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Monday, April 5, 2010

Full practice notes: QB Cam Newton gaining confidence in Auburn's offensive system

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s quarterback rotation continued Monday, with Cam Newton and Barrett Trotter getting more reps than the rest as the coaches inch closer to whittling down the field from four to possibly two or three.

“I think it’s just another chance for me to prove, first to myself and then my teammates, what I can do, especially to the coaches,” Newton said. “I got more reps today but it really wasn’t a big deal. Evaluation time is here and everyone knows it.”

Newton, who enrolled in January after transferring from Blinn (Texas) Community College, has performed well through eight practices this spring.

Although he is the presumed frontrunner for the job — he is the most physically gifted and, it’s reasoned, didn’t transfer to sit on the bench — Newton has tried to keep his focus on improving and earning the trust of his teammates.

“Everything has been very smooth,” Newton said. “Right now, a lot of guys, we talk on the field, off the field. You see the camaraderie coming along with the team. That’s what I wanted to see. ... You get out there and grind it out with your guys. It’s becoming clear who you’re going to be with and who’s going to play.”

Newton has had to make some adjustments. The pace is unlike anything he’s used to, a common adjustment for players coming into offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s system. Malzahn also wants the ball out quick, meaning his quarterbacks don’t always have time to find the laces on the ball before throwing it.

“That was kind of new to me because all my life I’ve been taught to feel for the laces, that’s where you get the spiral from,” Newton said. “Of course it’s going to be awkward but I think I’m getting comfortable throwing without the laces.”

Newton came in with two goals this spring: learn the system and carry it out. He thinks he’s done well so far.

“I’m a confident person in myself,” he said. “Not too confident, but self-esteem with a quarterback, can’t everybody get that. You have to have that for yourself. If you don’t have that, you’re going to hear something of everything; the good, the bad, the ugly. You’ve got to keep yourself up, motivated daily.”

Light day for interviews today, but here are some other notes and quotes:
  • Newton said he saw on film that he needs to do a better job of selling his fakes. "That's about it," he said. "Carrying out my fakes and I'm telling myself when I'm in the dropback, I have a tendency to look where I'm throwing. That's a bad habit so does other quarterbacks." You hear that all the time, but I think I'd be more concerned if Newton wasn't looking where he was throwing the ball. I'm guessing he meant staring at his receivers.
  • Newton hasn't gotten to run too much. And if he has, he's wearing an orange jersey, which means he's off limits to be hit. That also means it doesn't take for a defender to be ruled to have taken him down. "When I have an orange jersey, the smallest thing that touched, 'Oh, I'm down,'" Newton said. "But you've got guys saying, 'Oh, I would have tackled you.' I beg to differ on some occasions. That's probably one of the most frustrating things with that."
  • Newton on the pace of the offense: "It's fun to look into the faces, when you're calling the cadence and you see a defender gasping for air, that's probably one of the most things you look for in the quarterback. When you see a defender gasp for air, No. 1 you think we've got them on their toes, their heels and whatnot. Offensively, we've got to keep pushing, keep grinding it out. With Malzahn at the rim of this offense, it's not going to be slower than it was on Saturday. That was my motivation pep talk for the defense. The good thing about it was that we were getting held up a lot. It could have been faster. The tempo Saturday was good and especially from what I've been hearing about what it was last year. That's motivating to hear but we've still got work to do."
  • Coaches continue to praise walk-on safety Ikeem Means. I intend to write a story on him as soon as he's made available to us, but here's what Chizik had to say about him Monday: "Think about it now: he went from high school to a walk-on at Auburn to being on the field and playing. Obviously some of that was based on the fact that our numbers were low, but it was an invaluable experience for him. He couldn't get that experience anywhere else. So I don't think he's so big-eyed with the game right now. He's learning it. He's coming along. He's getting better. He's really learning football and really, really doing a good job of running to the football and playing hard and picking up the defense -- all the little things you want guys to do. He's come along in a lot of ways. He had a great interception the other day. It wasn't a routine one now. It was a nice one. He's coming along and he's getting attention with us."
  • Count Chizik as one of many coaches happy that LT Lee Ziemba chose not to enter the NFL draft last year (which, in the blog's opinion, would have been a terrible decision). "I can't speak for everybody else, but he's not underappreciated by us," Chizik said. "We're extremely proud, happy and excited that Lee decided to come back because he could have left for the NFL. Just so everybody that doesn't appreciate it, they need to know that too. He came back because he loves Auburn and he wanted to play another year. We appreciate it very much."
  • Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said Ziemba has set some high goals for himself. "What he's trying to do now is to develop his game to the point where he can be one of the best offensive linemen in the country," Grimes said. "For him to do that, he's got to get a lot better at a lot of the details. The difference between being a very good offensive lineman and being a great one, a lot of times, is because of the small technical details. He's a lot further along this year than he was at this point year. One thing that'll certainly will help him and all the guys who are coming back is being in the same offense for another year. He'll be in a position where he has more consistency around him."
  • Sophomore John Sullen is working at left guard in place of Mike Berry and Bart Eddins, who are both out with knee injuries.
  • Senior walk-on offensive lineman Jorrell Bostrom probably will not participate in drills the rest of the spring. Bostrom was seen wearing a sling on one of his arms.
  • Grimes said he’s in no rush to name a starter at right tackle between junior college transfers Roszell Gayden and Brandon Mosley. “If we still feel like the position is up for grabs, there still is a lot of work than can be done throughout the summer,” Grimes said.
  • Lots of special teams stuff from Jay Boulware today that I'm going to throw into a story that will run Wednesday, so I'll save that for later. I hope to have a video up a little later, so check back.