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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Freshman safety Bates makes an impact

I wrote a story on freshman safety Daren Bates for today's newspaper. Here's how it starts:

AUBURN, Ala. — When freshman Daren Bates finally arrived at Auburn’s practice two days late because of the cumbersome NCAA Clearinghouse process, safeties coach Tommy Thigpen thought the Tigers had made a mistake.

“He was out there, and it was funny because he was bumbling and stumbling and falling to the ground,” Thigpen said. “You’re just like ‘Oh, my goodness, can he play here?’”

Aware of his struggles, Bates, a two-star safety the Tigers took a chance on last winter, felt it necessary to apologize to the coaching staff.

“I don’t know what that was the first day,” he said. “I told (them) I won’t ever have another day like that, and I don’t think I have.”

To say the least. Bates has made a favorable impression in each of the team’s first two scrimmages. The freshman intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and made a handful of tackles working with the second group during the first scrimmage, four days after he joined the team. Last Saturday, when he spent time with the first team, he stood out as well.

“We’re certainly looking to give him every opportunity to be on the field,” head coach Gene Chizik said afterward. “It will be up to him, but what he showed us right now, I think he has a legitimate chance to get on the field if he’ll continue to grow as a player.”

“If he do what he did (in the scrimmage), you can’t keep a guy like that off the field,” Thigpen said.

Read the rest here.

Bates is definitely an interesting case. Keep in mind that he was a two-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout. Now, recruiting rankings are an inexact science and those sites are prone to missing a ranking every now and then (Sen'Derrick Marks, for instance, was a two-star guy), but for a two-star player to come in and challenge for playing time immediately is pretty remarkable. Usually guys like that pan out as projects. Bates doesn't seem like one.

Chizik had more things to say about Bates on Tuesday night, after I had already filed my story. He was especially pleased with the shape the 5-foot-11, 195-pound freshman was in when he finally could report. "Physically, I think he’s got a chance to play in this league early, I believe," Chizik said. "We just have to know mentally if he can do the things we ask him to do. He’s shown flashes every day he’s getting better."

Sounds like Auburn would like for him to understand the playbook and defensive calls enough to get on the field in Mike McNeil's absence. It seems like the Tigers have rotated everybody on the roster into that safety spot at some point this August.

Whether or not Bates can handle that and an academic workload all in the first month of being on a college campus remains to be seen. It seems like a lot to handle for a freshman, but it'd be a great story if it happened.


JunkerJorge said...

great article. my son is a bammer grad, and all he talks about is 5 star recruits.

AUBigCat said...

Most people had acknowledged that Bates had fallen through the cracks (rating wise) because he had switched high schools between the Jr and Sr year. Colleges figured it out towards the end and he starting getting more D1 offers (AU, Bama, etc). Bates said that he was going to show that they made a mistake in his ratings. Looks like he's walking the walk.