Phillips, a fullback who redshirted this year after suffering an ankle injury on the eve of the season, got a look as a defensive lineman Tuesday at practice, with an eye on the future, not the BCS national title game.
“He moved around,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “He may be on both sides of the ball. We got a look at everybody today. You’ve got to help the team.
“He may end up back up on offense, but we looked at him on defense today. He made a play, but he’s got a long way to go.”
Phillips was a load to take down as a running back at Handley High in Roanoke, Ala., finishing with 2,982 yards and 49 touchdowns in his prep career. That’s where the Tigers originally planned for him to help this year, before an ankle injury set him on a course to redshirt.
But he also played defensive line in high school, a position of need for Auburn next season. Tackles Mike Blanc and Zach Clayton both graduate and All-American Nick Fairley is likely to throw his name into the NFL Draft pool a year early.
“He looks like a real defensive lineman now,” Rocker said. “I like him as a player and I think he’s going to be a good player on either side of the ball. I feel good about it.”
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Here are more notes and quotes from Tuesday night's interviews:
- Auburn had a two-hour workout at the soccer complex Tuesday night. It was the second straight day the team went in full pads. "Today’s practice was actually better than the first couple,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor. “I think it took a little while. I know everybody talks about rust but you have to get back out there and get into the swing of things. We were back on pace, getting it where we want it. Today was a lot similar or closer to a game. Guys were flying around and they were really attentive.”
- Auburn's older players still get flashback to practicing on the intramural fields when they go across the street to the soccer complex. Former coach Tommy Tuberville used to hold two-a-days over there. "I used to hate those days on that intramural fields," linebacker Craig Stevens said. "Two-a-days, no shade, potholes. Killing me.”
- Trooper said the biggest challenge is keeping players on the ball during the long layoff. "I think the biggest thing is that the team that manages the decision-making between now and then, whose guys will be on the team by the time you get to the bowl game, who's not going to be on the bottom of that ticker," he said. "Who's going to make sure they're making good choices when they're at home and not here with us. Things like that. I think that's going to be the big difference. And it may be how much an offensive lineman eats when he's not around you. Obviously coach (Jeff) Grimes is on top of them every day, but when they go home for Christmas, who's really going to push away from that turkey or from that pie? You have to make sure that your decision making, your choices, is something that's going to help us win this championship. If you're not doing that, you're probably setting us back."
- Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen is incredibly impressed by Oregon's offense. He separately referred to the Ducks' speed, running game, quarterback athleticism, perimeter running, passing and fast-paced offense as being as good as Auburn will see this year. The pace really stands out. "You're gassed," he said. "They run you, they run you, they run you, then all of a sudden you're eyes start looking in the backfield and then guys are running down the field wide open. You see that every week."
- As a result, conditioning will be a focus. Rocker said it always is. "The deal up front is we condition year around," he said. "We’ve been conditioning since the beginning of the season so for us it’s nothing new. When I walk out there they all know what we’re going to do. It’s nothing new to them. It’s just making sure that at the speed of the game – at their pace –it’s going to be important that we get lined up. If we can get lined up, we can play. If out there running around with our heads cut off, it could be ugly.
- Thigpen on Oregon RB LaMichael James: "One minute there's a hole about that small, and then he slices right through it. He don't need much space. This guy can be full speed going on the zone, what we call the outside zone, he puts the breaks on and be vertical, and be zero to 100 in three steps."
- Thigpen on Ducks QB Darron Thomas: "It'll create a lot of different challenges for us because do you hold, when you're playing that edge, do you lose him on contain, do you play him on the zone. It's a nightmare to try to defend him. Then he sits back and throws as good of a ball as you're going to see."
- That's not to overlook Oregon's defense, which gets lots in the shuffle with the offensive fireworks the Ducks put up. "The first word is athletic. They're not on the ground," Taylor said. "Their secondary's as athletic as anybody I've ever seen, because they've got speed. They can make up ground. They may make you think you're open and the next thing you know they've closed. ... You'd better not tip a ball up in the air against this team. It will be picked off.
- Rocker said freshman DE Justin Delaine got some looks Tuesday as well. Delaine redshirted this year.
