working hard and there’s going to be a good competition between them”.

On Avery Young:
“Yeah, Avery’s healthy. He’s back to 100 percent. That’s what he told me. He’s feeling good, so I believe he’ll be good for the season.”

On the difference at practice on the offensive line given the experience of having four starters back:
“I can tell it’s a big difference already, because we know what to do from past years. Me and Reese and Greg (Robinson) were around when Coach (Gus) Malzahn was here the first time, and we feel like we still remember everything about it. So having that experience on the O-line playing then, it’s a big help, because whenever they feel like they don’t know what to do, we know what to do, so we can just help them out.”

On true freshman offensive lineman Deon Mix:
“He’s still in the learning process. He comes up to me every day, asking me, ‘Can you stay with me to watch a little extra film? Can you stay with me to go over the playbook some more?’ And I’m glad to do that with him, but he’s going to get a lot better during (fall) camp. I told him, ‘Don’t worry about having to rush and try to learn things. You’re going to learn things during camp. You’re going to learn things from (offensive line) Coach (J.B.) Grimes. You’re going to learn things from me and Reese, so just don’t worry about trying to pressure yourself into learning stuff. Just get good at getting acclimated with the plays.’ Because, we’re going to need him as much as we need anybody else. So he’s looking pretty good so far.”

On whether Mix is more of a guard or a tackle:
“Yeah, he’s more of a guard. We haven’t put him out at tackle during ‘captain’s practices’ yet. We’ve just put him at guard to let him learn one position. Like when I was here my first time, and everybody threw me in the fire, I went from tackle to guard to left guard to right guard to right tackle. But we just want him to learn one spot, and that’s the guard position.”

On whether any QBs have stood out yet in “captain’s practices”:
“I really haven’t seen the quarterbacks, but I believe when I see them do 7-on-7, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson, they stand out to me, just like Kiehl (Frazier) and Jonathan (Wallace) do. It seems like you can see Nick throw a pass and be like, ‘Whoa, that’s amazing,’ but you can see Kiehl and Jonathan do the same thing. So all of the quarterbacks stick out to me. It’s going to be a good battle.”

On the things Coach Grimes has asked the offensive linemen to work on during the summer:
“He wants us to do sparring hands and stuff like that to get good with our hands. That’s pretty much like us coming in here and getting extra workouts as a team. Even before ‘captain’s practices,’ we came in here as an O-line and did some plays, did some extra stuff with coaches down there. Sometimes we might come in here and push a sled or do ‘the crawler,’ something to get your hands and get low. Just working on drills to get lower and get your hands low.”

On what exercises he does to simulate sparring:
“They’ll throw the ball to us and you’ll have somebody on the outside throw the ball at each arm and just try to make sure (you) know to ‘wipe his hands on’ or ‘wipe his hands off’ or something like that, in case there’s like a defensive lineman coming, so he can (know) to jab his hands.”

On whether Grimes wants the linemen to be leaner:
“He’s not really looking for us to be lean. He just wants us to move. When I played in this offense the first time, I was 305. Now I’m 310, 315. He just wants you to be able to move with your weight. This offseason, we’ve been running a lot, conditioning with weight. So as long as you’re able to move with your weight and get around with your weight, I think he’s pretty lenient about it.”

April 14, 2013

TALK OF THE TOWN: Take note of five Tigers turning heads with one week left in spring

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – The winds of change have blown across the Plains since the day of head coach Gus Malzahn’s hiring.

With a new day comes new faces, new contributors who might have been patiently waiting their turn or old standbys reinventing themselves as this coaching staff pinpoints who they’ll rely upon to officially relegate the misery of 3-9 to ancient history.

Take a look at five Auburn Tigers who have been consistently lauded for their efforts this spring. Coincidentally, they’re all entering their junior season:

AUBURN FOOTBALLWR JAYLON DENSON

Old dog: One of those guys who gets into games (25 in two years) but rarely gets named (one catch, 12 yards.)

