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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Late night notes: DT Nick Fairley drawing comparisons to his coach, Tracy Rocker

Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley has gotten off to such a good start, leading the SEC in sacks and tackles for a loss, that he’s drawn some lofty comparisons.

“I’ve been in this league a long time, and he looks like some of the old Auburn defensive players — similar to his coach, (Tracy) Rocker,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “He is doing an unbelievable job.”

Fairley, a 6-foot-5, 298-pound junior, has put up impressive stats, with five sacks and 11.5 tackles through five games, but he has a ways to go to catch his line coach.

Rocker, an all-time Auburn great, was a two-time All-American and won the 1988 Outland and Lombardi Trophies. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

Does Rocker think Fairley compares to his younger self?

“Ahh, naw. Nick is a hell of a lot better,” he said, showing a good deal of modesty and holding back a smile. “He’s just so athletic.”

Rocker thinks the upcoming weeks will be important in Fairley’s development.

“People are going to start sliding protection to you, they’re going to start doubling you more, they’re going to start chip blocks,” Rocker said. “Now, can you go out there every day and still defeat those blocks and make plays and play within the structure of the defense?

“I’ve been in situations where guys have gotten frustrated and all of a sudden they start doing their own thing and here we go. That ain’t what we want.”

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Then read these other notes and quotes from Wednesday's post-practice interviews:
  • It hasn’t been good for your health to be a quarterback against Auburn this year. Clemson’s Kyle Parker injured his back after a hard hit. South Carolina’s Stephen Garcia left after being knocked woozy. Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning took a number of shots. Rocker said that’s not the Tigers’ goal. “I’m not asking them to go out there and can we knock the guy out,” he said. “Our job is to pressure the quarterback, sack the quarterback and contain the quarterback. After that, do your job, stop the run and keep things in front of us.”
  • Asked if, as a defensive lineman, he enjoyed hitting the quarterback, Rocker gave an honest response. “Still want to,” he said with a laugh. “Everyone wants to hit the guy who doesn’t get hit in practice. But I structure our defenses to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. After that, whatever hits we can get, we’ll take them.”
  • Dee Ford got to start last week in place of Antoine Carter, who was nicked up and took the day off. Rocker said he's challenged Ford. "I kind of question how physical he wants to be," h e said. "And that's something he has to fight himself. I can demand it, but he has to get over it. And he's getting over that phase of being a physical defensive end."
  • Defensive end Corey Lemonier has been solid so far, making eight tackles, three TFLs and two sacks as a backup rush end. Rocker thinks he's done a good job of shedding the label of being a pass-rushing specialist. "After the recruitment, he's labeled as the sack guy," Rocker said. "Well, the thing is, to make sacks you have to stop the run. And that's my selling point to him. I said you're going to learn how to play the run, and then after that, once we create the situation for you to go get the quarterback, they're there. And he's getting better at that. And he has the tendency to over-analyze plays. And that's typical of any young freshman. He cares a whole lot and this is important to him."
  • Rocker said his plan has been to use a rotation at one of the defensive tackle spots, using Zach Clayton mostly in passing situations and Mike Blanc on passing downs. The specialties suit them well. Clayton has nine tackles and 4.5 TFLs. Blanc has 15 tackles and a half sack. Although Clayton is technically the starter, they've come out almost even in the number of snaps they've played.
  • Backup quarterback Barrett Trotter has practiced, despite a knee injury he suffered at the end of the Louisiana-Monroe game. Head coach Gene Chizik wouldn’t commit to whether or not Trotter would be available. “We’re going to keep monitoring him as the rest of the week unfolds,” Chizik said. Trotter, who is integral in relaying in the play calls, will travel regardless.
  • Junior Derek Winter hasn’t caught many passes in his career (seven, to be exact), but wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor thinks that might work in Auburn’s favor. “When he’s open, he’ll be wide open,” Taylor said. “That’s the good thing. Sometimes defenses won’t cover those guys because they hadn’t had very many balls thrown to them. When he does catch one, it ought to be a big shot for us.”
