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Friday, December 31, 2010

Practice notes: Stallworth gets short but sweet Christmas visit from Army sergeant major father

Five months from now, Auburn wide receiver Travante Stallworth hopes to have his father, James, a 24-year Army veteran, back stateside for good.

In the interim, Stallworth, a redshirt freshman who went to high school in Leesville, La., had to settle for a brief visit from his father this Christmas, one that unfortunately won't carry through Auburn's BCS title game against Oregon.

"I’m kind of used to it now," Stallworth said. "It’s really no big deal. It’s kind of tough for my mom, because, like I said, she’s there all by herself.

"But he’s doing well over there. He really doesn’t talk about it all that much. Overall, it’s been good over there. It’s really kind of calmed down. So I’m happy about that.”

James, a sergeant major, has made three trips before, most recently doing infantry operations in Iraq. His latest tour, which might be his last, started in August. He and his son still find time to talk, doing video chats every few days.

"He asks about football and sometimes we get a little off football and talk about life and stuff too," Stallworth said.

James also watches Auburn's game online, even though his son hasn't played this year. Stallworth is taking a redshirt year after having ACL surgery last season.

"It's not really frustrating, because I know my body and the coaches could tell that everything wasn’t right," he said. "I understand that they want me to be full-speed out there playing. I don’t want to go out there limping around and not being able to help the team with the ability I know I have.”

He'll still traveling with the team to Glendale, Ariz., for the BCS national title game against Oregon. James, who heads back overseas Jan. 6, plans to tune in, even though it's 11 hours ahead.

"He’ll be up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning sometimes watching, even though he has work," Stallworth said. "He just loves to see us play.”