New tricks: The tallest of the current crop of receivers at 6-foot-3, Denson looks like one of those multi-tool players who could catch the ball some and be a force as a downfield lead blocker.

Don’t take our word for it: “I think Jaylon Denson’s been extremely consistent for us … he’s not only making plays with the ball, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do when he’s not getting the ball.”
- Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee

Fall forecast: Watch out when the incoming freshmen arrive. Good thing for Denson and his understaffed mates, they’re getting overloaded with practice reps

10Auburn2 (1)C REESE DISMUKES

Old dog: Although he played well last year, the argument can be made the 2011 all-SEC freshman teamer lit the fuse for Auburn’s implosion by getting suspended for public intoxication the week before the 2012 opener.

New tricks: Ask pretty much anybody who the offensive leaders are, and Dismukes’ name keeps coming up. In his one interview this spring, he seemed contrite with a chip on his shoulder.

Don’t take our word for it: “I’ve seen him grow up. He’s not that same Reese. He’s a good person now. He’s got his mind right. He’s mentally, physically tough. He’s one of the leaders out there.”
- OL Chad Slade

“Reese has been solid … We say it’s a new day – everything in the past, I don’t care. From what I know right now, that’s a guy I can trust.”
- Lashlee

Fall forecast: His starting spot is unquestionable. We’ll see if he truly takes command when times are tough.

AUBURN FOOTBALLRB COREY GRANT

Old dog: Nobody thought much of the fourth-stringer last year, mopping up just nine carries – all in blowouts of New Mexico State and Alabama A&M.

New tricks: Because Tre Mason’s been hurt all spring, Grant’s learning curve has accelerated, and he punctuated his presence with two long TD runs in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.

Don’t take our word for it: “Ah, yeah, Corey had a couple of breaks. You really got to see his speed out there. He’s really fast, very explosive, makes explosive cuts and things like that. Corey’s a really good guy. He’s a really good running back for us, and just looking forward to seeing him more.”
- QB Jonathan Wallace

Fall forecast: Mason won’t relinquish his starting spot easily upon regaining his health, but maybe Grant transforms himself into a mini-Onterio McCalebb.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

“STAR” JUSTIN GARRETT

Old dog: Disappointed by lack of playing time, Garrett wasn’t able to overcome the likes of Jonathan Evans – who wasn’t a three-down ‘backer – or Anthony Swain on the depth chart.

New tricks: Square peg, meet square hole. Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system with a “star” hybrid player who has a linebacker’s size and safety’s speed is perfect for Garrett.

Don’t take our word for it: “I just think he found a position that really works for him. With his body type and his speed, he really is going to help that star position. Mentally, it’s encouraging for us and him.”
- LB Jake Holland

Fall forecast: Nobody’s been praised more than Garrett. If he hits as hard as offensive players say he does, he’ll be a household name by Labor Day.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 TherezieATH ROBENSON THEREZIE

Old dog: Those who read the message boards know Therezie was long-rumored to be considering a transfer from Auburn University. Other than a cameo against LSU, he was a non-factor.

New tricks: Therezie wishes he had the football more often, and he’s certainly getting an opportunity as a returner. With JaViere Mitchell sidelined with a concussion, Therezie’s currently backing up Garrett.

Don’t take our word for it: “He seems more comfortable up near the line of scrimmage … he’s a speed player. He’s a contact player. You like to have a 6-1, 215-pound Star, but right now he fits it perfect and I’ve really been tickled to death with his progress.”
- Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson

Fall forecast: The best players find a way to get on the field. If Therezie keeps his mind right, he’ll make an impact somehow, someway.

TAKE FIVE

The best of the rest of the breakouts and newsmakers:

WR Quan Bray, jr. – Like Dismukes, refocused following 2012 adversity

DE Kenneth Carter, sr. – Making the move outside from tackle

OL Jordan Diamond, fr. – Still battling with Alex Kozan for starting guard

LB Kris Frost, so. – Tantalizing talent might be harvested soon

TE Brandon Fulse, jr. – Known for his blocking, showing some solid hands

April 10, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #8

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The weather was ideal. The intensity was not.

