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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Expanded notes: Bates shines in scrimmage

As promised, here are some more extensive notes from our early interviews now that I've had some time to type them out.

And remember, if you followed me on Twitter, you would have gotten an instant notice that this blog post went up. It's not to let to get on the bandwagon.
  • Freshman safety Daren Bates has only practiced with the team since last Friday, but he's picked things up right away. He intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and had a handful of tackles in Tuesday's scrimmage, something that surprised safeties Tommy Thigpen. "The first day he was out there it was funny because he was bumbling and stumbling and falling to the ground, you're just like, 'Oh my goodness, can he play here?'" he said. "And then it was so important to that kid that he came over and said, 'Coach, I'll never do that again.' And then yesterday he came out with a lot of vinegar and he was ready to play yesterday."
  • It is important to note that Bates worked exclusively with the twos during the scrimmage. "If he do what he did yesterday, you can't keep a guy like that off the field," Thigpen said. "He made a bunch of plays yesterday for a guy that didn't know anything about what he was doing. He was out there flying around and he was just hitting and moving balls. That's always encouraging so we'll see today if it was a fluke or can he come back and repeat yesterday's performance."
  • Thigpen on safety Mike McNeil: "Right now he's probably one of our better coaches. Everyday he's doing a great job as far as talking to our kids. His progress is coming along, he's starting to run now. I'm not sure when the day will be when he return, but he plays the game in his mind as well as anybody." If he's just starting to run now, how realistic is it that he's ready for the season opener?
  • That would mean Drew Cole and Mike Slade would probably be battling for a starting spot alongside Zac Etheridge. Thigpen called Slade one of the most improved players since the spring and sounds like the leader at this point, although the two rotate with the ones during practice. "It goes day by day," Thigpen said of the rotation. "There are some things that (Slade) can get better at as far as burst and angles on tackles. Cole was solid yesterday. He made some tackles. Both of those guys made some plays. We're going to keep it going to gameday for what guy is going to be the guy for us. We're doing a lot of studying and doing a lot of tests. We're going to put the guys out there that will help us win."
  • Thigpen on converted cornerback D'Antoine Hood, who is nursing an injury right now. "He'll get back. He only played two or three days at the safety position. He shows a burst; he'll probably be one of the fastest safeties we've got back there. He will bring a dimension to us that we don't have. But he's doing a good job."
  • According to the players, the quarterbacks knew going in that Tuesday's scrimmage would be structured to get some of the newcomers more reps. "That’s why I said over and over again that I’m not going to get jacked up for that scrimmage," Kodi Burns said. "I’m just going to treat it like another practice. We’ve had seven or eight practices thus far, so there’s probably a lot of evaluating that’s probably been done." Kind of wish they would have told us that ahead of time, instead of making it seem like the starting QB would be decided that day.
  • Add Neil Caudle to the group of those who have absolutely no idea who will be the starter. "We're going to talk to coach (Gus) Malzhan, I'm sure, soon," he said. "But we don't have any indication where we stand, any kind of order or anything right now." Is it frustrating? "We're patient," he said. "We know it's a tough decision for the coaches, and coach Malzahn in particular. We're patient. We're all antsy to get out there and get more reps. That's just how we are. We know this is how the process works, and we know it's a tough decision for them."
  • Caudle said he, Chris Todd and Burns rotated reps with the orange group today. I assume that's the first team. Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley worked with the blue group, which I assume is the second team.
  • By the way, both Burns and Caudle said they felt they've done enough to be the starter.
  • Freshman running back Onterio McCalebb might be a quiet guy, but he gives some money quotes. For instance, this one: "When I get my hands on the ball, the first thing on my mind is scoring touchdowns. When I score touchdowns, I think about money. If you ask the players, 'What does McCalebb say when he gets the ball on the 1-yard line?' Most of the players will tell you, 'That's money.' Because you have to get in the end zone."
  • Everybody seems to have a take on how fast McCalebb is. Here's Thigpen's: "If he gets a step, we don't have anyone out there who can catch him. He can fly. He can take a five-yard gain, outrun an angle and take it 30 or 40 yards. He's a house guy. It's not so much that we worry about him between the tackles. Once he gets outside, it's tough to catch him. If we get our hands on him, we feel good about it." Sounds like a great offensive weapon.
  • Here's wide receiver Emory Blake's: "He chases rabbits and squirrels. He's super fast. I can't say enough about his speed."
  • McCalebb is slight on size (5-10, 174) but he claims he's not afraid to take anyone on. "I just go right at them," he said. "It ain't nuthin' to me. It ain't about the size. When you're on the field, if you're physical, you're going to be physical. If you don't, if you're scared, you're not going to get on the field. The offense, we're looking to be physical." That's all well and good, but it seems like Auburn has backs who are better suited to play a physical game. I'm sure the coaches would like McCalebb to stay completely healthy and utilize his speed rather than get banged up trying to plow a 230-pound linebacker for an extra yard.
  • It was Blake who told us Burns was working as the Wildcat quarterback Wednesday.
