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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Late night notes: Auburn's young defenders will cut teeth against veteran Arkansas State o-line

Watching film of Arkansas State’s veteran offensive line let Auburn freshman Jeffrey Whitaker know what kind of physical game is in store for him Saturday.

“They know how to play some ball,” the defensive tackle said. “They don’t mind hitting you in the mouth.”

It’ll be an interesting way for Auburn’s group of freshmen defensive linemen to get initiated to the college game.

Arkansas State starts five senior offensive linemen, four of which are fifth-year players, including second-team All-Sun Belt pick Derek Newton at right tackle.

“They’ve got a pretty good nucleus there,” Auburn defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “I have no doubt we’re going to have our hands full with those guys. When you watch them on film, they’re sound, they get a hat for everybody and they’re well coached.”

While Auburn’s starting defensive front is comprised of seniors Antoine Carter, Michael Goggans and Zach Clayton and junior Nick Fairley, their backups are green.

In addition to Whitaker, true freshmen Corey Lemonier, Craig Sanders (pictured above) and Kenneth Carter should get substantial playing time. Redshirt freshman Nosa Eguae will also be making his first appearance in a college game.

“Hey, they’re going to have to play,” Rocker said. “I don’t know when. All I want is that they’re prepared and ready to do what they need to do when they go out there.

“The biggest thing is to understand that you’re going to make mistakes. Just play hard, and after that we can adjust and overcome the mistakes.