Can’t blame college kids too much for ever being sluggish at 8 a.m. at football practice, especially when Auburn’s been working at breakneck speed for a fortnight. (That’s two weeks, for you non-tennis nerds like me.)

Remember, the Tigers canceled Monday’s practice, meaning they had three full days off since Saturday’s heat-soaked scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. So while the morning temperature was “Baby Bear porridge” perfect – not too hot, not too cool, but just right – the players seemed a tad rusty from the relatively lengthy layoff.

And it didn’t seem like the coaches got on their case … at least not that we saw. This is the third of four mornings in uniform, so we’ll see how the team tempo develops as we draw within single-digit days of the spring game.

Some quick observations from spring practice No. 8:

In high school, this 2-year quarterback (albeit a split starter his senior season) completed 52 percent of his passes (129-250) for 2,074 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Don’t expect Ryan White to compete with Jonathan Wallace or Kiehl Frazier anytime soon for reps. But White is dusting off the ol’ right arm, serving as a fake field goal passer in Wednesday’s drills.

Kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark also will have to learn how to throw a ball on point in front of 80,000 screaming fans. There are some plays drawn up for them on fake punts and field goals.

Among the plays we saw (no video allowed): White throwing a quick route to Brandon Fulse in the end zone, Parkey passing to White on a rollout, a direct snap to Ricky Parks and run, a direct snap to Cameron Artis-Payne with White faking a shotgun snap, and White lining up in pistol formation before an audible calls for a straight-up Parkey kick.

Scott Fountain appears to be the guy guiding these formations, with assistance from Tim Horton.

Extra points, short kicks and punt lineups could get creative this year, folks.

Tre Mason was in uniform, but didn’t get any work other than stretching that we saw. He seemed to be favoring his left leg, and he hasn’t looked right all spring.

If Artis-Payne and Corey Grant take advantage of the extra reps, it’s not unheard of that Mason could fall behind on the depth chart for 2013 on account of missing spring. Just ask Nosa Eguae last year.

DT Angelo Blackson (injury) and OL Devonte Danzey (unknown) weren’t out there today. WR Quan Bray was practicing, but needed some time with the trainer stretching out his right leg. We’ll have to ask Gus Malzahn for their statuses this morning.

Wallace took the first four throws in team drills we saw. Don’t freak out. Frazier will rotate in. The QBs were working on option pitches to Artis-Payne as well as walk-on QBs Ben Durand and Tate O’Connor.

The starting O-Line remains Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Patrick Miller.

This one’s just for me: I like the ‘sacking dummy’ contraption out there. It’s a tall blue cone with a left arm pumped down and a right arm up throwing the football. The Manzielnequin.

The defense worked on interception drills. As in, how to block for the man after getting a pick.

Twas a much quieter sideline than last weekend with the coaching clinic, but athletic director Jay Jacobs was observing in a bright blue athletic polo.

April 3, 2013

Auburn C Reese Dismukes: “I walk a straighter line” since August arrest, 1-game suspension

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – A contrite Reese Dismukes said after Wednesday’s spring practice he’s made the necessary changes both on and off the field since his arrest for public intoxication a week before the 2012 season opener, which got the Auburn center suspended for that game against Clemson.

“It definitely made me grow up a lot, which I needed,” Dismukes said. “I made some mistakes, and that’s a good thing and a bad thing. I mean, it just opened my eyes to a whole new world and made me focus more on this team and just being the best I can be for this university.”

Selected to the 2011 SEC all-SEC freshman squad, Dismukes enters his junior season as the clear vocal leader of Auburn’s offensive line, according to head coach Gus Malzahn and junior right guard Chad Slade.

“He’s the leader up front; he’s got the most experience,” Malzahn said Monday. “Those guys will listen to him.”

Not having spoken with reporters since that Aug. 25 arrest, Dismukes answered tough questions about the incident and how he’s altered himself in the past seven months.

