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August 18, 2013

Auburn football: With playing time in sights, cancer survivor Shon Coleman trying to ‘get better every day’ (w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Shon Coleman admits he occasionally lets himself reflect on the past three years of his life.

How could he not? A lot has happened during that time, after all. He signed with Auburn as one of the most-highly recruited offensive tackle prospects in the country in the class of 2010 and then became a non-entity, sidelined while fighting against a form of cancer known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Redshirt freshman Shon Coleman is on the verge of breaking into Auburn's two-deep depth chart on the offensive line heading into the fall. (File photo)

Redshirt freshman Shon Coleman is on the verge of breaking into Auburn’s two-deep depth chart on the offensive line heading into the fall. (File photo)

The cancer went into remission just weeks after starting chemotherapy treatments in April 2010, and he continued to receive weekly injections following that diagnosis to ensure it wouldn’t return. It never did.

His return to the field came much later, though, as Coleman was finally cleared to practice with the Tigers in April 2012, working back into form ever since.

It’s the versatility and natural ability he showed during his high school career that has him on the verge of breaking into Auburn’s two-deep depth chart, likely the first in line to play whenever starting left tackle Greg Robinson needs a breather this fall.

“I feel comfortable on both sides, really,” he said. “I pretty much got so used to both sides that I can switch up and have everything down pat.”

Moving from side-to-side on the line doesn’t bother Coleman. In fact, he rather enjoys the challenge.

“I like it,” he said. “Being able to know both positions will only make me a better player.”

Coleman will have four more years as a Tiger to develop his skills after the NCAA awarded him another season of eligibility this spring. But that also means the same players he graduated with in 2010 are entering their senior seasons in college. Coleman acknowledged it was a strange feeling, noting he could “barely remember what year” he joined the Tigers.

His class standing has no bearing on how teammates view him, though.

“I don’t get the ‘freshman treatment’ — at least I don’t think I do,” he said. (That) stopped last year when I started playing.”

And competing now is more fun than it’s ever been, Coleman said, thanks to head coach Gus Malzahn.

“His offense is one of the greatest things that’s probably ever happened here,” he said. “I’m really supportive of that. The whole team is supportive. We’re ready to go out there and win.”

When Malzahn was hired, he brought in J.B. Grimes to lead the offensive line. Coleman attributed all the improvements within the unit and in his own game to the fiery Arkansas native’s tutelage.

“Coach Grimes is a really good coach,” Coleman said. “He’s the best teaching coach in America. He’s made us work on the little things that matter.”

His compliments paled in comparison to Grimes’ view of Coleman. A 30-year coaching veteran, Grimes has seen a lot of great offensive linemen over the years at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, among others. Few have had Coleman’s gifts, Grimes said, specifically the long arms that help him recover even after taking a bad step.

Coaching has nothing to do with it.

“When they can take that bad step or a guy gives them a head move inside and they bite on it and then they go back outside, but he’s still long enough to get that outside hand on him, that’s God,” Grimes said. “God has taken over there. That ain’t coaching. That’s the good Lord giving a guy the ability to do some things that a normal human being can’t do. I really believe Shon Coleman is one of those guys.”

Coleman doesn’t mind Grimes bragging on him. He just knows his talent alone won’t merit playing time. Accolades are irrelevant once the ball is snapped. Coleman’s words resonate more than it would from others his age, of course.

It’s a perspective forged through his off-field adversity.

“I try not to get caught up in (praise),” he said. “Whatever is said, it doesn’t really matter. I just try to go out there and just get better every day.”

August 16, 2013

Auburn notes: Receiver Ricardo Louis using fall camp to ‘show the coaches what I could do’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Ricardo Louis has arguably been Auburn’s top player since fall camp began.

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn's most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn’s most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Teammates have praised his play during the Tigers’ scrimmages, none more than last Saturday’s scrimmage, where he had what fellow receiver Quan Bray called multiple “explosive plays” in the passing game and at least one touchdown reception.

Louis is glad to see the fruits of labor during the offseason have paid off thus far.

“I just felt like I had to show the coaches what I could do,” he said. “I had to make a lot of plays. They told me before the scrimmage that they were going to try to get me the ball, and they got me the ball, and I made plays.”

The sophomore said he’s trying to make up for lost time. Last season, he believed he arrived on campus with much expected of him — and acknowledged he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

“Everybody was thinking I was going to be a good receiver for the quarterbacks to throw to,” he said. “Now, what they were expecting from last year is what they want to (see) for me. It’ll be a good starting spot to produce in this offense.”

