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Sunday, September 6, 2009

LB Freeman 'really close' to return; Chizik to evaluate situation on punt return

Linebacker Eltoro Freeman was a late injury scratch for Auburn’s opener Saturday night and wasn’t on the sidelines, but head coach Gene Chizik said not to read into anything about the junior college transfer’s absence.

“A lot of guys who are injured don’t want to be down there,” Chizik said. “It’s hard on them. Sometimes when they’re injured, they don’t want to come to the game. Don’t read anything into that. We probably had 30 or 40 kids in the stands last night.”

Freeman, the projected starter at weak-side linebacker, battled a hamstring problem and wrist injury throughout the preseason. Coaches didn’t feel comfortable having him dress Saturday night, going with sophomore Adam Herring in his place.

“We felt like he was really close,” Chizik said. “You just got to use some good judgment and get some clarity of mind with these guys, because you don’t want to put him back in there and lose him for three more games. It’s a fine line. He’s close to being ready. We don’t feel like he’s 100 percent, so you’re going to get used to some other names in there.”

A group of defensive linemen missed the game with injuries as well, including Nose Eguae (right foot), who was in walking boot, Zach Clayton (unknown), who was on the sidelines, and Antoine Carter (unknown) who was not.

Chizik said Eguae, Clayton and Freeman are all day-to-day.

Follow the blog on Twitter for instant updates. Here are some other notes to come out of Chizik's Sunday teleconference ...
  • The Tigers will take another look at their punt returner this week after Mario Fannin struggled in his debut Saturday night. Fannin muffed one punt that Auburn was fortunate to recover deep in its own territory. He let another punt bounce too far before trying to pick it up. Because he called for a fair catch before grabbing it, the play was immediately blown dead. “That’s one of those things that’s really hard to determine,” Chizik said. “If you watch the first game every year, that’s probably what you see the most — punt returners bobbling kicks. It’s hard for you to run people down in practice, in two-a-days, and whack these guys and expect them to be healthy. We tried to do that enough to where it wasn’t out of control. You know, a lot of times, you don’t know how they’re going to react until game night.”
  • True freshman Anthony Gulley replaced Fannin late in the game. He had one return that went for minus-1 yard. During preseason practice, a number of players took turns returning punts, including, among others, wide receiver Quindarius Carr, cornerback Walt McFadden and, although he is not eligible to play until the fifth game for academic reasons, wideout Montez Billings. “We’re definitely going to go back and re-evaluate the whole thing,” Chizik said. “We’ve got to find a guy back there we know can get it done.”
  • Chizik said all the problems aren't necessarily on the returner. "If you've got three guys standing six inches from your face breathing on you, that's somebody else's fault," Chizik said. "It's not the punt returner. People get confused about that. You have 10 guys out there holding people up so you don't have someone in your face."
  • Auburn only had two wide receivers with receptions Saturday -- Terrell Zachery and Darvin Adams, who both caught touchdown passes. That was a bit of a surprise, considering true freshmen DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake figured to have a role in the offense. Chizik says to expect them to do more in future weeks. "They made your first-game mistakes. There's no question about it," he said. "But I'm really proud of how they've both come along. They're going to get better and better every week. They get big-eyed out there for their first game, but have really, really shown some great signs at practice of getting better. So we don't expect anything less than that."
  • Freshman safety Daren Bates, making his college debut, had three tackles, made one interception and dropped another. Not a bad start. "Just really did a really nice job," Chizik said. "Did he play perfect? No, absolutely not. He's going to do all the freshman things. Had a great interception, had a chance to get two. Really proud of him.
  • DT Nick Fairley, who transferred from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, had an impressive debut as well, making three tackles, getting in on a tackle for a loss and recovering a fumble. "Being a defensive lineman and starting your first game, things get hairy down there," Chizik said. "That's a whole different world down there on the defensive line because it's so physical. It's just the nature of the position. Nick played high a little bit but overall really tried to play physical, really tried to play with some effort. Again, I think he falls into the category of we've got a long way to go to get him where he needs to be, but I think he's got a chance down the road to be a really good player."
  • Chizik said both of the Tigers' touchdowns came on double moves. The coaching staff saw something in the Louisiana Tech defense to make them think it would work. "I think what we do a really good job of as the games progress, we do a really good job of trying to study their people," Chizik said. "We do a great job of really scouting the people as the game goes on. We know when the defensive line gets tired, we know when the corners are biting too hard. Those are the things that matter that we're trying to look at. I think Gus (Malzahn) does a great job of taking advantage of those things based on what we see."
  • Chizik said each member of the coaching staff has something specific that they'll watch for during game days. For instance, somebody might watch a linebacker to see which way he flows on certain plays. "Everybody's got a job on gameday," he said. "What we don't do is watch the game. We're not game-watchers. Everybody's got a job to watch this, everybody's got a job to watch that, everybody's got a job to watch this without going into details. You got to do your job. They can watch the game on TV the next day. We're working and we're specifically looking at things that we need to be paying attention to."
  • Is Chizik a game-watcher? "I focus on different things in the game that I can contribute based on what I see," he said. "And they change. They move around. It's different. Again, I'm trying to do things on game day that I think are very constructive towards -- you know I've called a game for 14 years myself, so I know how you can get lost in calling that game and not really seeing all the things around you at times. So I try to be that guy that looks at everything around, and I can tell the play-callers, 'Here's what we see. We need to think about this, we need to think about that.' Because I'm not so submerged in every call. It's different. Totally different."
  • Auburn played Fairley and Jake Ricks for most of the game at defensive tackle. "We felt like we have to get a rotation going with those inside guys for sure," Chizik said. "Nick was going to start. Jake was going to start. We were going to rotate them based on need. Your druthers is to play your two starts the whole time. In this league, that's hard to do -- especially early in the season. You have to be able to rotate guys throughout the day when needed. That depends on how long they're out there, what's the humidity, if you're losing five guys, that matters."
  • Despite Fannin's role in the passing game (he had eight receptions for 82 yards), he is not necessarily disqualified from carrying the ball as a running back. "Mario's still going to carry the football," Chizik said. "Mario's still going to catch the football. Mario is very talented. He can do a lot of different things." So is he a tailback still? "You could say that," Chizik said. "The reason I hesitate on that is because you can move him around to so many places. If you look at number of carries, yes. That doesn't necessarily mean anything. Mario plays so many different positions because he can."
  • And one last note: Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said running back Anthony Dixon will return for Saturday’s game against Auburn. Dixon was suspended for the team’s opener against Jackson State because of an offseason DUI arrest. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Dixon, a preseason All-SEC selection, has 2,603 career rushing yards and 34 total touchdowns.
  • Since there were no player interviews today, we'll have them tomorrow night. Expect some links during the afternoon about various stuff, especially Mississippi State, then a late update after practice.

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