War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 10 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/wareagleextra
and update your bookmarks.

July 15, 2013

7 at 7: Seven questions about the Tigers this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Yes, there is still one major event to get through — this week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. — before Auburn players report back to campus and preseason camp gets underway. Until that happens, however, here are seven questions (and answers) about the Tigers in the style of the War Eagle Extra’s “7 at 7″ format, as the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 gets closer by the day.

1. Who will start at quarterback?

Ah yes, the topic du jour surrounding the Tigers heading into the season. There are four candidates vying for the position, with two having an opportunity to stake their claim to the job in the spring (junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace) and two arriving this fall (junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson). Frazier and Wallace were unable to create any separation amongst themselves, exiting the spring as co-No. 1s on the depth chart. They both hold an advantage over the newcomers in the regard that they at least know some of the playbook already, but will that be enough to stave off either Marshall or Johnson?

Largely due to being the best runner of the quarterback quartet, many believe Marshall is the front-runner to capture the job. That, of course, is nothing more than pure speculation at this point. Besides, the quarterback battle will be settled where it should be — on the field — and only when the coaches believe they know which signal-caller gives them the best chance to win in 2013.

2. What’s the status of the backfield?

Tre Mason Auburn A-Day

Tre Mason headlines a deep stable of Auburn running backs headed into the fall. Photo by Todd Van Emst

When it comes to the running back position, the Tigers should be able to rest easy, with Tre Mason coming off a 1,000-yard season and both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant having great springs. Still, it was a huge surprise when head coach Gus Malzahn revealed his two-deep post-spring depth chart and Mason was not listed as the unquestioned starter. Instead, Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant all had “OR” separating their names, being listed that way on both the first-team and second-team offense.

Then again, there are worse problems to have than worrying about how to divvy up carries between multiple talented ball carriers.

3. Who will assume the role of lead receiver?

It’s possible that the Tigers may be one of those teams without a go-to option at wideout. That’s not to say one won’t develop eventually. Between Jaylon Denson, Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis, Auburn has a nice pool of hopefuls to choose from. One thing is certain: The receiving corps isn’t lacking for heirs to the throne Emory Blake vacated. (And to show just how reliant the Tigers were on Blake last season, his 789 receiving yards accounted for a whopping 42 percent of Auburn’s 1,879 receiving yards.)

4. Who replaces Philip Lutzenkirchen at tight end?

No single player will be asked to replicate the production of Lutzenkirchen. Instead, it will be a shared assignment between C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse. The two complement each other well, as Uzomah is more noted for his pass-catching ability while Fulse is known as a hard-nosed blocker. But both have made it a point to shore up their perceived weaknesses, with Uzomah working on his blocking and Fulse practicing his route running. Jay Prosch (normally a fullback) may also see time at tight end as a utility blocker, and expect fellow H-back Ricky Parks to get a few reps at the position, too.

5. Can the secondary make some much-needed strides?

It’s still a shocking number any time you see it: one. That’s the number of interceptions Auburn’s secondary came away with in 2012. But there is reason to believe the secondary will be vastly improved when it steps back on the field this season. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy are firmly entrenched with the first-team defense at the two corner positions, and there are a handful of players — notably Joshua Holsey, Jonathan Jones, Robenson Therezie and Ryan White — behind them to lend depth to the unit.

Questions still remain at safety, though, as Holsey was moved from cornerback to boundary (also known as strong) safety in the last week of the spring after Demetruce McNeal missed the final five practices due to an undisclosed off-the-field matter. Free safety, or “field safety,” as it is referred to in coach speak, should be capably manned by junior Jermaine Whitehead.

6. What player is primed for a breakout season on offense or defense?

If you haven’t prepared yourself for it, here’s an advance warning: Justin Garrett, who shined in the hybrid safety/linebacker position created by defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson specifically for his 4-2-5 scheme, will have plenty of terrible headlines centered around his spot’s name — “Star.” As corny as it sounds, the junior is truly a “star” in the making. He drew rave reviews for his progress during the spring, and Johnson has put him in a position where his hard-hitting talents can be put to best use. Expect a few highlight-worthy hits from Garrett to make the rounds this fall.

7. Which true freshmen — if any — will push for major playing time?

It’s a toss-up between two stud defensive line prospects, with Montravius Adams at tackle and Carl Lawson at end. The pair of Peach State products were two of the top players in the country at their respective positions, and their talent may be too great to keep them from playing significant roles from Day 1. If forced to choose one as the “most likely to steal a starting job,” I’ll go with Lawson barely. It’s mainly a function of the depth chart: While the Tigers can mix-and-match between Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, Jeffrey Whitaker and Ben Bradley inside with relatively little drop-off, the same can’t be said at end.