He doesn’t consider last season a failure on all levels, however. Thanks to the guidance of the Tigers’ elder receivers, Louis felt he improved even if his numbers didn’t back it up.

“I just took it in,” he said. “It was a learning experience, learning what they do, putting it into my game and producing when I get a chance.”

Tigers split on importance of scrimmage

Corey Grant is treating Auburn’s scrimmage Saturday like it’s the last day of summer.

Which, in a roundabout way, it is, since the Tigers won’t have another scrimmage before school begins Wednesday.

“Everybody’s excited,” he said. “Last chance to show what you can really do for the coaches and everybody.”

Not everyone shared Grant’s enthusiasm, though. Just ask Shon Coleman.

The redshirt freshman offensive lineman put it plainly: “It’s just a scrimmage,” he said.

“We just need to keep working on the things we’ve been trying to work on this week,” Coleman said. “(Now we’ve) got to go out there and put it together. That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about tomorrow.”

While Grant was ready to play within the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium for the last time before he hits the books, he didn’t feel the scrimmage was the be-all, end-all in regard to positional battles.

“It could be, possibly, but we’ve already had three scrimmages,” he said. “So this is just another day to show what you can do.”

Whether the scrimmage will do much to settle the team’s ongoing battle at quarterback is also up for debate.

Once more, Coleman was the voice of the apathetic.

“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “The whole team is going to be supportive of whoever it is.”

Besides, Grant said he doesn’t even know which signal-caller is on the field half the time as it is.

“Because of the way the coaches teach them, if you had to run it with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know who’s back there giving you the ball,” he said.

Quick hits

Louis said he’s working behind Tre Mason on the kick return depth chart heading into the scrimmage. “We’re just rotating a lot, different sides, learning new kick routine schemes,” he said. Louis said he expects it to come down to Mason, Robenson Therezie and himself as the starters at the position.

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 FOOTBALL ODDS AND ENDS: Malzahn updates Tre Mason’s status and shakeup on offensive line

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — A sprained ankle cost Tre Mason nearly two weeks of practice during the spring.

Though junior running back missed two weeks of spring practice, it didn't diminish his standing at the top of the depth chart heading into the fall according to head coach Gus Malzahn. (File photo)

Though a sprained ankle sidelined Tre Mason during spring practice, it didn’t diminish his standing at the top of the depth chart heading fall camp. (File photo)

But it didn’t affect his standing in Gus Malzahn’s eyes. Auburn’s head coach was already familiar with Mason’s abilities, after all.

“I know a lot about Tre. He was in our system as a freshman and did some good things,” Malzahn said. “He feels very comfortable with the offense and with the communication.”

Mason missing time could “have been a blessing in disguise” for the rest of the Tigers’ running backs, Malzahn said. Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, specifically, didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. The pair played well enough that they exited the spring listed in a three-way tie (along with Mason) atop the tailback depth chart.

With such a logjam at the position, Malzahn was asked about the importance of having a player designated as the “No. 1″ tailback.

The coach brushed it aside; given the numerous formations the Tigers run, there will be times when multiple running backs are on the field together, anyway.

“We’ve had a lot of success with a lot of different running backs,” he said. ” … We’re feeling more comfortable each day with our running backs.”

Offensive line shuffling players around

While four players on Auburn’s offensive line are near-locks to be starters this fall, the remaining members of the line are still in a state of uncertainty. To combat this, Malzahn said offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has been working in some new players to provide some different looks.

“I think we’ll have a chance to have some depth, which is always good,” Malzahn said. “(Grimes is) trying to identify who they are and where they stack up.”

Where Shon Coleman ends up is anyone’s guess.

The redshirt freshman has begun taking reps at right tackle after spending the majority of spring practice at left tackle.

“We want to give him a shot at right,” Malzahn said. “We’ll kind of move him back and forth.”

Coleman joins the duo of Avery Young and Patrick Miller at right tackle. Young started the first three games at the position last season before injuring his shoulder. Miller took over and started the remaining nine games and stayed there during the spring while Young recovered from surgery on his injured shoulder.

Defensive end Dee Ford has been facing off against Young during the first few days of fall camp. The senior said he’s doing his best to get Young back into playing shape before the regular season begins.

“He’s doing his thing, and I’m glad that I’m able to get him ready,” he said. “It’s going to be great competition, because I’m going to push him and get him back into his rhythm, because they’ve got to play other teams and he’s going to be going against some other good d-ends. So I’m going to try to make it tough on him.”