  • We asked Todd if he is a candidate for the Wildcat job. "You know, I am pretty dangerous back there," he said to a chorus of guffaws.
  • Todd said he finally let loose on some deep balls in practice. "I was honestly pretty happy with the way the ball came out," he said. "It's coming out pretty good. That was what I was hoping for. It was kind of a question mark because we weren't throwing that much before." Todd was quick to point out that rarely does a quarterback try to throw the ball as far as he cans. "I threw one on the run the other day that was about 55 yards, something like that," he said. "But as far as throwing one just as deep as I can ... there's really not a lot of times during a game or practice or anything where you're going to just absolutely unleash one. The biggest thing for me was the deep outs and stuff, to the field, basically really long throws, the comebacks, stuff like that was really the biggest thing, putting it on a rope and the ball coming out good. Those were the biggest key to see if my arm was back."
  • Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor couldn't have been more complimentary of his freshmen wide receivers -- DeAngelo Benton, Blake, Anthony Gulley and Travante Stallworth. "They got a short window to demonstrate what they can do and they took it to heart," he said. "I get in the room sometimes and say, ‘Guys, you older guys need to watch. Look what this young guy just did – exactly what I told him to do.’ That means I can trust him. It means I can put him out there. So I was really impressed with them yesterday. ... It will be hard to redshirt those freshmen. It really will. We may even look at redshirting some of the older guys that haven’t redshirted yet and giving them another year. It’s been a surprise of surprises that they’re as far as they are, especially with our terminology and all that."
  • Trooper on Gulley: "He’s a playmaker. He’s playing full-fledged wide receiver. He almost scored a touchdown on a long run – I’d probably say 50, 60 yards – yesterday. He did a really nice job catching the football. I tell you, they really understand alignment and assignment and then they play with great effort. I think Gulley’s going to be a big-time player in this offense. I really do."
  • He was equally complimentary of Stallworth: "The way he handles things, when you say something in a meeting, he writes a note about everything. He’s meticulous about his alignment. If you blow something up, you watch right now, I promise he out there after practice getting his role done. You can line him up in so many different places. He can play quarterback, he can play wide receiver, he can run reverses, he can do so many things and that’s what he brings to the table – versatility and being able to make plays. He made some guys miss that looked like they couldn’t tackle him in a phone booth. He’s got that kind of quickness."
  • Blake on his chances of competing right away. "That's one of the reasons why I came here. They told us we were going to have an opportunity from the beginning to come in and compete for a starting job. That's big for a freshman wide receiver."
  • For the record, Trooper said he's never played four freshmen before, but this group is different. "I think the way these guys are conscientious and it says a lot about what they did this summer," he said. "To come in and be able to – I don’t have to talk about the X’s and O’s part of it. I can teach them the fundamentals right now and they already know when I say what formation they already know the common knowledge. Usually that transition from high school to college kills a guy because you may call it the sweep and we call it the toss. You still toss it to that back, but he’s learning the new language. These guys really jumped into the playbook. You very seldom see those guys not packing it around. That’s very impressive. I walk into the dining hall and see football players in a group talking about their plays – on offense and defense. That’s been very impressive to me. I’ve never been anywhere when they’re eating – especially those big guys, they’re eating, they don’t care nothing about… I’ve seen those guys out there and they’re hungry. Hungry to win. That’s impressive."
  • Trooper said Tommy Trott, who occasionally works with him as a slot receiver, took a pretty good lick recently and bounced right back up. "The biggest thing for him is to stay healthy, and we have to manage him that way because he is coming off that injury," Taylor said. "He got popped today and he bounced right back up and handed the ball to the official. You would have thought he hit a home run out of Yankee Stadium the way he looked, because he took a lick and got up. We all rushed to him and just kind of high-fived him."
  • From the sounds of it, both Trott and freshman tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen will spend some time in the slot and split out wide. "When you think about, you tell a tell a tight end that he can split out wide, oh boy, it's like taking an offensive tackle and throwing him a screen," Taylor said. "He wants to touch that football. That's like a bonus for those guys."
  • Trooper has said it's difficult for the quarterbacks to be used to so many wide receivers, with all their different steps and speeds. So is it hard for the receivers to adapt to multiple quarterbacks throwing passes to them? "I hear people say that, but if I'm an outfielder, I can't say I'm only going to catch a fly ball from this guy or that guy," Taylor said. "The ball's in the air, it's our job to go get it. I don't care if coach Chizik is throwing it. We better go get the damn thing and make it happen. That's what I tell those guys. And their attitude has changed. Before, it was, 'It better be here, it better be there.' Now if it's in the same area code, your job as a wide receiver is to go get it at its highest point."


Anonymous said...

Andy, you are the man!

AUsome04 said...

AUsome Andy. I've yet to see any beat writer in Alabama cover the Tigers as good as you. Keep up the good work!