“I don’t give myself a chance to get in trouble. That obviously can never happen again, or I won’t be here. So I had to change, and I’ve changed,” Dismukes said. “I’ve focused a lot more on the team – on the field, becoming more of a vocal leader; off the field, just doing everything right.”

Unwilling to create a reputation for himself as a troublemaker, Dismukes said “I walk a lot straighter line than I did back at the time when it happened.”

As the most experienced offensive line starter in the Tigers’ arsenal (23 starts in two years), Dismukes knows he’s got a chance to make good on his professional aspirations if he stays in line. Auburn hasn’t had a pure center drafted into the NFL since Bob Meeks in 1992 by the Denver Broncos.

“Obviously I have a good chance to go to the next level if I keep doing what I’ve been doing. I can’t do that making mistakes like I did,” Dismukes said. “I’ve just got to grow up, and I’ve done that. Just keep advancing on the field, and getting better every day, coming to work.”

Dismukes and receivers Quan Bray and DeAngelo Benton were each suspended one game for off-field incidents last season. Then-head coach Gene Chizik summoned a private security firm to enforce player curfews, as first reported by the Montgomery Advertiser in early November.

“We did what we had to do. We did what we were told. Obviously that had some things to do with me, and I did what I had to do,” Dismukes said. “I think the whole team responded to doing what we were told.”

Slade, the offense’s only other prospective third-year starter besides Dismukes, is accepting that leadership role along with the 6-foot-3, 290-pounder to his left.

“Oh yeah, I’ve seen him grow up,” Slade said. “He’s better. He’s not that same Reese. He’s a good person now, he’s got his mind right, he’s mentally (and) physically tough. He’s one of the leaders out there.”

Slade didn’t even necessarily believe Dismukes ever lost that go-to guy mentality shortly after being reinstated for Week 2 last year.

“All that stuff is in the past for Reese,” Slade said. “He’s always been a vocal leader, he’s just getting better and better with it. He’s going to be a big-time player.

“He’s always been mature, but he just, you know, had a little setback. He’s good and he’s ready to go. I’m proud of him.”

Already tabbed the team’s vocal leader by others, Dismukes agreed it’s a role he’s looking to embrace.

“Definitely I was a leader of the offensive line last year,” Dismukes said. “I had to step up, and I definitely have.”

April 1, 2013

Comeback kings: Shon Coleman, Avery Young hungry to overcome illness, injury setbacks

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – For very different reasons, Shon Coleman and Avery Young have been forced to be patient on launching their highly-awaited college careers.

Coleman verbally committed to Auburn in April 2009 as a high school junior in Olive Branch, Miss., but was diagnosed with leukemia the following spring and missed the entire 2010 and 2011 seasons recuperating.

He was cleared for limited practice last spring, but when he did not play last fall, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility – thus settling him in as a redshirt freshman.

“I’m focused on making the team better,” Coleman said, “doing my part as a player and focusing now on what I need to do to improve.”

Meanwhile, Young banged up his shoulder leading into the 2012 season opener against Clemson. Tabbed the starter at right tackle as a true freshman, Young labored through three games of pain before shutting it down for the year and having surgery to repair a torn labrum in his shoulder.

“It would have been dumb for me to end my career like that,” Young said. “I still have time.”

He’s not 100 percent healthy yet, but he’s assumed the backup right tackle position behind his buddy and last fall’s replacement, Patrick Miller.

“Give me another month and I’ll be all right – just to get my mind back and having confidence that I can go all-out with it,” Young said. “I’m taking everything slow, working toward that. There’s nothing I can’t do. I’m just trying to take caution and move forward with it.”

That’s ten recruiting stars and well over 600 pounds worth of tantalizing talent, working with the second unit in practice for new offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.

“He’s a fiery guy. He gets us to the level we’re supposed to be practicing at,” Coleman said. “He’s the same way, same guy every day. He just wants to get us upbeat. Wants to get the most out of us during practice so he’s always going to bring that (intensity) to practice.”