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Here are some other notes and quotes from Wednesday's round of interviews, with injury updates abound:
  • Wide receiver Trovon Reed (bruised kneecap) will be a gametime decision. “He’s really kind of in a situation where we’re just trying to get a full day’s work and work him into that role,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “Right now I don’t know if he’s quite there but he’s getting better.”
  • Chizik said linebacker Eltoro Freeman (turf toe) is getting closer to playing. “He’s been running around the last few days and he’s getting there,” Chizik said.
  • Fullback Ladarious Phillips (ankle) is still a week or two from returning, running backs coach Curtis Luper said. “You just never know with the type of injury that he has,” Luper said. “He is 300 pounds and it will probably take him a little longer than it would (Onterio) McCalebb to get healthy with a similar injury.”
  • Coaches are giving offensive tackle Roszell Gayden (knee) some more time to see if he can play this year. “How much he helps us this year, I’m not sure,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said.
  • Still doesn't sound good for DL Derrick Lykes. "Derrick is not going to be back anytime soon that we're expecting," Chizik said. "We're going to take it day by day with him as well. He's not going to be returning to the lineup anytime soon."
  • No word on whether DE Joel Bonomolo will play in the opener. "Bonomolo suffered that little injury earlier in camp," Rocker said, "so I think that before this year’s over with ain’t no doubt he’ll contributing in some form or fashion."
  • Rocker thinks Clayton has made a big improvement, especially when it comes to speaking up. The soft-spoken senior is helping the young guys come along. "My first year here, I probably got two words out of him," Rocker said. "Right now I”m up to 50, so I’m doing good. You always wonder about the guys, are they really listening to you? Now, I’ve got Goggans, I’ve got Carter coaching, saying, 'This is how you do it.' That’s been a big help to those young guys."
  • Chizik had some good things to say about Whitaker, who is an instant media favorite for the he handles himself in interviews. The freshman hasn't had an easy life. His mom passed away a few years ago and he's had to deal with some trying circumstances. "He is one of those kids that you just feel like you have to have in your program," Chizik said. "He's everything that Auburn stands for, he's everything that we stand for, he's a great young man."
  • Luper said there is not a set rotation for how he’ll use his three options, Mario Fannin, McCalebb and Michael Dyer, in the opener. “Obviously, we think all three of the tailbacks can make plays, so they’ll all touch it,” he said. “But it depends on how the game’s going, who gets what.”
  • Fannin, a senior, is the No. 1 back, although Luper isn’t sure yet if he’s a workhorse back. “I don’t know right now if we have a guy like Ben Tate who can handled 20 carries a game for 10 consecutive games,” Luper said. “But that’s not a prerequisite. We’ll split the carries.”
  • McCalebb, a sophomore who struggled with an ankle injury last year, brings a speed element “People have not been talking about him for obvious reasons, because Mario is moving to tailback and Mike is in, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was the best of the bunch,” Luper said.
  • Dyer, ESPN’s top-ranked freshman running back, is another dynamic runner Auburn fans are eager to see. “Oh, he’s been excited,” Luper said. “Probably have to slow him down a bit on Saturday. That’s generally the way it is for guys that haven’t played before. So we settle him down, he’ll be fine.”
  • Grimes seemed pleased with how A.J. Greene has proceeded since being named the starting right tackle last week. "He’s a really humble kid," Grimes said. "When I first told him that he’d be a starter, I pulled him inn and told him he’d be the starter, I asked if he was ready, he said, 'I’ve got to get a whole lot better.’ I said, 'Do you have any question if you’re ready to play?’ He said, 'No, coach I don’t.’ And I said, 'Good, neither do I.’ He got this big smile on his face. To me, it just said that he had the right attitude. He felt like he needed to keep getting better, but he felt confident. I think he’ll play that way."
  • Grimes didn't say whether or not he'll stick with just five linemen in Saturday's opener. "I never want to give a concrete answer to that for a couple of reasons: One, you never know what’s going to happen in a game in terms of injuries or somebody is playing very poorly. You always want to have the option of playing someone else without feeling like it’s a major deal. the other reason I don’t think it’s ever bad for everybody to feel there’s a possibility that somebody could come in and take some of your snaps away. I think we’ll start off with the first five. I see those guys playing the majority of the time unless something happens."
  • It's been a physical camp, but Chizik and Co. have tailed back som eon the contact of late. "I feel like we've been very prudent on how we've proceeded in the last week or so," he said. "That was the plan, the plan was to back off and obviously let them be fresh as they can be at gametime. It was in the plan and I think right now they're in pretty good shape. They've got to get a lot of rest in the next 72 hours. It's on them now."
  • Chizik said the contact in the opener could be shocking to some of the newcomers. "I don't think that you can really imagine it until you get down to game day and see it and do it," he said. "I really believe even the speed of game day changes from the speed of practice. Especially down there for offensive and defensive linemen, that's just a whole new world. In high school they're used to being bigger than everybody and now they're in many cases smaller than everybody. It's a complete learning experience and it's an on-the-job deal. No other way you can get used to it."
  • Rocker agreed. In fact, he said the Tiger Walk is exhausting enough to take some life out of the players. "They end really playing two games," he said. "Walking down Tiger Walk, that’s a game. That’s going to take something out of them right there because of the energy and the crowd. Some of them have seen it; now they’re actually participating in it. So now you got to come in the locker room and gather all that emotion and now say, all right it’s time to put it in action. ... And then it’s walking on that field and you look up and see that upper deck and you’re like, 'Whoah.' And then all of a sudden that eagle come out, it’s a different perspective. It’s definitely something they’re going to have to overcome, but that’s the dream we all have is playing in the SEC in college football."


AUSome04 said...

Wow, what a great quote by Rocker. Damn AB you should win some sort of award or something.

Clint Richardson said...

Do the players get to watch the eagle fly or are they in the locker room when it takes off?

Andy Bitter said...

Yeah, Rocker's mistaken about that. The eagle comes out when the players are in the locker room.

Maybe they show it to them on a video.

Anonymous said...

My wife's a die hard bama fan, but when the eagle flew, she was pretty awestruck. Don't get to see that anywhere else but Auburn!

postermom said...

I read somewhere they fly the eagle every day as training, so maybe the players have gotten to see it when the stadium was otherwise empty. Of course as recruits they probably all saw it too. Andy, maybe you could ask them.

Andy Bitter said...

I'm sure the recruits saw the eagle fly on their visits.