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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Full practice notes: Quarterback battle still at four

AUBURN, Ala. — After five practices, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is having a hard time narrowing down the Tigers’ four-man quarterback race.

“That’s a really good thing,” he said Wednesday. “We feel like we have four quality quarterbacks and we’ll be in better shape depth-wise going into this season than we were last season.”

Auburn’s quarterbacks — senior Neil Caudle, junior Cam Newton, sophomore Barrett Trotter and redshirt freshman Clint Moseley — have split reps evenly.

Now that the Tigers have installed almost everything in the offense they will this spring, Malzahn expects that group to shrink in order to give the potential starter more looks.

He just doesn’t know how much he’ll whittle the list or when.

“There’s no set plan,” Malzahn said. “We’re a timing offense and we’re going to try our best with guys that have the best chance of winning the job, we’ll try to hang onto those guys as long as we can.

“Once we figure that out and people separate themselves, we’ll start narrowing it down.”

Malzahn was exceedingly complimentary of all four candidates. He’s been pleased with the daily improvement of Trotter and Moseley and said the veteran Caudle “knows the offense just about as well as I do.”

But Newton, the top-rated junior college transfer in the country and presumptive frontrunner for the starting job, continues to pique more interest among Auburn’s fans than the rest.

“He has a better understanding of what’s going on,” Malzahn said. “In our system, there’s a lot of things that you have to know before the play even starts and that’s half the battle. He’s getting more comfortable with that so he can react and play football once the ball’s snapped.”

Here are some more notes and quotes from today's practice (and if you like what you see, follow the blog on Twitter):
  • Cornerback T’Sharvan Bell made a splash in Auburn’s bowl game and so far has carried that over to the spring. “His whole approach to things, to life, he’s made some major strides in that,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “I’m really proud of him.” Bell, who redshirted in 2008, was held back last August with a knee injury and played sparingly on the regular defense. But he made a major impact in Auburn’s depleted secondary in the Outback Bowl, intercepting two passes in the Tigers’ 38-35 win against Northwestern. Bell has settled in at corner this spring, backing up projected starters Demond Washington and Neiko Thorpe. “He’s had a good offseason,” Roof said. “He just has to continue to work to get better. I’m confident that he’s going to do that.”
  • Auburn hasn’t set a depth chart at its revamped safety positions yet. Mike McNeil (leg) and Aairon Savage (Achilles’) have worked their way back into a rotation with Drew Cole, Mike Slade and walk-on Ikeem Means. “We’re just seeing how it sorts out,” Roof said. “Guys coming off injuries, you have to be careful how you bring them back. You don’t want to throw them out there to do too much too quick. There’s a certain process you go through when you come back to gain confidence. It’s a goal for those two guys to feel confident, where they don’t have to think about it, that it’s in the rear-view mirror.”
  • Asked what has stood out so far about McNeil, Roof paused eight seconds before coming up with this answer: "Experience. You can see that he's played a lot of football. Right now, that's what kind of stands out." Yup, not liking McNeil's chances for playing time too much this year.
  • Zac Etheridge (neck) hasn’t dressed out yet (and probably won’t this spring), although Roof said the senior is a full member of the team, taking mental reps and sitting in on all team meetings.
  • Had a quick interview with linebacker Jessel Curry, who graduated high school early to enroll at Auburn in January. He's backing up Eltoro Freeman at strong-side linebacker. I plan to write a little more on him as soon as I can get an interview with Craig Sanders (the other early enrollee from high school). Curry says he has no regrets about leaving school early, not even if it means missing prom. "I’ve never been to a prom or homecoming, so I wouldn’t even want to go back," Curry. "That’d be a waste of money to me."
  • Roof has seen slow progress out of the two so far: "It's a little bit different because Craig Sanders plays close to the ball. The closer you play to the ball, the bigger the adjustment is. You have less reaction time. I've been really pleased with him. His effort has carried over from the offseason program. He's going to be a good football player. He's doing well. Jess has picked things up pretty quickly. I've been really impressed with both of them. I think it was a very good decision on their part for them to enroll here early. They're both going to have a jump on it come summer."
  • More positive talk about Freeman, this time from Roof: "Anytime there's a transition, there's growing pains. He certainly went through those growing pains. How he's responded to those and the way he's handled those, I've been pleased. There has got to be a sense of urgency from all of us. We're in a race against the clock. We have to get better right now. He's done a good job with that sense of urgency. That's not just for one coach or one player. That's how we've got to approach things." (It's at this point that I should note that Freeman has been requested to be interviewed after every practice, and so far he's been scratched from the list every time.)
  • I've got some stuff on Nosa Eguae and Dee Ford that I'd like to put into a feature story for later this week, so I'll hold that material. The short news is that Eguae had a stress fracture in his foot last year that probably would have caused it to break had he kept playing (they discovered the injury just before the start of the season).
  • Ford, meanwhile, is up 20 pounds since arriving at Auburn to 235. He wants to be at 250 by the start of the season. Is it fun to put on that kind of weight? "It's fun but you're bloated a lot," he said.

1 comment:

AUsome04 said...

Wow, Andy why do you think McNeil won't play? It looks like that safety chart you listed was pretty thin. I would think McNeil who played significantly his first two years would still be heads and shoulders above those others. He looked a little small in some film I saw but not play? We really need that kid this year! Could it be Coach Roof was just being somewhat vague. I guess we'll see at the A-day game.