May 2, 2013

7 at 7: Depth chart players on the radar

Quan Bray

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – So now that Auburn’s made their post-spring depth chart as official as official gets – other than Joshua Holsey as the No. 1 boundary safety, nothing else is particularly shocking – we wait to see what it all means.

In the meantime, let’s run through seven guys you should take note of based on head coach Gus Malzahn’s assessments.

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#5 Quan Bray, jr., first-team WR. Redemption year for Bray, who fumbled a costly LSU punt and then was suspended for a game for an off-field arrest. But Bray’s back in a familiar role by Malzahn’s standards, which means this could be a major bounceback year.

Gus says: “Quan is one of those real versatile guys. To take you back a couple years ago, he was actually playing the tailback positions. He’s got some running back skills. You’ll see us try to get the ball to him in space and let him do his thing as far as that goes.”

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Auburn Football#92 Kenneth Carter, sr., first-team DE. Four defensive ends, four seniors. That’s the only position teeming with experience in the college years department, and Carter will be one to watch who didn’t have particularly great success as a defensive tackle.

Gus says: “A guy that’s played inside in the past. Coach (Rodney) Garner moved him outside. Very physical guy. He improved his pass rushing as the spring went on.”

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#72 Shon Coleman, fr., second-team LT. That’s right. Freshman. The NCAA granted the leukemia conqueror a sixth year of eligibility, so if Coleman’s ascension continues and his resolve remains, he’ll be one of the feel-good stories in college football sometime between now and 2016.

Gus says: “We were very curious how Shon Coleman would come on. He got better and better. You can see his body is starting to react in a very positive way. We’re very proud of Shon and his progression.”

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Jaylon Denson, Jonathan Jones#21 Jonathan Jones, so., second-team CB. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy aren’t giving up their jobs anytime soon, but Jones is, put simply, a player. He’ll keep improving and learning at corner, while contributing on special teams.

Gus says: “He’s not a very big guy, but he really laid some big hits. You saw him in the spring game. Made an outstanding hit.”

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#10 LaDarius Owens, jr., second-team WLB. Like Carter, it didn’t work out at his position. So we’ll see if he someday makes an impact at one of those two linebacker spots; at the very least, Owens gave Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy a breather every now and then in practice when Jake Holland was in class or JaViere Mitchell was working his way back from a concussion. (Note that Owens is on the two-deep, and not Harris Gaston.)

Gus says: “You’re talking about a guy that’s played defensive end the last couple of years and is moving back to the back end. He’s a guy that really gave great effort and coach (Ellis Johnson) was high on him. So he’ll be in the mix at those linebacker positions also.”

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Photo by Todd Van Emst

#35 Jay Prosch, sr., first-team H-back. Y’all love him. So do the coaches. As I noted Wednesday, he’s the only senior on the entire offensive two-deep, unbelievable as that sounds.

Gus says: “He was one of the highlights of the whole spring. Talk about a hard-nosed guy: that’s a dirty-work type position for us. It takes a smart guy.”

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#9 Jermaine Whitehead, jr., first-team FS. Safety, like linebacker, is a thin position, so Whitehead’s dependability was crucial this spring.

Gus says: “Jermaine Whitehead was probably the safety that had just an excellent spring. Coach (Charlie Harbison) was very high on him, and (he) really did a solid job.”

April 28, 2013

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 2, 2013

Link to the past: Week One of the Malzahn era

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – I don’t do the whole ‘ICYMI’ thing on Twitter. (By the way, that’s In Case You Missed It. No idea where or how it started.) Why not? I dunno. ITIRD. (I think it’s really dumb, for you literates.)

I merely presume you either a) read everything we produce without fail, or b) actually have a life and are okay with missing a notebook here or a video there because you’re out enjoying this gorgeous weather.

That said, I am a fan of combining a week’s worth of links into one tidy little spot here in our humble home of WarEagleExtra.com. So here’s the entire assortment of 19 different submissions from the first seven days of Auburn spring practice. Enjoy.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

FROM TUESDAY

Malzahn vows a physical spring: Erique Florence, Blake Burgess leave the team | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM WEDNESDAY (Practice day No. 1)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 1

“A minor setback for a major comeback”: Quan Bray learns lessons from fumble, arrest | VIDEO: WR Quan Bray

Gus Malzahn’s first practice is fast, but says “we didn’t play fast enough today. We weren’t really even close, but we’ll get there” | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM THURSDAY

7 at 7: How we’ll cover spring football: plus Weight Watchers; Kris Frost is ready to fly | VIDEO: RB Corey Grant