Young only played in the first three games last year, but he’s listed as a sophomore on Auburn’s official roster since NCAA rules dictate participation in more than 20 percent of a Division I squad’s season denies a medical redshirt. An Auburn spokesperson said the team is working on appealing for Young to gain back his fourth year of eligibility.

“I feel like I played real good – I could have played a lot better if I was healthy,” Young said in a self-assessment of his games vs. Clemson, Mississippi State and Louisiana-Monroe. “Based on what I could do, I felt like I played pretty good.”

Grimes and defensive line coach Rodney Garner have been particularly animated and agitated in short viewing windows of practice. That’s just fine with head coach Gus Malzahn.

“In this league, you win football games up front on the offensive and defensive lines,” Malzahn said. “Those two guys are as good as teachers as anybody in the game and they’re trying to get their standard and expectations down, so their guys will know what the expectations are.”

The offensive line starters have been fairly rigid through the first quarter of practices – Miller and Greg Robinson at tackle, Jordan Diamond and Chad Slade at guard and Reese Dismukes at center.

That doesn’t mean Coleman or Young can’t make their way onto the top line by September.

“It takes a little bit of time with the offensive line working together and we’re mixing and matching – moving some guys around,” Malzahn said. “But that’s natural. It does take a little bit of time for the guys up front to learn coach Grimes and his expectations.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

March 25, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Offensive line

This is the sixth of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: running backs.

Clemson_Auburn4_9-1-12

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Patience will be the operative word with this offensive line, for this year at least.

John Sullen was the only long-standing holdover trusted on the line. Reese Dismukes and Chad Slade were back in there after being thrust into battle as freshmen in 2011, and Greg Robinson, Avery Young and Patrick Miller were each faced with the same rookie challenge in 2012.

Which means all the Tigers have to do is hand-pick a replacement for Sullen – and there are plenty of options waiting their turn, with SIX freshmen taking redshirts last season – and Auburn could very well have its starting five up front for the next two years.

So stability seems inevitable in the future. But for now, the task is figuring out how to block more consistently, in order to let talented skill players do their jobs without worrying about running all over Jordan-Hare Stadium away from monstrous end-rushers or blitzing defensive backs.

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AUBURN FOOTBALLHere’s a look at Auburn’s offensive line, leading into spring football practices:

Who’s been playing: C Reese Dismukes (jr.), RT Patrick Miller (so.), LT Greg Robinson (so.), RG Chad Slade (jr.), RT Avery Young (so.),

Who’s been waiting: Will Adams (r-fr.), Shane Callahan (r-fr.), Shon Coleman (r-fr.), Jordan Diamond (r-fr.), C Tunde Fariyike (jr.), Alex Kozan (r-fr.), Robert Leff (r-fr.)

Who’s out the door: John Sullen, Christian Westerman

Who’s in the door: OL Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.), Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: J.B. Grimes, 34th year (7th in SEC)

Who’d he replace, where is he now: Jeff Grimes, Virginia Tech

Auburn Vanderbilt Football

Thoughts and musings:

Slade and Dismukes become the automatic leaders of this young group, each having been full-time starters throughout the past two years. Slade has some versatility to him, able to switch over to left tackle in case of injury, and leads all linemen with 25 career games played. He’s gotten used to serving as the group’s spokesman.

Dismukes, an all-SEC freshman center in 2011, hasn’t spoken with reporters since his arrest for public intoxication nine days before the 2012 opener and subsequent one-game suspension. There were also message board rumors – and a few subsequent reports – Dismukes was involved in a locker-room altercation just days before National Signing Day, a star-studded weekend for four- and five-star visitors including eventual Alabama-committed linebacker Reuben Foster.

Robinson had his growing pains, as well as being nicked-up late in the season, but he was ultimately judged as a success as a redshirt freshman left tackle. The Tigers’ run game was decisively shaded toward the left side, behind Robinson and Sullen.

