“I really didn’t expect it,” Benton said. “I figured I was going to have to work hard. I’ve been working hard and I finally got a chance to get to the No. 1 spot. I have to do my job and stay there.”
Benton, the 21-year-old former Parade All-American who spent the previous two years trying to qualify for college, has made giant strides in his game since arriving on the Plains this summer.
“(He’s) making plays,” Taylor said. “We’re about play-makers, guys. And again, that could change tomorrow. If a guy doesn’t make plays, it has to be consistent. But he’s done a nice job and he’s earned that, and we’re going to play the best players no matter if he’s a freshman (or) walk-on.”
Here are some other notes about Sunday's practice that you'd find out about quicker if you followed the blog on Twitter (shameless plug alert!) ...
- Taylor listed about a million different scenarios about his wide receivers and who might be on the field. The crux of what he was trying to say I think boiled down to this: Benton and Terrell Zachery are expected to be the starting wide receivers on the outside. Taylor said depending on the formation, Darvin Adams or Tommy Trott would be the other starter on the inside.
- Zachery returned to practice after dealing with some tendinitis in his left Achilles’ heel, something that bothered him this summer. The junior worked on a stationary bike for a few practices last week
- Taylor has made several comments about wanting to rotate no more than six players at receiver. That group got more competitive, apparently, with Kodi Burns moving into the mix." With Kodi moving into the wide receiver room, that has opened up some doors and closed the slot for somebody else," Taylor said. "He's going to be out there. He's proved that he can make some plays For me, it's like having another coach in the room. He understand this offense. He knows where the receivers are supposed to be. He has brought a lot to that room. The confidence he bring to that room was really shocking to me. He has that presence about him. It makes a difference."
- There was a lot of good Kodi material out there today which I plan to put into a feature story for Wednesday, so I won't spoil it here.
- Trooper said competition for those six spots is intense. "Going into it, I thought it was going to be a really easy decision," he said. "I was fortunate that these guys have stepped up. ... I'm excited about it because I feel like I have some depth and some choices. Before, it was almost going to be by default."
- Wide receivers Montez Billings and Philip Pierre-Louis continue to have an ambiguous standing with the team. Both players have been allowed to practice but still have issues they must resolve to Chizik’s satisfaction before Taylor can think about putting them in the rotation. How ambiguous are their situations? Read some of these quotes from Taylor about both of them and see if you can decipher what exactly is going on.
- On Billings: "He is not out there yet. He is practicing and he's not been back out. Until Coach tells me I can have him … Today, I put him back down with the scout team and brought him back for different scenarios. Until he gets everything cleared with Coach and back on page with doing things right, he and Philip are still in the same boat. Both of those guys have to prove they want to be Auburn Men to be back out there." Trooper seemed to differ from Chizik in his opinion about if Billings has done enough to get back in his good graces. "It’s really at the head coach’s discretion to be honest with you guys," he said. "As far as I’m concerned, he’s really done everything we’ve asked him to do. Again, I didn’t set that rule. Coach did and he’s going to make that decision when he’s ready. As far as Tez’s work habits and what he’s been doing so far, I’m proud of him. He’s already graduated. He has his degree and now he’s trying to earn his way back on the football field."
- Asked if Billings would be part of the team's plans if given the proper approval, Taylor said absolutely. “You’ll see him in the very first game,” he said. “He’d be in the (outside) position right there. He’d be able to help us.”
- Now to Pierre-Louis, who worked his way back from a torn ACL suffered in last year’s season opener but was not with the team at the start of camp while dealing with personal issues: "He’s got to do everything right," Taylor said. "When coach talks about being an Auburn man, it’s about making choices and if you choose to not be a part of this team by the choices that you make, I’m not going to waste my time teaching you and coaching you because you’re not going to be out there and it’s not fair to those other guys. He’s got a little ways to go, but he’s took it on the chin. He hasn’t had any blemishes since and he’s really trying to earn his way back and I told him it’s at the head coach’s discretion. I don’t make those choices. Once he clears him to go 100 percent, I’m going to try to get him back in the mix if I can"
- And then Taylor caps it off with this statement about PPL: "It may be one of those things where it’s too far gone and he just waits a year." That doesn't make it sound like Pierre-Louis will be in Auburn's plans any time soon.
- Taylor said his decisions to play young guys will not be affected by Billings and Pierre-Louis' situations. "The guys that I picked as young guys, they’re going to play already," he said. "It’s not going to be based off Tim or Montez because they play different positions."
- Taylor said freshman Anthony Gulley has improved, but out of the freshmen (assuming he's not including Benton, who he claims is as old as he is) Emory Blake has been the most impressive. "I would say Emory Blake really has jumped out of all of them and really shown me he understands football," Taylor said. "The thing that those four guys do, they do exactly what you tell them. Most guys, you feel like you’re retraining them. These guys know. They came in and they bought in right off the bat. So they come in and doing just what you tell them and that helps you because you can trust them. That’s big as a coach – being able to trust them."
- Taylor said doing conditioning work during practice on the sidelines with strength coach Kevin Yoxall is not a fun experience. "I promise you, you’d rather practice than be on Muscle Beach®," he said. "He comes up with some stuff – I don’t know how anybody puts their son through that. I promise you, you get healthy in a hurry rather being over there on Muscle Beach®. You ain’t over there building no muscles, I can promise you that."
- Quarterback Chris Todd joked about working at wide receiver when he sat down with reporters, saying coaches "saw potential in my athletic ability." But seriously, Todd commented about being mobile enough as a quarterback in Gus Malzahn's offense. "The biggest thing is taking care of the ball, no matter what you're doing," he said. "Really, that's it. Knowing where to fill in and where to squeeze into gaps and reading the defense. You get more comfortable every day."
- Chizik said he’d like to get another scrimmage in before the start of the season to work on procedural matters and situations like the team did Saturday.
- Chizik again refused to comment on the situation surrounding running back Eric Smith, who will surrender to police Monday on a third-degree assault charge, according to the Opelika-Auburn News. "As I've said the other day, I'm not going into the details of Eric Smith's situation," he said.
- Auburn does not practice today and will resume in the late afternoon Tuesday.