BRENNER: Praise will (and should) be earned, not handed out freely, by new coaches

FROM FRIDAY (Practice day No. 2)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 2

Trovon Reed: “Time is flying. I can’t just keep sitting back.” Veteran receiver vows to fill a critical leadership role | VIDEO: WR Trovon Reed

Notes & quotes: Prepping for the pads, Robenson Therezie & Harris Gaston updates | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, Rhett Lashlee, Ellis Johnson

FROM SATURDAY (Practice day No. 3)

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 3 VIDEO: Pace drill, 11-on-11

Back to his roots: Cool, confident Kiehl Frazier relieved to be back in his comfort zone | VIDEO: QB Kiehl Frazier, QB Jonathan Wallace

Notes & quotes: Malzahn unhappy with padded practice, Jordan Diamond ‘blessed’ by return, Patrick Miller has All-American aspirations | VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, OL Jordan Diamond

FROM EASTER SUNDAY

‘Student of the Game’: Refocused Kris Frost prepared for larger linebacker responsibilities | VIDEO: LB Kris Frost

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

FROM MONDAY (Practice day No. 4)

Quick observations from Auburn practice #4: Grimes, Garner won’t tolerate Monday fatigue | VIDEO: Slant/screen throwing drills

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

Notes & quotes: Owens finally gets a look at LB, Garrett embraces star, Parkey picks up pace | VIDEO: LB LaDarius Owens

Live comments from Auburn practice No. 4VIDEO: Gus Malzahn

FROM THIS MORNING, TUESDAY

7 at 7: Louis working hard on his own, Ray raising eyebrows, Dismukes speaking up with mates, an Auburn recruit’s April Fools’ prank | VIDEO: WR Ricardo Louis, OL Alex Kozan

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

January 18, 2013

Notebook: OL Shon Coleman granted a sixth year of eligibility, after battling leukemia

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. – Shon Coleman will get his chance to fulfill a complete football career at Auburn.

A 6-foot-6, 302-pound offensive lineman from Memphis, Coleman was granted a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA Friday. He essentially receives two medical hardship waiver years for battling leukemia during the 2011 and 2012 football seasons.

“This is great news for Shon, who has been through a lot medically during the last few years,” Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. “He has been courageous in his fight and we look forward to him returning to the football field. We’re also very appreciative of the NCAA staff for their understanding of his situation and granting him his sixth year.”

Coleman, 21, was diagnosed in the spring of 2010 with leukemia and underwent treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, and while he was cleared by doctors for limited practice at the end of spring drills, he did not see the field last season.

Coleman was listed on the season’s final depth chart as the backup to tackles Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller.

He was a four-star recruit in the class of 2010, named a first-team all-state honoree by the Mississippi Association of Coaches his senior year at Olive Branch High School. Coleman participated in the 2009 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game and 2010 Army All-American Bowl.

Landing on their feet

More than half the 2012 Auburn assistants have taken jobs at other Division I colleges, which is good news for the university as its final payouts continue to subsidize.

Earlier this offseason, linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen and secondary coach Willie Martinez landed at Tennessee, while offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler grabbed the same position at Virginia Tech and special teams/tight ends coach Jay Boulware was hired at Wisconsin.

Within the past week, Loeffler brought former Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes with him to Blacksburg, as dictated by the Hokies’ official web site.

Local newspaper reports have ex-Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper heading to TCU – where his son, Cameron Echols-Luper, recently switched his verbal commitment out of Auburn High School – and defensive line coach Mike Pelton stopping off at Georgia Tech under Ted Roof, Auburn’s 2011 defensive coordinator.

Those six assistants had a combined 2012 salary of more than $2.1 million. Per their Auburn contracts, whatever salaries they earn from their new institutions will be docked from their buyouts.

The remaining unemployed members of Auburn’s fired staff: head coach Gene Chizik, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and wide receivers/assistant head coach Trooper Taylor.

Three Tigers play Saturday

Tailback Onterio McCalebb, left guard John Sullen and linebacker Daren Bates started a combined 30 games their seniors seasons at Auburn.

None are projected to be selected highly – if at all – in this upcoming April’s NFL Draft, but they get a chance to impress some scouts today at the inaugural Raycom College Football All-Star Classic at Montgomery’s Cramton Bowl. The game begins at 3 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on CBS Sports Network.

McCalebb, Sullen and Bates will suit up for the ‘Stars’ squad, coached by former NFL head coach Jim Bates. They’ll take on the Stripes, led by Dan Reeves.