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Monday, November 22, 2010

Pre-practice notes: Nothing new on Newton; teammates impressed with QB's attitude

Gene Chizik bristled when asked about quarterback Cam Newton's status heading into the Iron Bowl, resorting to a stock answer that's become a common refrain the last two weeks.

“I’m not talking about Cameron Newton unless it has something to do with the first 11 games and his performance in those games," Chizik said.

There was nothing new at Monday's press conference about Newton's status, which has come into question amid allegations that his father engaged in talks about a pay-for-play plan during the quarterback's recruitment last year to Mississippi State.

The NCAA is looking into the allegations. Auburn has not been accused on wrongdoing, and Newton has remained eligible throughout the process.

The quarterback has not been made available to the media since Nov. 9, the Tuesday before the Georgia game.

Teammates say the distractions haven't bothered Newton in his preparation for Friday's Iron Bowl.

"I'm more proud of him for how he's been handling everything off the field," tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said. "I don't know what that kid's going through. He's just done a good job of maintaining it.

"He's handling it just like another week of football, and not letting anything from the outside get into his head. He's a strong kid, strong Christian, real good leader. He's just turned to the lord a lot through all this and the truth will set you free."

"Cam's always going to be Cam," wide receiver Emory Blake said. "He hasn't changed at all to me."

Chizik, who did comment on Newton's on-the-field exploits, continues to be impressed by his quarterback's development.

"That’s a dream for a coach to watch a kid continue to improve and become not just a great player within your football team and obviously within the offense, but take on the leadership role," Chizik said. "He has just gotten better in so many ways, his role within in the team and he has brought up the competition."

On Monday, Newton was named one of three finalists for the Davey O'Brien Award, given to the top quarterback nationally. Boise State's Kellen Moore and Stanford's Andrew Luck are also up for the award.

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And read some more early notes and quotes:
  • DT Nick Fairley was also off limits to the media, despite being requested for the last week. Obviously, there's interest in hearing his response to other teams accusing him of being a dirty player. Here's Chizik's reasoning behind who gets approved for interviews: "We have different reasons why different guys can talk to the media or not, and that’s really at the discretion of myself for lots of different reasons, and we really don’t go into the reasons of why they do and why they don’t. If they’re not, then I can assure you, there’s usually a really good reason.”
  • LB Craig Stevens commented on Fairley's play: "Nick's very intense. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played, from snap to whistle. That's how we play it. He plays the game the way it's supposed to be played down there on the d-line. It gets dirty down there. That's how it is."
  • Stevens called the Alabama RB duo of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson the best Auburn has faced this year. The Tigers did a good job of shutting them down last year. "I just remember as a defense all of us we're flying around to the ball," Stevens said. "That's what it all comes down to slowing those guys down. You've got to get a lot of hats to the ball to bring those guys down."
  • DT Zach Clayton was asked if he expects more snaps with Mike Blanc out for the first half following his ejection against Georgia: "Yeah, but I’m in real good shape so I’m not worried about it," he said.
  • Since I butchered the stat from the SEC West in the earlier blog post, I'll put it again. The top-five teams in the SEC West are 34-1 when facing teams not from that group. “This is one of the years where it’s brutal to survive in the West," Chizik said. "It’s just really tough. It has always been really tough, and I think everybody has always known that. Everybody understands that. I think this year might be the best it has been in some time."
  • Lutzenkirchen wore a neck bar behind his helmet for the first time against Georgia after suffering an injury earlier this year. "It's not a fashion thing," he said. "It looks pretty ridiculous."
  • PK Wes Byrum said he normally gets more pace on the onside kicks where he taps the ball and runs to recover it himself. He tapped a light one against Georgia and had to wait for it to go 10 yards. "I have full confidence in the guys next to me that were going to go take care of (the other team)," Byrum said. "They know that I'm going for the ball. They know I'm not paying any attention to anything else other than making sure I get the ball. It's just my confidence in them. I don't even worry about it or think about it."
  • Byrum on his future successor, Cody Parkey: "He’s farther along than when I got here. I think he’s going to do real well."
  • Byrum thinks the senior class has been through a lot. "It’s been a long road for us," he said. "We’ve had coaching changes, different things happen, a year without going to a bowl game. We’ve lost and we’ve won. I think with the size of our senior class, and how many have played and been through all of that together, it’s special for the chemistry of the team and how we’re doing now."
  • RB Mike Dyer said he knew Bo Jackson was at the Georgia game, but that it was a surprise when the school's all-time rushing leader came up to him on the sideline to offer congratulations after Dyer broke his freshman single-season school rushing record. "Once I saw him, it was one of those moments where I was pretty impressed," Dyer said. "He was just saying, ‘I’m really proud of you and the team, with all you’ve accomplished. I’m here to support y'all, and I’m just glad to be back at Auburn.’ His presence there, everyone enjoys when he’s around. It was just one of those things where we were really happy about that night.”
  • Expect a physical, draining Iron Bowl, Lutzenkirchen said: "It should be another one of those physical, got-to-get-after-it type of games. Those are the games where when it's all said and done, if you come out with a 'W', you feel relieved and you don't have much left to you."
  • WR Kodi Burns, on being an outsider to the rivalry: "I've learned a lot since I've been here about this rivalry. It's pretty big. Being from Arkansas, I kinda didn't realize it until I got here. All those guys on the team from Alabama, I pretty much owe it to them."
  • How long did it take Stevens, a Florida native, to grasp the intensity of the rivalry? "One snap," he said. "That's all it takes."
  • Is practice different this week, considering the opponent? "I’ve definitely seen a difference in practice," Dyer said. "There’s more intensity and more picking up the pace and more showing, ‘Hey. This is what you need to do and how you need to do it.' There’s not more, ‘Oh, I forgot.’ Or ‘I didn’t know what we were doing.’ It’s more serious mode, so everybody tries to stay focused.”
  • Stevens on what it's like going into Bryant-Denny Stadium: "It's hectic. You've got the fans once you're coming out the tunnel, they're screaming at you, cussing at you, just doing anything to try to get into your head. Some of them even throw things at you. But you have to try not to let it get to you. You have to try to stay focused on the game."
  • Dyer on how much is riding on the Iron Bowl: "It’s one of those games where if we win, it’s like everything we did was really worth it. If we lose, it’s like I don’t really know if 11-0, 10-0, 9-0 is really that big of a deal."

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