Dee Ford has the left side starting spot locked down, but right end is still up for grabs. Nosa Eguae began the spring as the starter at right end, but when he wasn’t developing fast enough for the coaching staff’s liking, tackle Kenneth Carter was moved outside in the hopes that it would push Eguae to step it up.

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Lawson comes in and nails down a spot in the starting lineup opposite Ford by the end of preseason camp.

July 9, 2013

Reese Dismukes, CJ Uzomah named to preseason award watch lists

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

For the second consecutive day, Auburn players found their names on various preseason award watch lists.
Auburn Vanderbilt Football

CJ Uzomah

On Tuesday, CJ Uzomah was named to the Mackey Award watch list, while center Reese Dismukes was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list. This followed Dee Ford’s selection to the Bednarik Award watch list on Monday.

Dismukes was one of 44 players named to the watch list, marking the second straight year the Spanish Fort, Ala., native garnered a nomination for the Rimington, which is annually awarded to the top center in college football. The junior has been a key piece of the Tigers’ offensive line the past two years, starting 23 games during that span.

Uzomah’s selection — one of the 37 participants nominated by the John Mackey Award Selection Committee and one of five representatives from the SEC — could be considered a bit of a surprise. The junior from Suwanee, Ga., notched seven receptions (including one touchdown) for 136 yards in 10 games last season. Uzomah was inserted into the lineup and started three games following Philip Lutzenkirchen‘s season-ending hip surgery last October. Uzomah then dealt with an injury of his own after breaking a bone in his right hand late in the season.

Uzomah will likely split time at tight end with Brandon Fulse, a player noted more for his blocking than his pass-catching abilities.

Links to the full watch lists for both awards are included below.

WATCH LISTS

Mackey Award

Rimington Trophy

April 26, 2013

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.

****

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.

****

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.

****

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.

17Auburn3

****

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.”

****

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.”

****

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.

April 11, 2013

Brenner: Patience is a virtue as Auburn spring football practices play out before our eyes

10Auburn8

AUBURN, Ala. – Three A-Days ago, Cam Newton only threw eight passes. Completed three.

Florida fans questioned Tim Tebow’s ability to go from gimmick to general for the 2007 season. Sam Bradford’s 2008 spring game at Oklahoma was marred by three interceptions; Johnny Manziel failed to complete half his passes and averaged just 5.7 yards an attempt in last year’s Texas A&M spring game.

Would four future Heisman winners be enough to sway you on where this is going?

I can’t sit here and tell you spring doesn’t matter. If it doesn’t, they wouldn’t bother with the activity – or at least we fans and media wouldn’t be dumb enough to squeeze four to six weeks of coverage and attention out of it. (Would we? Don’t answer that.)

But we’ve got to stop expecting any coaching staff – especially a brand-new one like Auburn’s, with very little preconceived notions of the existing players – to have answers for us without delay.

It’s a now-now-now world, where we stomp our feet like Veruca Salt and demand a depth chart this instant.

I roll my eyes at coachspeak as much as the next guy, but I can buy into any coach who downplays any questions about an inside linebacker playing outside or a third-string skill player gets a few snaps with the second-stringers.

Here’s where I think we can read into spring developments:

- Major position changes, like if a receiver starts playing cornerback or something. In this year’s case, I think Justin Garrett standing out at Ellis Johnson’s ‘star’ safety position in the 4-2-5 is quite significant.

- Guys missing significant time due to injury. Should Tre Mason be worried that his left leg injury is giving coaches more time to love Cameron Artis-Payne? It’s not unheard of for incumbent starters to lose their gig due to spring absence.

- Altered body types from the previous season. CJ Uzomah looks cut and ready to be a matchup nightmare. Kiehl Frazier looks like he needs to regain some athleticism after gaining weight in the offseason – he says he’ll burn it off quickly, but actions speak louder than words.

Other than that, it’s all conjecture. Yeah, it’s fun for water-cooler talk, but that’s about it.

Ultimately, these 15 practices in Auburn – and Arkansas, and Tennessee and Kentucky, come to mention it – are icebreakers in the heat of a Southern spring.

The “evaluation period” – apologies for coachspeak rubbing off – gives Johnson and Dameyune Craig and Rodney Garner an opportunity to see who fits the schemes Auburn’s installing five months from now.

Spring ball’s a nice appetizer to fill a month, an interlude bridging March Madness to summer vacation.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Aaron Brenner, abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

March 31, 2013

7 at 7: Frazier’s love of fútbol, Diamond has Basketball Jones, Robenson Therezie video, Bret Bielema talks trash toward Tuscaloosa

1) Junior quarterback Kiehl Frazier took a Twitter hiatus once the 2012 football season began, and returned in mid-January with a new account. The majority of his timeline focuses on one particular sport.