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Here are some more notes and quotes from today's interviews. Enjoy them. They're the last until Sunday, when we only get head coach Gene Chizik. Then the team flies to Arizona:
  • LB Craig Stevens had a cast on his left wrist. He said he injured it against Alabama and re-aggravated it in the SEC title game against South Carolina. He might have to wear something against Oregon, but he'll definitely play. "They're trying to get it to heal," he said. "You know, wrists move all the time. So they don't want me to move it."
  • Rocker said he glanced at a picture of Nick Fairley smiling in a celebration photo from the Outback Bowl last year and laughed to himself. "I'm like, wow," he said. "No one really knew. No one knew what would Nick be."
  • Rocker said the transformation started in the spring, when Fairley was so good at getting his assignments down that he began telling other people where to line up. The MSU game, where he had a pick, was the moment he lights came on. "After that I got out of coaching," Rocker said. "I was just trying to make sure he showed up at the game. But I'm proud he's evolved from last year. The biggest thing is, like I keep telling him, it's not what we did in 2010, it's what we do in 2011."
  • Did Rocker see it coming? "You think they all have the potential," he said. "You just try to make sure they all can perform at their best. That's probably between him and I where I see it, but I'm like, it's in you. Now we've got to find a way to get it out of you. Now you may not like the way we're going to get it out of you, but I think that's the most important part is you want someone to be their best, and him and I, we've bickered and went back and forth, but that's part of it. That's my job is to get the best out of you."
  • Fairley recently signed up for Twitter (@Nick_Fairley251). After a little over a day of near non-stop tweeting, the Lombardi Award winner already had 4,000 followers, quickly closing in on team leader Zac Etheridge (@Z_Etheridge4), who has close to 6,000 followers. Asked about it, Rocker didn’t have much to contribute. “I don’t know nothing about no Twitter,” he said. “You got me on that one. I’m simple. A caveman.”
  • The NFL draft isn't in Fairley's mind, Rocker said. "That's not an issue," he said. "He is all about this game. And that would take care of itself when the time is appropriate. But we're more concerned about this situation, but that hasn't been an issue. It's not going to be an issue. But he's been great about the whole deal and he's more concerned about Auburn being successful."
  • Rocker has seen some strong progress from DE Corey Lemonier, a freshman All-SEC selection. "I think he's gained the confidence that now he can play SEC football," he said. "When the first month of practice and then the second month of practice, the conversation was, 'Coach, I'm not making the plays I made in high school.' And I'm like, you're not in high school anymore. You're in college. It's a big difference. So for him, every week he's gained confidence and playing. It's been an enjoyment to watch him grow."
  • FB/DL Ladarious Phillips continues to get looks on both sides of the ball. "I think he's going to help our team on either side," Rocker said. "But I'll be the first one. I won't turn him down."
  • I'll just let CB coach Philip Lolley give a run down of Oregon's offense and get out of the way: "They put a tremendous amount of pressure. The main thing that you see with those guys, and we’ve looked at every ball game, people are running free. They do that because of the offense that they’re running. They’re very, very well coached. They do a tremendous job of attacking you diagonally, vertically, the whole bit. The option keeps you honest. They run it every conceivable way that you could possibly run an option. They run it from all different sets, all different types of motion. And if you try to get the extra guy to put on the quarterback and their pitch, course they’ve got their quick-throws in and they’ve got play-action where they’re running right by people because you’ve got to get the secondary involved. The secondary has to be involved to stop the run in the situation. You don’t have enough. So you have to get the quarterback and the pitch covered along with the great tailback that everybody knows about up inside. Out there, you better have your ducks in a row, as they say, or you’re going to get in trouble."
  • Lolley said WR Philip Pierre-Louis was mimicking Oregon RB LaMichael James on the scout team before getting hurt. Now its walk-on Patrick Lymon.
  • Lolley has been in Alabama forever, making this game all the more special. "Personally it means a whole lot because being raised in this state, to win a championship and it’s been since '57, this is the first time I know that we’ve had the chance since I’ve been here to play for this," he said. "We’ve had some great football teams here and there’s been several teams that didn’t have the opportunity to and that we felt that we were the best, but they didn’t get a chance to prove that. So it’s not like we’re just playing for this team, you know? I mean it’s for all the Auburn Family."
  • Even Lolley is a little surprised how quickly Auburn got to this game. "We had some great football teams when coach (Tommy) Tuberville was here, too," he said. "I said, `I’m going to come back on coach Chizik’s staff and we’re going to get this done.’ I was anticipating that three would be fine, but we need to get it four. In four, we need to have a shot to make this run. I never questioned that we’d be good every year, but to have a shot at this, you’d think it would take a little longer. You think it’s going to take two to three good years of recruiting to beat the people in this conference, and then to have a chance to do this. We’re way ahead."
  • Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who didn't really want to talk about the Maryland job, was much more eager to talk about Oregon's defense and the odd front it throws at you. "They're not ever going to be in the same place," he said. "They're never going to be still. They're going to be moving. They do try to confuse you with their schemes. They play a lot of odd-front. They come at you from different angles. They do some very unique things." He said it's somewhat similar to what Mississippi State and a couple other SEC defenses did to the Tigers this year.
  • Malzahn was highly complimentary of his senior-dominated offensive line. "I really believe this one of the best offensive lines in the country," he said. "We live and die by running the football. People know we're going to run the football. Those guys up front have done an outstanding job and they're a big reason why we're where we are today."
  • Former Auburn head coach Pat Dye was named to the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl Hall of Fame induction class Friday, along with former Purdue and NFL cornerback Rod Woodson. They will be honored in a pre-game ceremony tonight. Dye who went 99-39-4 and won four SEC titles at Auburn, led the Tigers to the 1990 Peach Bowl (now Chick-fil-A). Auburn beat Indiana 27-23 at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium that year. Established in 2002, the Chick-fil-A Hall of Fame honors former players, coaches and contributors who had a significant impact on the bowl. It has 29 members.
  • Auburn has walkthroughs Saturday morning and will practice one more time Sunday before departing for Glendale, Ariz., on Monday. The Tigers’ first on-site practice for the BCS title game is Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at Scottsdale Community College.

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