  • Winter will replace Jay Wisner, who left the team early last week for personal reasons. He’ll try to replicate the dirty work that Wisner used to do, like “having to go dig a linebacker out or take on a guy that weighs 30 pounds more than you and run him down hill,” Taylor said. “The biggest deal is he’s smart enough to get lined up where he’s supposed to be in a lot of different formations and know what he’s supposed to do once he gets there."
  • Emory Blake has been the biggest breakout at receiver this year, with seven catches for 173 yards and three touchdowns, including a record-setting 94-yarder against ULM. Trooper attributes it to a growing comfort in the offense. "I'll tell you the thing I'm impressed with is you never have to tell him twice," Taylor said. "You tell him one time, and he's going to go out there and do it the way you coached it or showed him on tape or talked about it in the meeting. He's one of those rare kids who can take it from the board and take it right to the field."
  • Trooper has been especially impressed with Blake's knack for looking a catch all the way into his hands. "Matter of fact, when we watch seven-on-seven, I freeze the tape and (the receivers are) like, 'We already know, coach,'" Trooper said. "It's almost become a joke in the room about him looking the ball in."
  • Is last year's midseason slump a distant memory? Yes, Taylor said. " I think what's happening is that we've been together longer, so it's better not only for the coaching staff, but the players," he said. "There's no substitute for experience. It's a more experienced team. Last year we were really trying to figure out what we type of team we had. Now we know them, they know us, they know what's expected. Everybody's been on the same page."
  • A reporter mentioned to Chizik that offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn seemed to take last year's Kentucky, when the offense struggled mightily, game pretty hard. Chizik didn't find it odd at all. "I hope all our coaches take it personally," he said.
  • Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said the secondary has stressed making tackles in space the last few weeks. With the defensive line being so effective on inside runs, many teams are trying to bounce things to the outside. "We’ve been making a real big emphasis on knowing where your help is at, knowing the approach on a guy, knowing how to approach him, when to break down and when to take a shot," Thigpen said.
  • Thigpen said getting the young safeties like Ikeem Means, Ryan Smith and Demetruce McNeal some reps has been important, especially with Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage in their final years of eligibility. "Ain’t no use in saving them," he said. "Let those young guys get some reps as far as playing in front of those 90,000, make sure they don’t get out in front of that crowd and choke. We’re going to keep trying to find some ways to get those guys in."
  • Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb get a lot of attention for Kentucky -- and rightfully so -- but Thipgen thinks 6-foot-5 wideout Chris Matthews should get some recognition as well. The senior (aka "No. 8) has 19 catches for 287 yards and five touchdowns this year. "The kid No. 8, he’s got to be right up there with A.J. Green," Thigpen said. "Nobody ever mentions this kid, but he’s 6-foot-5. (Cobb) is their go-to guy, but when they need the first down, they’re going to go to 18 or No. 8 ... For us, there’s a lot of emphasis on stopping (Locke and Cobb), but we’re also not going to fall asleep on No. 8."
  • Thipgen said the reason Cobb is hard to stop is that he catches so many underneath routes. "They make it hard," he said. "What they do is it’s almost the same system with the Colts where (Marvin) Harrison would catch those underneath routes and run, where guys have to tackle him in space. That’s what 18 does best. He can get in front of a linebacker, he can walk it up the sideline – we call it 'tight-roping.' He is as good as anybody we’ve seen in space. They try to get those mismatches with him on the run, with linebackers or with safeties in open space. It’s a tremendous challenge for guys to make sure they’ve got eyes on the quarterback as well as on the receivers."


Clint Richardson said...

Has Cam said or been asked anything about his first career punt? I think thats one area where Chris Todd has him.

Tar Heel Tiger said...

Great work, as always, AB. Thanks!

Jess said...

Ditto what THT said. AUsome read! I really enjoy reading these in-depth explainations and analysis from our assistants.