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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Late practice notes: Tigers upbeat as season nears

AUBURN, Ala. — A clock that counts down the number of days until the start of the season hangs on a wall in the Auburn locker room. As of Sunday night, the time until Tigers’ Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech was down to five days and some change.

“It’s real close,” senior tight end
Tommy Trott said. “It’s a lot different than the summer when the thing says 160-some days. So it’s right around the corner.”

There was a different tenor to the Tigers’ full-pad practice Sunday night, one fueled by the thoughts of an actual game breaking the monotony of preseason practice.

“Tonight was really kind of an upbeat practice I thought, tempo-wise,” head coach
Gene Chizik said. “The guys had a little bit more of a bounce in their step as you would imagine going into game week.”

Auburn’s preparation will differ slightly from a traditional game week, when it devotes most of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday practices to its opponent. The Tigers began Louisiana Tech prep last week, mixing it in with their normal drills.

“We don’t feel like we’re in a real game-week scenario yet,” Chizik said. “So we’ll try to taper off and get our legs back under us yet before Friday.”

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Here are some other notes from Sunday interviews ...

  • Junior Mario Fannin said he is the team’s No. 1 punt returner. “It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I think it’s going to actually enhance my game more as far as focusing and being tuned into the game. It will help me make wiser decisions when it comes to other things on the field.” Fannin, a do-all utility back, has returned only one punt in his life during a game. It was in high school. He took it back for a touchdown. He returned kicks last year, averaging 22.5 yards per return, but added punt returns to his repertoire this offseason. “It’s been a learning experience,” he said. “Now, the ball is traveling higher and you have faster guys running down the field toward you. It’s mainly just focusing on the ball and making the right decision.” The team has gone live on a few occasions, just to replicate the pressure of catching high-hanging punts with gunners bearing down on you. “I didn’t drop it,” Fannin said. “That’s the main thing.”
  • Fannin also said he’ll be in the mix on kick returns, as will Onterio McCalebb, Terrell Zachery and Harry Adams.
  • Chizik plans to release a depth chart later this week. We're assuming it will be earlier than Saturday morning.
  • Chizik also said freshman safety Daren Bates will get in the game in some manner, whether it’s on defense or special teams.The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Bates has made a quick impression after arriving to camp two days late because of the NCAA Clearinghouse process. With junior Mike McNeil still sidelined by a broken leg suffered last April, Bates has a chance to jump Mike Slade and Drew Cole for playing time at the safety position opposite Zac Etheridge. “He got a late start, but over the last eight or nine days, you can really see the light coming on,” Chizik said. “You can see him do some things that make you think he’s got a chance to contribute. One of those is being a physical player. I think he’s going to be that. I think he’s one of those guys that’ll stick his face in there and be an aggressive football player at the safety position — and that’s what you need.”
  • Chizik said offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips is “doing well.” The freshman, who transferred this summer from Florida State, had a non-football related medical episode early in camp that has kept him in street clothes since. “He’s in meetings and he’s with our football team, so we’re excited about that,” Chizik said, not offering a date for his return. “He’s doing better.” Chizik also said he has not received word from the NCAA as to whether Phillips would be immediately eligible to play this season.
  • Kodi Burns said he expects to be the Wildcat quarterback Saturday. “We’ve worked on it a little bit,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in this game.”
  • Chizik had great things to say about Louisiana Tech, which returns 17 starters from a team that went 8-5 last year and won its first bowl game (the Independence Bowl) since 1977. (Click here to read a Q&A on the Bulldogs I did with one of the team's beat writers this summer). "Well, I just think coach (Derek) Dooley has done a great job with them. They're really, really talented. They've got some great special teams players. If you look at their special teams, that certainly stands out right at the top at how good they were in really every phase last year. They do a great job with that. What they are is a very sound team. They do everything that makes sense. They don't take a lot of chances. They're just a very sound football team. They play physical. They have a great scheme on defense that is very aggressive but very sound. Offensively they do a lot of great things with throwing the ball. Their offensive line, they're big, they're physical, so they run the ball much better. It's just a much improved team from over the past few years that you would imagine. But they're really impressive."
  • Not to spoil what's going to be my advance for Friday, but Auburn's players had great things to say about the Bulldogs as well. "It's kind of scary," defensive end Antonio Coleman said. "You can't underestimate them because they have a great football team. I've seen some film on them. I've got a DVD right here on them. They've got a good football team. You can't roll your helmets out and beat them just because you're Auburn. We're just going to go out there and play football."