Not football. Fútbol.

Clemson_Auburn13_9-1-12“I played soccer when I was little, and I’ve always followed soccer since I was little,” said Frazier, who shares his love of soccer with roommate and tight end CJ Uzomah. “Just the athleticism … it’s a beautiful game to watch.”

Frazier’s favorite Premier League squad is Manchester United, and he’s also a Real Madrid fan. Other walk-ons who enjoy the sport are quarterback Tate O’Connor and tight end Patrick Young.

“Me and CJ want to go to the World Cup next year, but we’ll see,” Frazier said. “We haven’t looked yet, but whenever (tickets) go on sale, we’ll definitely try to get in line.”

The 2014 FIFA World Cup runs from June 12 to July 13 next summer, hosted by Brazil.

Jordan Diamond2 Only four football players from Chicago (three metro, one suburbs) have ever lettered at Auburn.

Offensive lineman Jordan Diamond should be the fifth this coming year, coming off a shoulder injury which forced him to redshirt his first year on The Plains.

“It was tough in the beginning, getting accustomed to the pace of (living) down here in Auburn,” said Diamond, who went to Chicago Simeon – far more famous for its basketball than its football.

“But I loved it on my visit – every time I was hanging out with the guys, they made me feel at home. So I’m used to it now.”

The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Diamond, a five-star recruit, is naturally crazy about basketball – fellow Simeon products are NBA MVP Derrick Rose and blue-chip Duke recruit Jabari Parker. Diamond commonly shows up at Auburn Arena for men’s and women’s games.

“Yeah, yeah. I love Auburn,” Diamond said. “That’s why I came down here – I love the community, I love everything about it. Just getting an opportunity to play ball here is a blessing, so I’m taking every advantage I can to get around and enjoy my college experience.”

3) Video of cornerback Robenson Therezie from last week:

4) Bret Bielema’s first head coaching season was my first college football coverage season. I feel like I know that guy’s career than most outside Madison, Wisc.

Which is why Bielema’s #shotsfired at Nick Saban and Alabama isn’t very surprising to me. Really, it’s worth an ‘eh’.

As Jerry wrote, let’s consider the setting. Arkansas fans at a Razorback Club fish fry represents a completely different audience than a roomful of reporters, or even any gathering of general-admission fans. My experience at any back-slapping scholarship fundraiser is coaches let their hair down a bit, and maybe end up saying some stupid stuff that makes their biggest supporters (read: boosters) feel great about continuing to line their guy’s pockets.

With that in mind, Bielema has never shied away from calling out other coaches. It’s just the way he is. Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez spoke their mind when they felt necessary, and Bielema’s even less buttoned-up than those legends. As Bielema’s real Twitter account shows, he could maybe use a little better judgment in dealing with criticism, but I know for a fact he reads mostly everything that’s written about him and his team. (I guarantee you Gene Chizik and Gus Malzahn don’t have time for that.)

As for the comments themselves? Look, it’s Alabama, and then everybody else. Obviously – again, echoing Hinnen here – the SEC has more than one or two ‘other’ schools that gives this conference reason to boast loudly every fall. This is just a case of manufactured bravado in front of, again, loyal donors who want to hear it, and as long as Bielema’s comfortable with being who he is – much like Steve Spurrier is set in his ways – than he’s not about to change. And that’s fine.

By the way, Arkansas visits Alabama on Oct. 19, and Auburn goes to Arkansas Nov. 2.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

5) Great quote from sophomore offensive tackle Patrick Miller, when asked who were the best defensive linemen he saw last year. He answered LSU’s Sam Montgomery battling Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson.

“I didn’t go against him, but Sam Montgomery, I remember watching him go against Greg … and Greg’s, like, kind of like a beast. So is Sam. I was in awe watching that on film.”

6) Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright understands why the Auburn defense is asked to move and live as fast as the offense.

“It’s going to help us be able to press (opposing) offenses,” Wright said. “The SEC really has become high-tempo teams – Alabama implemented theirs late in the season, Georgia and Texas A&M are really starting to use it more.

“I can’t point out any negatives in practice against the offense.”

7) Of course, coaches will be diplomatic when asked about individual players within a unit. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee likes what he’s seen out of multiple receivers, having nice things to say about Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Jaylon Denson, Melvin Ray (still a walk-on) and Quan Bray.

“Sammie is a guy who made some plays down the field last year,” Lashlee said Friday. “I’ve been really impressed with how Ricardo Louis can stretch the field right now. He looks really fast out there. Jaylon and Melvin are big-bodied guys you feel like can really help you with the things we do. I think Quan has a chance to be really electric in the slot.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL