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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Late night practice notes: Darvin Adams coming around on returning punts

Darvin Adams didn’t sound thrilled about returning punts in the preseason, but he’s come around on the idea.

Adams, a receiver by trade, got his first taste of punt return in a game Saturday against Chattanooga, replacing Quindarius Carr and taking his only return back for 11 yards.

“I’ll do anything to help the team out,” Adams said.

Carr has held the job all year, but he’s averaged only 6.4 yards per return in 18 opportunities. Although he was able to pounce on a muffed punt in the first quarter against the Mocs, the coaching staff took note.

“We’ve got to be more effective catching the football,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “When we’re doing a nice job of holding the coverage up, we’ve got to get more yards. And that’s been really a point of emphasis. We’ve got to make the first and second guy miss. And then we also dropped a ball yesterday, which is unacceptable.”

Chizik said both Adams and Carr will work at the position this week.

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Lots of stuff to cover tonight. Let's get to it.

  • Nothing really new about Cam Newton today. He was off limits for interviews, although that's been the case the last couple Sundays. I'd expect him to be there Tuesday. One new bit of information was Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen commenting on the issue to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. Here's his statement, lumping himself in with the MSU athletic department and former QB John Bond: "We did everything exactly the right way and exactly like how we should carry ourselves in the NCAA and, to be honest with you, I haven’t thought of the Cam Newton situation since December when it was reported to the people that know,” Mullen said. “The truth of the situation is, the people that need to know the truth, know the truth.”
  • My main story in tomorrow's newspaper is about how Auburn's senior class has never beaten Georgia (a four-game losing streak going back to 2005). “That’s all you hear about when you go home,” said right guard Byron Isom, who is from Jonesboro, Ga. “Definitely a point of emphasis.”
  • The rivalry is close. Auburn leads the Deep South's oldest rivalry 53-52-8. After 113 meetings, the teams are separated by only 56 points. “I think that as we go on during the week that the younger guys will get a better picture of what this rivalry is and has been over the years and what it’s meant,” Chizik said. “It’s just a great rivalry. It’s what college football is all about.”
  • Lots of questions tonight about how far this team's come in the last two years. This group was 5-5 at this point in 2008, with its offense a mess and its coach on the hot seat. "It's definitely amazing," Isom said. "It's just a blessing from up above. Two years ago if you would have told somebody that we'd be in the position we're in right now, they would have called you crazy. And to be here, you've just got to bask in the glory and rise to the challenge."
  • Although he caught two touchdown passes, Adams wasn’t exempt from wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor’s ire after a sure scoring catch bounced off his helmet in the first quarter against the Mocs. “He doesn’t like dropped balls at all,” Adams said. “I don’t care who it is. We can be watching film and somebody on the other team will drop a ball, and he’s like, ‘What is he doing?’ He’s big on that.” Technically, Adams said it wasn’t a drop because it didn’t hit his hands (he lost it in the sun at the last second). He did admit to a drop later on an out route, his second this year.
  • Auburn’s punters struggled again Saturday. Freshman starter Steven Clark shanked one that went 19 yards. Senior Ryan Shoemaker hit a low punt that got to 37 yards on a roll. “To me right now, I’m not very happy with my punters. Period,” Chizik said. The Tigers are 11th in the SEC and 96th nationally in net punting (33.8 yards). “As long as they’re sporadic in what they’re doing, then (the competition) is always open,” Chizik said. “I don’t feel like we’ve improved in that area in a while.”
  • Lots of injury roundup stuff:
  • Chizik said cornerback T’Sharvan Bell (hamstring) remains day-to-day. Bell hasn’t played since the Arkansas game four weeks ago. “It would be nice if we could get him back,” Chizik said. “He would help.”
  • Chizik put linebacker Daren Bates (shoulder) in the same boat. Bates has missed the last two games after landing awkwardly on his right shoulder trying to make a tackle against LSU. “We’ll know more at the end of the week,” Chizik said.
  • Cornerback Neiko Thorpe said the bulky brace he’s worn on his injured left arm for the last few weeks won’t keep him out of any action. “My legs still work so I feel I can play,” he said.
  • Linebacker Eltoro Freeman said he’s 100 percent back from an ab strain that hindered him in the middle of October. He made a game-high eight tackles against Chattanooga. “I thought he did a good job,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “Now the challenge is to play better this week.”
  • Freshman linebacker Jessel Curry wasn’t at the game Saturday. Chizik said he’s “banged up.”
  • Chizik thinks Georgia's deep passing game will be a major focus. "They’re going to challenge you a minimum of six times during the game going deep," he said. (A.J. Green is) not the only one. Obviously he’s a huge weapon, and he’s a force for their offense."