Young suffered a season-ending left shoulder injury after starting the first three games of the season. He’s expected to be ready to return for spring practices.

The top redshirt freshmen looking to make a two-deep or even start: five-star Jordan Diamond and four-stars Shane Callahan and Shon Coleman.

With just two incoming prospects signing to play at Auburn this spring (one from the junior college ranks, Danzey, who’s already enrolled), the coaches were able to focus their recruiting efforts elsewhere. Danzey is a potential Sullen fill-in, and Nix was a nice gift after decommitting from his home-state Mississippi State.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Statistically speaking:

148.4 – Rushing yards per 2012 game for Auburn, ranking 80 th in the nation. The Tigers also lingered in the 80-90 range, rank-wise, in total yards, touchdowns and yards per carry, despite boasting a 1,000-yard rusher in Tre Mason.

93 – Tackles for loss allowed by Auburn, 116th in the country out of 124 FBS teams.

257 – Pass attempts by Auburn, 118th in the country.

37 – Sacks allowed by Auburn, 107th in the country.

31.7 – Third-down conversion rate by Auburn, 120th in the country.

315 – The listed weight for 6-foot-4 Deon Mix, the incoming freshman from South Panola HS in Batesville, Miss. On the entire current Auburn roster, only Jordan Diamond (6-6, 323) outweighs Mix.

Good Twitter follows: Chad Slade @ChadSlade62  (3,650 followers) comes off as just your average down-to-earth college student more so than many football players. When he blurted at a press conference leading up to the Georgia game “it’s not that hard” to block All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, Slade was bombarded by mouthy Georgia fans on Twitter, and to his credit, Slade took the heat in stride. Greg Robinson @GregRobinson73 (368 followers) is a month into joining Twitter, and Shon Coleman @TheRealBigShon (2,552 followers) has a pretty sweet photo combo of himself in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and a background shot of his native Memphis. Finally, Shane Callahan @BigDaddyCalla77 (1,644 followers) simply has a fantastic Twitter handle.

AUBURN FOOTBALLSay what? “I see some guys with size right now. They’re big guys. I see some athleticism there that I like. We’ll know more about their toughness and their character as we get further into the program. If it’s important to them and they can take good, hard, tough, fair coaching, then those guys have a chance to be pretty good in the Southeastern Conference.” – Grimes

March 24, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part IV: All the good, the bad & the ugly from LSU 12, Auburn 10 | plus an early preview of (who else?) LSU

Auburn Tigers entrance

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Remember dem fightin’ words? From LSU fullback J.C. Copeland, after his team pulverized Auburn 45-10 in the 2011 season?

“After the first couple of hits, everybody was just backing up. They didn’t want to hit at all … before I got to them, they just fell down and just laid on the ground.”

The Auburn defense heard those words repeated by its coaches all week leading up to the 2012 rematch. Daren Bates, Corey Lemonier, Demetruce McNeal … these people didn’t care for that smack talk one bit.

And they played like it.

It wasn’t a victory for the home team six months ago, but Auburn’s 12-10 defeat proved the Tigers had a real SEC defense. Granted, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger was wobbly in his first road SEC start, but LSU’s running game had absolutely nothing going for the majority of a Saturday night fight at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Auburn offense … well, that too was ineffective. So, if you like the words “field position”, this was the game for you.

Oh, and Copeland will be a senior next fall. Auburn gets one more shot at him, and LSU, in the rematch six months from Thursday night, down in Baton Rouge. A preview of that game follows our look back at last year’s nail-biter.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 Ware

LSU 12, AUBURN 10 ~ Sept. 22, 2012, ESPN

Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.

The Good

Auburn opens the game three-and-out, which includes three passes – a 4-yard loss and two incompletions. Yet, here’s what ESPN color commentator Todd Blackledge says: “I know they didn’t get a first down, but I think Kiehl Frazier looked comfortable on those first three plays.” He’s right. Frazier, who had a phone conversation slash pep talk with Jason Campbell earlier in the week, looked more poised and confident from the get-go. More on that in the first ‘Bad’ entry.

