There was no rust this time.
A day after reporting to campus for weight-lifting and conditioning, the Tigers had a two-hour workout in shells at the school’s soccer complex, their first time on the practice field since Dec. 22.
“I thought it was a really, really good first day back,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “I really thought today was very energetic. I thought the focus was there. It was probably one of the better practices we’ve had so far.”
After winning the SEC championship game against South Carolina, Auburn had two weeks off before resuming practice, accumulating considerable rust during the downtime.
“You could tell we hadn’t practiced for two weeks,” safety Zac Etheridge said.
But the four days of practice the Tigers had before the holiday break got them back in the flow of the game. There was no adjustment period Tuesday.
“It really felt like we just got right back on track,” right guard Byron Isom said. “It was actually a different tempo at practice today. It wasn’t that sluggish, first-practice-back tempo.”
It was the first of five on-campus practices Auburn has before flying out to Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 3. The week will be a balancing act for the Tigers.
“We’re going to continue to have some physical days as we continue through this week for sure,” Chizik said. “That’s just the way we need to practice.
“Obviously, as we get closer to true game week it will turn into more of that. But right now, we need the physicality in practice. We need the high tempo, the fast pace in practice, so we need to keep on that pace. ...
"They need to be ready to play on the 10th. Anything before or after is not helpful.”
By the time Auburn and Oregon meet, 37 days will have passed since the Tigers’ last game. To put that in perspective, that’s longer than the entirety of Auburn’s spring drills last April and March.
“It’s a lot of time off, and you can get distracted by a lot of things,” Etheridge said. “But I think a lot of guys’ mindset will be right and we’ll be ready to play.”
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Not a great night for notes (well, other than the Malzahn news). Here are a few items, though:
- Chizik had nothing new to report on the academic front, saying there are still “a couple issues that we’re working through.” He declined to get into any specifics or mention names. Auburn’s last day of classes was Dec. 3, with final exams wrapping up Dec. 13. “If the roster changes at (any) point in time we’ll let you know,” he said.
- Chizik celebrated his 49th birthday Tuesday, although he declined to give reporters the scoop about how he planned to celebrate. Jokingly asked where the party was and if reporters were invited, Chizik didn’t bite. “It depends on how many of you brought gifts and where the party’s at,” he said.
- Bowl games are usually filled with fun activities, although when the BCS title is on the line, it's probably harder to do things of that nature. "I’m always into saying the same thing in terms of balancing working, doing your job and having fun," Chizik said. "This is the game of a lifetime. There’s no question there’s a lot at stake. In the same sense you have to give them a chance to enjoy the week, enjoy the fruits of their labor. There’s a fine line in there.”
- Is there SEC pride in the title game? Yup. "We definitely feel like we;re taking the SEC on our back into the national championship game," Isom said.
- Players had some good things to say about WR coach Trooper Taylor. "You can walk by his office anytime," Isom said. "If you don't come in and say something to him or sit down with him, he'll let you know about it. He wants to talk to you and spend time with everybody. He treats everybody equally."
- Etheridge's take on Trooper: "He's always excited. You hear him every day in practice. You know he's there. Every day he walks in, you know he's in the building."
- Is Trooper ever relaxed? "Never," Isom said. "I've never seen him subdued at all."
- Isom on QB Cam Newton's huddle presence: "In practice he does (joke around). In the games, once we have it pretty much squared away, he'll give you a little more joking out there. He's usually pretty much all-around focused on the job at hand. South Carolina game, we had a play where I had pulled out front. He had some words to say afterward. I remember us laughing. It was a good time."
- Isom said Newton isn't afraid to say what needs to be said. "If he feels, just like the coaches, we all expect production from everybody," Isom said. "You don't get to a point in this season without expecting everybody's best. If someone's no producing like we feel he should, (Cam) is definitely one to jump on him. It's all constructive."
- Players said Chizik wants the players to be aware that they're playing for the national championship, so he puts it out there. "Like coach Chiz said, just make sure you've got your mind set that you're playing for it," Etheridge said. "Don't let it hit you when you get to Arizona."
- We asked Kodi Burns to do his impersonations of Malzahn, Chizik and Co. He politely declined. "I'm not in the mood," he said. "But, yeah, I do do a good one."
- He did say Malzahn and Chizik are his best and that he doesn't shy away from doing them. "I'll do it in front of them," he said. "I really don’t care. (Malzahn) calls me Funny Man, as a joke, being sarcastic. I'm just that kind of person, so it really doesn't matter, whoever's watching."