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Friday, August 7, 2009

Post-practice notes: Quarterback shuffle

AUBURN, Ala. — A minor shift in quarterback reps highlighted Auburn’s practice Friday.

Quarterback Chris Todd worked alongside Kodi Burns with the veteran wide receivers during the first half. Neil Caudle moved to the second half with freshmen Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley.

What does it all mean? That Auburn has a lot of quarterbacks.

“To truly evaluate them, we’ll have to rotate these quarterbacks,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “You’ll see me continually do that. It means nothing as far as anything other than we’re evaluating. We want to see what they can do with some of the guys who are more experienced.”

Malzahn refused to rule any of his five active quarterbacks out of the race Friday, three practices into August and less than a month before the Tigers open their season against Louisiana Tech.

“We have more information than we did in the spring,” he said. “It was real good to see how they came back after the summer. We’ve seen some improvement and some have improved more than others.”

Malzahn has had a true freshman quarterback step in before, handing Mitch Mustain the reins in his only season at Arkansas. But Mustain already had a working knowledge of Malzahn’s offense, having played for him in high school. For a true freshman to step in immediately without that background would be hard.

“I think it’s extremely tough — especially in this league with the defensive speed,” Malzahn said. “You would have to narrow things down and be simple and build on that.”

Things could be clearer once Auburn scrimmages for the first time Tuesday, putting some added pressure on the quarterbacks to perform early.

“I’m not worried about the pressure,” said Burns, who battled Todd for the starting spot last August. “As a quarterback you can’t worry about pressure at all, whether it’s in a game or a competition, you do your best. ... Just compete and have fun with it.”

Some other notes from Friday ...
  • Auburn isn't only looking for a regular quarterback. It also needs somebody to run the Wildcat. Junior running back Mario Fannin, who Malzahn called Auburn’s “most-versatile guy,” played the position last year. On Thursday, true freshmen wide receivers Anthony Gulley, Travante Stallworth and Emory Blake and running back Dontae Aycock tried it. Stallworth and Aycock both played quarterback in high school. “You have to have someone who can secure the ball,” Malzahn said, describing his ideal candidate. “You have to have someone who can run and throw well enough to keep them honest.” Malzahn estimated that about 10 percent of the offensive plays he called at Tulsa were in the Wildcat formation, although when he had former Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden at Arkansas, he doubled those reps.
  • Auburn practiced in shells (helmets and shoulder pads) for the first time Friday, increasing the amount of contact in practice. The Tigers will not practice in pads for the first time until Sunday, when defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he’ll get a better idea of what he’s working with. “A lot of pretty bodies sometimes when they show up in shorts, you don’t notice them as much in pads,” Roof said. “And sometimes those ugly bodies that you don’t want to notice in shorts, sometimes they show up in pads. So players come in all shapes and sizes, so when we put the pads on, we’ll see exactly where everybody is.”
  • Head coach Gene Chizik said the team looked a little sluggish today, something he expected since the team was in shells for the first time. "We tried to be physical at times but we're still a long way off from where we need to be," he said. "Overall, it was an OK. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say it was a great day. Mentally right now, getting a little bit tired. First day in pads, so we're going to pick it up tomorrow."
  • We requested WR DeAngelo Benton for post-practice interviews. He was scratched from the list. It's worth noting that Benton, during our second viewing period, was doing 100 yards worth of up-downs, doing a bear crawl in between yard lines the length of the field. Wes Byrum was doing them with him. Not sure exactly what they did to deserve that punishment.
  • Chizik described Benton as a "work in progress — getting better but learning a lot." He later added, "If he does it the right way, he’s got a chance to be a good football player." I'm guessing he didn't do something the "right way" Friday, thus all the up-downs.
  • Early wide receiver favorites? Malzahn singled out Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams. "They were the two guys in the spring," he said. "They both have come out and played very solidly."
  • Burns on what he improved on during the summer: "My overall game. Just going out there and taking charge of the offense. Confidence. Accuracy. Just different things. I feel like it's a total rebound from the spring. I think I've just progressed a lot better and am a lot smarter with the offense. Once you get this offense down, it's great for the quarterback. I think I'm getting close to that point."
  • Malzahn said there's a world of difference between experienced quarterbacks and rookies, and it makes his job a lot easier. "They understand you," he said. "You say one thing and they understand it. They don't get too high for a game or a practice. They can handle things. (Todd) has that. Kodi's got that. Experience is a good thing."
  • Freshman safety Daren Bates, who was approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse Thursday, did drills in the latter half of Friday’s practice. The holdup prevented him from working out in Auburn during the summer. "It (hurts him) to a certain degree more from the side of when they don't have opportunities to be in your strength and conditioning program, that's where they get behind," Chizik said. "They're all behind right now in terms of X's and O's because you can't do anything in the summer with them anyway. But from the standpoint of being with your strength coach and just being in your program, I think they're a good bit behind everyone else when they get here."
  • Chizik had lots of praise for former linebacker Travis Williams, who is helping out Tracy Rocker on the defensive line. Williams was on the Chizik-coordinated defense that went undefeated in 2004. "First and foremost, people don't realize what an integral part of that great defense from 2004 that he was," Chizik said. "He's a guy that moved around, really a selfless guy when he played. He moved from whatever position we needed him. He was a 209-pound linebacker in this league and he was an All-SEC player. That's because he has the heart and he loves the game. Anytime you can bring players back like that into your program that have been there and done it and done it like he did it and went onto play in the NFL when arguably he's too small, but he did it anyway. He just brings that element back to Auburn that we're trying to keep imparting on these new guys. It's invaluable. He can relate to them. He just got done playing, it wasn't long ago that he was a part of a lot of great teams here. It's just huge to have guys come back and be a part of it."
  • LB Eltoro Freeman is an instant media all-star. I believe I'm going to write my story on Sunday about him, so I don't want to spoil any of the quotes here, but he was extremely entertaining.
  • OK, just one. Freeman has long been nicknamed "Da Bull" (translate his first name from Spanish for the origins of that one). He's had that moniker since 8th grade, when a teammate called him it. "I hated Eltoro when I was little because everybody was like, ‘Eltoro, Eltoro,’" he said. "I was like, ‘My parents couldn’t give me a normal name.’ But as I was playing football and people were telling me that means the bull, and I was physical and strong, I began to like it."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the updates. You're doing a great job!