DE Dee Ford really attacked the run in this game. I wrote yesterday he’s only got two sacks in 24 career SEC games, but he did impact this football game in other ways.

On the first-quarter goal-line fumble by LSU, DT Jeffrey Whitaker was looming right on top of backup center Elliott Porter, and Whitaker was the Tiger who fell on the loose ball when Porter mistook a routine snap for a shotgun delivery.

LSU converted four of its first five 3rd-down attempts, before DE Corey Lemonier decides he’s had enough of that. Lemonier just flings quarterback Zach Mettenberger to the ground, DT Angelo Blackson falls on it, and suddenly Auburn’s got excellent field position.

Immediately, a reverse pitch to RB Tre Mason goes for 26 around left end, aided by LT Greg Robinson’s excellent block. RB Onterio McCalebb punches it in two plays later, getting Auburn right back in the game down 9-7.

This play was fun: tailback Spencer Ware, meet DT Gabe Wright’s left forearm. Wright flat-knocks Ware back, allowing a tackle for loss by LB Daren Bates … Mr. Right Place Right Time, Wright celebrates by showing his sideline two tickets to the gun show.

Gabe Wright flex

Wright later had another line-of-scrimmage pass block, getting his big left wrist on a Mettenberger throw.

Then on 3rd-and-6, Mettenberger scrambles looking for the first-down marker, but SS Jermaine Whitehead arrives first with a vicious hit. Whitehead later had some very nice tight deep coverage on a slant-and-go, forcing an Odell Beckham Jr. drop.

FS Erique Florence saw his longest action of the year on this night, absorbing a big hit from Ware, mixing it up with Copeland, and launching his body at receiver Jarvis Landry to allow his mates to arrive and make a third-down stop. Clearly, Florence is physical enough to play safety.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 TherezieCB Robenson Therezie, too. Showed good instinct and tackling ability, though a nice wrap-up on wide receiver Kenny Hilliard was negated by CB Chris Davis’ face-mask away from the play.

CB Joshua Holsey, the true freshman who broke out this game, made a g-r-e-a-t breakup on Russell Shepard in the end zone, saving a touchdown.

FS Demetruce McNeal zooms in to stuff tailback Michael Ford. Where was this physical play all year? There was just no running room inside for LSU once Brian VanGorder made some adjustments.

Coaches raved about QB Jonathan Wallace’s toughness, and he showed it in the Wildcat package, with no fear against one of the meanest defenses around and getting blown up by safety Craig Loston. 

The Bad

On 2nd and 14, Frazier targets WR Sammie Coates in stride deep down the left sideline. The perfect spiral hits Coates directly in his outstretched hands. Coates simply did not catch the football, taking his eye off it for a brief second. Yeah, he took a little tug from LSU corner Tharold Simon, but Coates beat himself up in the next week’s press conference for not coming through in a big moment – and he should have.

Another day, another bad decision by Frazier, lobbing to TE Philip Lutzenkirchen and letting his tight end get roughed up by linebacker Luke Muncie for the pick.

Copeland has his way with LB Jake Holland in the first quarter, trucking the linebacker and clearing an 18-yard run for Ford.

Ware dodges Whitehead on a draw, pinballs through Holsey and CB Jonathan Mincy for a big gain to set up Ford’s touchdown run – beating DE LaDarius Owens to the edge on a goal-to-go run. Auburn’s run defense was shaky early.

Too much dancing in the backfield, Tre Mason. LSU doesn’t play games like that.

PR Quan Bray cost his team this game when he let a low-flying fair catch go through his hands, off his stomach and into a mass of LSU Tigers at midfield. That directly led to the game-winning field goal.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 Frazier

The Ugly

Awarded momentum on LSU’s goal-line fumble, Auburn gave it right back by playing into LSU’s hands. After Robinson’s false start to cram the line of scrimmage back to the 1, Mason hesitates on a stretch play, reading the eyes of defensive tackle Bennie Logan, who’s forcing C Reese Dismukes backwards. In fact, the offensive line was pushed back into the end zone, and when linebacker Kevin Minter knocks FB Jay Prosch to the ground, Mason trips over Prosch for an LSU safety.