  • Trott had similar sentiments, speaking a whole lot of truth at the end of this particular quote. "It might as well be their Super Bowl, their finale. I'm sure they're geared up, they're excited, fired up. I mean, what a way to start the season. And after watching what they did to Mississippi State, we've watched the game, we've watched all kinds of cut-ups from that game. It really lets you know that you've got to be on top of your game. You've got no business going out there and thinking that you should win that game, because let's be honest, last year we were a 5-7 ballclub . Besides a whole lot of summer preparation, we haven't proven anything different on the field."
  • Coleman on the excitement of it being game week: "It's been a long time coming, like I said before. Since that last loss to Alabama it's been nothing but a lot of hard work for the last eight months."
  • Trott had some very insightful things to say about Auburn's offense, which, he accurately says, has not been feared in quite some time. "It's not just last year or this year," he said. "I know there was a lot of excitement and hope for last year's offense, but since that '04 team really, I can't remember a time when we've been feared as an offense that's going to go out there and put a lot of points on the board. Coach (Trooper Taylor) says it all the time: 'Why aren't y'all working? Why aren't y'all staying after practice? Look through the papers and tell me the last time somebody said something nice about you as a receiver, a receiving corps.' Or somebody's really predicted this offense to be something special. It's just been a while and people haven't had a lot of nice things to say about us as an offense, not necessarily us as a team, because this defense has been carrying us for a few years now. But definitely, I mean, we want to go out there and prove that we're capable to not only help this team win ballgames, as opposed to hurting it, which it feels like we were doing from time to time last year, but also help carry this team too."
  • Trott says his knee is 100 percent after undergoing surgery last fall. "I don't even think about it any more, to be honest," he said.
  • Chizik sees CB Neiko Thorpe as having a great future in this game called football. "He's very talented, he's very blessed," Chizik said. "He's got to learn the game, he's got to learn the intricacies of playing back there, which I don't think he fully gets yet. That usually comes, like with any position, with time. But he's got a chance to be a really good one. It's hard for me to go out on a limb and say things like that about younger players because the jury is mostly timed out. I say it, if he keeps progressing, if he keeps working like he does, he's got a chance to be a very good football player and another one in a long line of really good DBs that have come out of here in the last few years."
  • We got plenty of material from the veteran players trying to soothe the nerves of the newcomers who will be playing in front of a large crowd for the first time in their careers. "As far as the gameday experience, coach (Tracy) Rocker is just telling them calm down, don't get nervous," Coleman said. "You're going to be nervous, but just get out there and if you know what to do everything will be fine." Coleman recounted his first game. "I wasn't so much nervous but when I got out on the field it was like I was stuck in mud," he said. "I don't know what it was, but it was like I was running with 50-pound shoes on. After a series or two you get out of that and you get a feel for the game. It's way faster than high school ball."
  • Burns on his first bit of playing time: "My first rodeo was the Mississippi State game, and I had no idea I was going to get to play. Coach (Al) Borges sat me down and talked about it, but in the back of my mind it was, `There’s no way I’m going to play.’ Sure enough, I was sitting down on the bench and they said my name, and said to go in the game. It was a really exciting feeling. I really wasn’t too nervous. I really don’t get nervous. I just wanted to go out there and prove what I had."
  • One more from our "Remember When ..." series. Here's cornerback Walt McFadden: "It was crazy. Tiger Walk. That just blew me away. I remember on kickoff, I was supposed to run down the field like 40 yards and I ain't even make it down there because I was so excited just looking in the stands. I got in a lot of trouble for that. I think the play was a touchback and our tradition was to run all the way to the end zone to get the crowd to start jumping up and down. I didn't even make it down there. I was so excited that I ran right off to the sidelines. It wasn't a good thing."
  • While we were interviewing McFadden, defensive lineman Antoine Carter hovered over some reporters' shoulders before chiming in with a question of his own, asking Walt, "What are some of the goals of the defense coming into the first game?" To which Walt responded: "We want this game to be a shutout. I believe that's going to be a goal for us. A whole bunch of three-and-outs, a whole bunch of turnovers, a lot of big plays and just to show the world we're back." Burns, who was waiting to be interviewed next, then chimed in with a question of his own. "How many times has Kodi Burns burned you for a TD?" McFadden answered quickly. "That's a negative." Many guffaws were had.


AUsome04 said...

Great comments by the team. I was trolling through the Auburn beat writers from Alabama wondering about LaTech and the War Eagle Extra is on top of it. 17 starters returning for Tech. I still think AU doesn't have a problem dispensing them though. Trott's right, it's time for the O to start doing something.

Greg said...

La Tech returns 17, including:

The entire defensive line, top 20 in rush defense, with a first day draft pick in DE D'Anthony Smith.

The entire offensive line, which led Junior RB D. Porter to a 1,000+ Season, including a Rimington watch list Center in Lon Roberts.

Tech isn't coming to make this game respectable or entertaining. They're coming to win.

Me and a few thousand others are coming to cheer them on. See y'all in Auburn!

Simmons B. Buntin said...

Man am I excited that ESPNU picked up this game; hard to see a lot of Auburn games from out in Arizona otherwise.

Looking forward to a good matchup! WDE!

Frosty said...


I hope you have a great time in Auburn -- until the kickoff. Seriously, if you haven't been to Auburn before I think you will enjoy the experience. Come to Momma Goldberg's and I'll buy you a cold one.