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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Late night practice notes: Nick Fairley not dirty, Jeffrey Whitaker says, just 'a beast'

Auburn defensive lineman Jeffrey Whitaker was watching ESPN’s SportsNation when he saw something about fellow tackle Nick Fairley being a dirty player.

He begs to differ.

“Nick is like one of the most cool, calm, collect dudes you could meet,” Whitaker said. “That’s why it’s funny. It’s like, dirty? No. That’s not right the right word to describe Nick.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to block out what they say and keep playing.”

Fairley, a Lombardi and Nagurski finalist, in addition to being one of 15 players in contention for Walter Camp player of the year honors, leads the SEC with 18 tackles for a loss and is second with 7.5 sacks.

But he’s come under scrutiny lately for a number of questionable hits against Georgia that led the Bulldogs to speak to the SEC office.

On one play, Fairley speared quarterback Aaron Murray in the back with the crown of his helmet well after he released the ball. Fairley was flagged for roughing the passer.

In the final minutes, Fairley was partially blocked into the knee of Murray, knocking him out of the game. Georgia’s players took exception to the hit and went after Fairley on the next play, causing several scuffles.

Georgia raised concerns to the SEC, which said the matter is being handled internally between the conference and Auburn. No suspension has been handed down.

Fairley was not made available for comment Wednesday.

Asked about Fairley’s reputation for questionable hits during Wednesday’s teleconference, head coach Gene Chizik said he didn’t know how people refer to the lineman.

“I know that certainly no one teaches that,” Chizik said. “He’s a very try-hard guy. He plays with great effort and great passion for the game. And certainly nobody would have any intent to do anything other than the right things in any game.”

Asked about Fairley, Whitaker had a strong opinion about what type of player his teammate is: “He’s a beast.”