  • Safety Zac Etheridge on what makes Green so good: "When you watch him on film, you can tell he’s a great receiver. He knows how to use his hands and he’s got great control of his body. He plays the game right with the ball in his hands. He’s a playmaker. So we’ve got to find ways to cover him and keep him in front of us."
  • Auburn has faced some good receivers already this year (Alshon Jeffery, Greg Childs, Randall Cobb, Joe Adams, Chris Matthews). Has it prepared the secondary for what it will face in Green? "I think we know what to expect," Roof said. "I don't think knowing what to expect is going to be the problem. Stopping it is another issue. We've played against some great ones. A.J. Green is one of the best in America."
  • Etheridge said one of the best ways to get in a receiver's head it to make a big hit early. "Any time I get a chance to get a hit on somebody, 4’s going to fly around and get a hit and let them know I’m there early," he said. "And I’ll be there all night.”
  • Thorpe had a rough afternoon against Arkansas, but he thinks he's grown since then. "I did take the Arkansas game as kind of a little steppingstone just to push forward and do more little things better and just look at myself more, what I was doing," he said.
  • Roof, on stopping the long passes. "It seems like everybody's got at least one of those 6-4 guys who run like gazelles and can jump and take the ball away from you and things of that nature," he said. "Pass rush … it's always critical. One of their big things is that they throw the football down the field. They take vertical shots in the passing game. The best way to combat that is pass rush."
  • Green is good, but Roof has seen a lot of growth out of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray too. "He's very much mature beyond the games he's started there," Roof said. "Last four SEC games, they've scored over 30 points. They're hitting on all cylinders right now. They have a lot of ability and a lot of talented guys … and a guy who is delivering the ball to them. He's a guy that's got some mobility to him as well when guys do get covered -- on the rare occasion they do get covered."
  • DT Nick Fairley described the secondary and defensive line as having a symbiotic relationship. "We put our trust in our cornerbacks that they can get the job done," he said. "Just like they put trust in us to limit the time they have to throw the ball to them, help them out.”
  • Roof said not to forget about Georgia's running game. "When it comes crunch time, they run the football," he said.
  • Chizik thinks the Bulldogs have worked the kinks out of their new 3-4 defense under Todd Grantham. "Boy, they've really settled down," he said. "They've played very disciplined. They're playing very physical. They're playing really fast right now."
  • Auburn hasn't faced any full-time 3-4 defenses this year (some teams have given it looks). "It presents a lot of scheme recognition difficulties," Isom said. "Just identifying numbers and position, whether it's a linebacker or a defensive end, it really messes up your scheme. But it just comes down to focus and preparation."
  • We just can't seem to move on from the "physical challenge" that Chizik made to the offensive line before the South Carolina game. But Isom had a good quote about it, so here it is: "There's two different ways you can respond to that. You can either pout about it and be sad or whatever and have a sad face and a bad body language. But we took pride in it and embraced it. We understood that he expected a lot more out of us and we expected a lot more out of ourselves. It's a reality check."
  • Fun fact about Chizik: If he can beat Georgia, his record at Auburn will be 19-5. He, of course, went 5-19 at Iowa State.
  • Auburn played 72 players against Chattanooga. "It was great to reward those guys with playing time who do what some people thinks are thankless job," Roof said. "Their roles are really important. Everybody's role is important. It was good to see those guys get reward -- some guys who may never get to do it again, but get to go out there and see what it feels like. It's one of the reasons why they do that, why they sacrifice so much to be a part of it."
  • RB Mario Fannin had 96 yards on eight carries against Chattanooga, scoring two touchdowns. He's tried to get the coaching staff's trust back after his last fumble at a crucial time against LSU. Fannin said he knows other teams are ripping at the ball now. "I talked to some of my old friends that play on teams we’ve played already and they tell me that’s what their coach told them to do," he said. "If you’re a corner or a safety, you’d rather go for the ball than get hit, anyway. You’ve just got to be more conscious of it."
  • Isom said the team has Fannin's back throughout his fumbling ordeal. "He's really not one to get down on himself," Isom said. "As a team and as an offense, we really just get behind him and we know what he's capable of. And he's capable of making it happen at any time, so it's really just a team effort of getting behind him and making sure he stays confident."
  • Auburn remains a national championship contender, although it has tried to block those thoughts out. "You think about it," Etheridge said. "A lot of guys on the team, we think about it. But to this point, we always took one game at a time. That’s always what we looked at. Right now we don’t know if we’re going to Atlanta. We’ve got to beat Georgia to clinch it. So right now Georgia’s our focus, and we have to go take care of them."

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