- Taylor said WR Trovon Reed (knee) hasn't practiced since suffering a knee injury that's kept him out for all but two plays this year. Because he hasn't practiced and was injured so early in the season, Reed is eligible for a medical redshirt. Auburn would need to petition the NCAA to get the year back.
- More than one person has now identified senior WR Kodi Burns as being the best at doing impressions of coaches. "He's really good. It's sickening," Taylor said. "He's got the (Gus) Malzahn, and you would think it was Gus if you just close your eyes and listen. He's got coach Chizik, and I'm sure he's got me too. If you've got a role on this team ... The best one he probably does is Yox (strength coach Kevin Yoxall). He doesn't want Yox to find out. Sorry, Kodi. No, he's really good. His personality brings a lot to our meeting room. He's fun to be around. He also understands when it's time to work, it's time to work."
- Talked turned to superstitions today. Lots of players have them. "Not as bad as (Lee) Ziemba," left guard Mike Berry said. "He even gets superstitious with other people. If you tell him you did something before a game and we got a win, you've got to do the same thing around him the next week. It's the worst case I've ever seen."
- But Trooper said there is a big-time superstition that goes on with running backs coach Curtis Luper and his pants before every game. He declined to give specifics. Any theories out there for what it could be?
- Berry was asked to rank the top Cam Newton plays this year: he said the Ole Miss touchdown catch, the weaving touchdown run against LSU and the Superman dive into the end zone against South Carolina.
- Berry said he watched the Heisman ceremony on TV. "Grimes sent me a text right after that was like: You'll forever be a big part of the Heisman," Berry said. "It was cool. I think he very much deserved it. Being able to help him achieve that is a big deal."
- Berry said the offensive linemen are good enough friends, but he doesn't go out hunting like Ziemba and center Ryan Pugh. "Noooo. I don't do woods," Berry said. "Neither does Ice (Byron Isom). It's not like I'm the biggest city guy. They're going out there at 4 o'clock in the morning and they wash their clothes in this non-scented stuff. That's too much. Then they said they get up in trees. I don't do heights. That's not me."
- A broken ankle suffered against Arkansas on Oct. 16 ended safety Aairon Savage’s career. The sixth-year senior had battled back from ACL and Achilles’ injuries, but a third round of rehab proved to be too much. “He says, ‘Coach, it’s not the surgery that gets me, it’s the rehab that’s killing me,’” Thigpen said. “And if you’ve ever gone through one rehab, from an ACL to a Achilles’, most guys would understand that going through one is challenging, two is almost impossible and the third one we all understand.”
- Savage has stayed with the team, however, helping out on the sidelines when he can. He’s talked about being a coach in the future, something Thigpen said he has “a passion” for. “He’s still getting the joy of being on the sideline and knowing he contributed to where we are right now,” Thigpen said.
- Oregon’s Chip Kelly edged BCS title game counterpart Gene Chizik for Associated Press Coach of the Year honors Tuesday. Kelly, Oregon’s second-year coach, received 24 of 55 first-place votes. Chizik was second with 17. Kelly, whose Ducks went 12-0 this season, has already been named the recipient of the Eddie Robinson, Sporting News and Walter Camp national coach of the year awards.
- Auburn’s players already picked out their gifts for the bowl game. They chose from a list of items that each had an assigned point value. Their merchandise was capped at eight points. Berry picked out a sound bar for his TV (5 points) and a new iHome (3 points). “Eight was a (PlayStation) 3. I’ve already got one of those,” he said. “The HD camera, too. It was real nice, but it’s just a camera.”Stevens went with the PS3. “Just used all my points on that one,” he said. “I figured it was worth it.” A reporter jokingly asked if there was a Lamborghini on the list. “Lamborghini? I ain’t see that,” he said. “Must have been 20 points.”
- Stevens is from Tallahassee, Fla. He'll be heading back there soon for Christmas break, and probably will talk a little junk to his friends. "Yeah," he said. "I’m going to wear all my (Auburn) stuff when I go back this time.”
- Before he left, Stevens, Trooper and special teams coach Jay Boulware all made reference to "Craigin'." It's in reference to how Stevens stood out in a drill. "Just 2-gap and drive, just manhandling somebody," Stevens said. "That’s Craigin’.”