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Here are some other notes and quotes from Wednesday's interviews:
  • Reserve defensive linemen Michael Goggans and Mike Blanc were both ejected for throwing punches during skirmishes at the end of the Georgia game. NCAA rules say they must sit out the first half of the Iron Bowl as well. That could put Auburn in a bind against Alabama, which averages 177.2 rushing yards per game thanks to the running back duo of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. “Anytime you play such a physical football team like we’re getting ready to play, you need all hands on deck,” Chizik said. "But our young guys have got to step in there. They’ve played in a lot of games, played a lot of snaps. They’ve played in a lot of physical games in this league, so I don’t think it’s going to be a lot of difference in that regard, but it’s still going to be an extremely physical game as we know. Like I said, the young guys will have to step up.”
  • It could mean a bigger role for reserves like Whitaker, fellow freshmen Kenneth Carter and Corey Lemonier and sophomore Dee Ford, who have worked into the rotation. “I just feel, hey, this is what I was recruited for,” Whitaker said. “I talked to Blanc after the game and he was just telling me how important it was to step it up. And he felt like he shouldn’t make the move like that and regretted it, but at the same time it’s time to step it up.”
  • Pretty cutting words from CB T'Sharvan Bell about the fights near the end. "I was trying to be smart. I knew what was at stake," he said. "I knew what they were trying to get us to do at that point in the game. It's being smart. Goggans has to be a better teammate, a better player at that point."
  • T-Bell is a former high school quarterback. He said he doesn't know what the big deal is about quarterbacks getting hit. "I got hit after the play, handing the ball," he said. "It's part of the game. When you get back there at quarterback, that's what you sign up for."
  • Auburn got back on the field Wednesday with a full-padded practice after three full days away form the complex. It was a welcome break for a team that had gone for 15 straight weeks, including August practice. “We needed it bad,” cornerback Demond Washington said. “Just having a week off to get our bodies back together.”
  • Auburn’s coaches realize the break can be a mixed bag, especially for a team that’s been on a hot streak like the Tigers. “Sometimes you have a week off and you play great and you say, ‘Boy that was great,’” Chizik said. “And sometimes you come back and have a week off and you play terrible and you say, ‘Boy that really hurt us.’ I don’t know. I think it came at the right time for us. We came off a very physical game with Georgia, and having gone that many weeks in a row, the time was right.”
  • Chizik thinks Auburn's slow start against Georgia can be contributed to being too hyped. "I think that was a little bit of a lesson learned," he said. "We haven’t quite been that way all year. I think we’ve been focused and we’ve been ready to play. I think we’ll take those lessons and hopefully be excited to play, have energy and passion for the game but also play smarter and with a little more self control.”
  • If the Tigers were that hyped for the Georgia, how can they expect to settle down for Alabama. "There's a learning process, too," Bell said. "If we go into Georgia and we see on film and coaches tell us: Hey, you were too high. You were playing with great energy, but you weren't focused. Now going into Alabama, it's going to be a completely different environment. We'll be able to come down from it and play within."
  • Does that mean they'll ask WR coach Trooper Taylor to stop waving a towel? "We'll let Trooper do what he do," Bell said. "But we know in our heads that we've got to be on a certain level to be able to play where we need to play."
  • Quick take from Trooper on offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn: "It's like working with Harry Potter. You never know what you're going to get. The guy will take the salt and the pepper and we're eating lunch and he's drawing up plays with it. And I'm like, 'Coach, I just want to eat my sandwich.' But he's really particular on details. He understands the game and he has an answer for what he sees on tape. For me, just being around the guy, the way he approaches game day, the way that he goes about a game plan, has been really remarkable to watch. He'll call a play based on what's happening with the defense before they're even really lined up, because in that certain area of the field, 90 percent of the time they're lined up that way. And that's impressive to me. To memorize that and be able to have on the top of his head is really impressive.
  • Taylor said Gus' sharpness comes through preparation: "We do more walkthroughs than anybody in America, I promise you that, to the point where the guys will say they're probably get a little burned out on it. But we know what to do."
  • Chizik doesn't think he'll bring up the last two Iron Bowls much as motivation. "The history is certainly going to be there, but we’re focused on the here and now and the players they have now and what they are doing now," he said.
  • T-Bell confirmed he had a partially torn hamstring that kept him out for three games. He he'll still get treatment three times a day until the season is over.
  • He said he and Auburn's other cornerbacks worked in and out against Georgia WR A.J. Green, who torched the Tigers in the first quarter. "They just came to us and said somebody has to step up and make plays," Bell said. Auburn eventually figured something out about Green. He only had one catch in the fourth quarter.
  • Bell compared and contrasted Green and Alabama WR Julio Jones. He said Jones is more physical, especially at the line of scrimmage. He said Green is shiftier. "He goes along with you, but when it gets to the time to go get the ball he's a different animal," Bell said.
  • The punting battle between Ryan Shoemaker and Steven Clark will continue this week. Shoemaker got the nod against Georgia after Clark held the job for several weeks. "Both of them have been better in practice," Chizik said. "Both had some good punts."
  • Center Ryan Pugh thinks Auburn's different running styles make it hard to defend. "We try to stretch the field and then we try to pound it inside a lot," he said. "I think you've seen over the past couple of games that there's teams that are trying to figure it out and there's some teams that have caught on to it more than others. But it's not something that you're going to start defending in one week. The misdirection, that's who we are as an offense."
  • Pugh doesn't think Auburn's misdirection running game is gimmicky. "Whether people want to say it's gimmicky or not, that's who we are," he said. "I don't think the people we play against would say we're gimmicky. They might want to, but I don't think they would."
  • Pugh said it didn't hit him immediately that he had played his last snap at Jordan-Hare Stadium. "They were reviewing it and we were standing out there on the field about to kick the extra point and Neil (Caudle) came up to me and said, 'Hey, you know this is going to be the last play you ever play on this field,'" Pugh said. "The last play score a touchdown, go out like that, that's got to be something you remember forever."
  • Pugh on the Iron Bowl: "It's the biggest game of the year every year whether you're 11-0 or 0-11."
  • He said it's hard to describe the rivalry to someone. You have to experience it. "It's something that it becomes a part of you after you play in the game one time or you pull up to Tuscaloosa and they get off the bus in Auburn," he said. "People don't understand it until you're on the way to the game on Friday and traffic's backed up all the way down 59 to 459."
  • Whitaker said he got a good idea of the Iron Bowl's intensity last year during a recruiting visit. "As I saw it, it was just a game against Alabama. And they called it the Iron Bowl," he said. "I didn't know why, so this was my first time knowing it was the Iron Bowl. I knew all that week just being a recruit it was just, 'Beat 'Bama. Go Auburn.' It was just constantly. Because it's not like that at Georgia and Georgia Tech. It was like, Georgia's going to win it every year. That's how it is in Georgia. But from what I've been hearing and what I know is that it is a personal game. It's one of those games where if you win, you can carry it on your back the whole year. So you're either going to be like, man, I'm going to be talked to the whole year."


Clint Richardson said...

Did you type Kenneth Carter? Is that a mistype cause I haven't heard that name this year? I am probably wrong, but that just hit me. Haven't seen a K.Carter on the field so far.

Good job as always AB. Thank you man.

Clint Richardson said...

Hmm. Just looked at the roster and there is a Kenneth Carter! AB, has he not played a whole lot?

Andy Bitter said...

He hasn't played a lot. But he and Whitaker are the next defensive tackles in line after Fairley, Blanc and Clayton.

I can imagine Fairley and Clayton will get A LOT of snaps in the first half of the Iron Bowl, however, despite what the coaches say outwardly in the lead up.

Justin said...

Nice pic choice AB. Fairley crushing a Mississippi State player is the just what we'd like to see right about now. You do care.

Andy Bitter said...

I picked it because I already used all the other Fairley photos recently.

Justin said...

Ah. Well. MSU still isn't on my good side. haha

friedrice said...

AB thanks for some real AU news and not all this other hoopla

AUsome04 said...

'Hey, you know this is going to be the last play you ever play on this field,'" Pugh said. "The last play score a touchdown, go out like that, that's got to be something you remember forever."

AUsome. That's the kind of great reporting I like AB. You know,... ala pre-CamGate, lol. Great job!