Frazier’s helter-skelter improvisation continues to astound, and not in a good way, when Logan’s helmet knocks the ball loose on a rare Frazier scramble. WR Emory Blake fell on it, but still. To Frazier’s credit, he had a nice response – a pinpoint throw leading Lutzenkirchen on a very H-backy route out of the no-huddle.

Doesn’t help the quarterback when RT Patrick Miller (making his first start), RG Chad Slade and TE Brandon Fulse all miss blocks on the same playaction call.

Wallace’s first-ever snap on a college football field? Spoiled by LG John Sullen flinching. False start. Frazier replaces Wallace. So much for that element of surprise.

WR Jaylon Denson, you can’t retaliate by slapping Simon. The refs always catch the second guy.

Notes and tidbits

A week after Auburn’s penalties nearly cost it a victory, LSU made its bed the same way: nine penalties, 80 yards, though none came in the final 18 minutes.

Plays to open first-quarter drives for Auburn: a quick toss to Lutzenkirchen (minus-4 yards), Mason run (minus-1), McCalebb run (minus-4), McCalebb run (minus-4). Scot Loeffler said that week picking up yards on first down was critical. Oops.

More Kiehl Frazier analysis in the final complete game he’d play: somewhere in there lurks a decent quarterback. He just needs a smoother approach – instead of looking at all times for the big play, he needs to make the smart play. Reel him in, Rhett Lashlee.

Florence had a stinger, and returned to the game. We mentioned his toughness, at least physically when he gets his chance in the game.

Lemonier recently said he’s never really played outside linebacker, but he did line up on a 3rd-and-6 standing up. Just to give LSU a different look. It worked; Mettenberger rolled right, had nothing available, and actually nailed Les Miles in the shoulder throwing it away – a ball actually tipped by McNeal.

The missed Drew Alleman field goal in the final minute which would have put away Auburn, instead giving the home team one last gasp? The field-goal unit was confused, forced to race onto the pitch for one of those Chinese-fire-drill attempts. LSU had no timeouts left, but it was a 34-yard attempt; just take the five-year penalty and let Alleman calmly kick it through instead of rushing. Oh, Les Miles, how you fail to get along with clock management.

LSU Mettenberger Dee Ford

THREE STARS

3) Demetruce McNeal, FS. Flies around the field and finds the football.

2) Daren Bates, LB. Rolls out of bed and makes a tackle.

1) Corey Lemonier, DE. I tweeted at halftime how much money Lemonier made in the 30 minutes against LSU. Seeing as he was nonexistent the rest of his season, and he projects as a second-round pick entering the NFL draft as an underclassman, that game (two sacks, a forced fumble) in hindsight was huge for his professional aspirations.

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GUS’ GAME 4: Auburn at LSU, Sept. 21, Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.

LSU 2012 record: 10-3, 6-2 SEC (lost 25-24 to Clemson in Chick-Fil-A Bowl)

LSU head coach: Les Miles, ninth year (85-21)

LSU returning starters (o/d): 12 (8/4)

LSU-Auburn series: LSU leads 26-20-1, including 15-5-1 at Tiger Stadium. LSU has won five of the past six meetings.

LSU-Auburn previous meeting: See above.

Notes: The Tigers lost an incredible 11 underclassmen to the NFL Draft, including six – SIX! – defenders: Logan, Mingo, Minter, Montgomery, Reid and Simon. However, LSU still has Mettenberger at quarterback, Hill and Hilliard with him in the backfield, Boone, Beckham and Landry out wide and three offensive linemen back. So that offense should be firing on all cylinders early next year, but the defense could have some question marks still lingering with the Week 4 matchup.

LSU Les Miles