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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Auburn in a bind with thin group of safeties

AUBURN, Ala. — Zac Etheridge’s season-ending neck injury puts Auburn in a bind at safety.

“It’s rather slim, but we will get creative to put the best guys out there that give us the best chance to win,” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. “We obviously have to work through some things in the next couple days to figure out what that is. We’ll explore all the options.”

Sophomore Mike Slade and redshirt freshman T’Sharvan Bell are the primary candidates to take Etheridge’s place as a starter alongside freshman Daren Bates.

Slade replaced Etheridge in the base defense Saturday and finished with three tackles, although Chizik said he performed “adequately.”

Bell, who moved from corner to safety in August, hasn’t gotten much playing time this year.

“He’s an intelligent football player who hasn’t played a whole lot, so there’s some uncertainty there as far as the experience factor,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “As you make your stretch run, you’d rather be putting in experienced (players), but that’s where we are.”

Auburn has been hit hard in the secondary since the spring. Projected starter Mike McNeil broke his leg during an April scrimmage and hasn’t played this year. Chizik said he is not an option at this point.

Sophomore Christian Thompson was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons during the summer. Senior Aairon Savage tore his Achilles’ heel in July and sophomore Drew Cole has missed the last seven games since suffering an ankle injury against Mississippi State.

Sophomore D’Antoine Hood, a former Central-Phenix standout, worked some at safety in August but will remain at corner for now.

Roof didn’t rule out trying Demond Washington at safety, even though the junior college transfer has made strides as the Tigers’ third cornerback.

“We’ll talk about a lot of things,” Roof said. “It’s our responsibly as coaches to get our best players on the field.”

Follow the blog on Twitter. Then read these other notes
  • Running back Onterio McCalebb (ankle) didn’t play against Ole Miss last Saturday and there’s no guarantee he’ll play next week. Chizik said he gave the freshman a chance to rest a nagging right ankle injury that’s bothered him since the Ball State game Sept. 26. “We’ve got to get him healthy, 100 percent,” Chizik said. “And obviously he’s got a different speed than a lot of guys, and he’s not the same guy without that speed, without being able to make those cuts.”
  • Mario Fannin replaced McCalebb as the backup tailback, getting six carries for 35 yards. Freshman receiver Travante Stallworth took McCalebb’s spot as the speed sweep option in the Wildcat formation, carrying it twice for 22 yards. Chizik didn’t say whether or not McCalebb would sit out this week against Furman. “I don’t know what we’ll do,” he said. “We’ll play that day-by-day. But that’s sort of a possibility.”
  • Stallworth has been working as McCalebb's backup as the sweep option in the Wildcat ever since Anthony Gulley got injured against Tennessee. "In high school I used to run quarterback and we ran the ball a lot," he said. "So that's pretty natural for me."
  • Asked why Auburn received a delay of game penalty in the third quarter for snapping the ball before the officials had put it in play, Chizik steered clear of saying anything. “I’m not going to comment on any of the officiating,” he said. The SEC took a hard stance after a series of complaints from Tennessee’s Lane Kiffin, Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino following controversial calls the past few weeks. The league office tightened up its policy, threatening coaches with suspensions and fines if they criticize officials publicly. Chizik merely confirmed that it was a delay of game call Sunday. When asked if he got an explanation for the penalty, he offered little else. “It was a delay of the game call,” he repeated.
  • Quarterback Chris Todd on the delay penalty: "It's an unfortunate deal. There are a couple guys you're looking at. There's a guy over the ball and the referee behind you. It's something where they're wanting for us to wait until they blow the whistle, so it's just, you have to have good communication with those guys and what they're expecting us to do. And obviously we want to get up there and get it snapped pretty quick and we need to get that worked out. And we did after that, but it's just an unfortunate situation in the game. Some people call it a little bit differently from game to game."
  • And running back Ben Tate had a funny comment about it after the game that I didn't see in the transcriptions until today: "He was backing up away from the ball. Normally when he's backs away from the ball, we can snap. He did that. He said he didn't blow the whistle. I told him: 'Then you shouldn't have walked away from the ball.'"
  • Todd said he's gaining confidence in wide receiver Terrell Zachery, who went up to make two catches on long pass plays Saturday. "Anytime a guy can step up and make big plays in a game that’s obviously crucial," Todd said. "Not only my confidence in that person being able to throw to them, but them looking for somebody. You know the coaches are looking for people who are able to make plays in a game. When it gets to crunch time they’re looking for who I can get the ball to to make a play for us and he’s been able to do that. Some other guys have made some really nice plays as well but, in particular, he’s done a really nice job and called some plays for him and he’s made some big ones."
  • Todd's not the fastest player on the field, but he showed some moves Saturday. On one play he scrambled for a 10-yard gain. "I think that anytime you can add a little wrinkle and be able to keep defenses honest in some certain areas, I think that's important," he said. "And we've been able to add different wrinkles throughout the season and I think that's just another thing that we can add to help out with some certain things."
  • Todd said teammates don't hesitate to rag on him about his running skills when they're watching film. "It's actually a wide variety of things," he said, laughing. "Some people are excited that I'm running. Some people think I look goofy. Some people ... it's really depending on the day and what it looks like, what they're going to say. But I think for the most part when you're doing different things in the game to help out the team people are excited about that."
  • LB Eltoro Freeman had a big gaffe early in the game on a pass to a running back out of the backfield, but he didn't let it eat him up. "I think that's a big deal and I think that was a major major step for him yesterday because in the past when he would make a mistake he'd really get down on himself," Roof said. "Part of it is growing up and understanding that we're all going to make mistakes, but it's not if you make them, it's how you handle them. And being able to learn from it and put it behind you, I think he took a major step yesterday in that process and I was real pleased and really proud with him."
  • Roof had a funny comment when somebody asked which play it was, mentioning the pass to the running back on the first drive specifically. "I really don't like to get into specifics on mistakes, but ..." Roof said, before pausing and sitting stone-faced for a few seconds, telling us that that was indeed the play. "We like to accentuate the positives and the response, not the mistake."
  • Five-star running back Marcus Lattimore visited the Plains this weekend, according to Auburn’s three major recruiting Web sites. The 6-foot, 210-pound running back from Byrnes High in Duncan, S.C., is ranked the No. 1 running back in the nation by Scout.com and No. 2 by Rivals. He has future visits scheduled with Penn State and Oregon, according to AuburnSports.com, but said he probably won’t make his decision known until Signing Day.
  • Roof, on playing Furman: "It's a football game we've got to win. To say that because it's outside the league it's less important, it's a football game we've got to win. So that's how we're going to prepare."

1 comment:

easyedwin said...

Here's to hoping we get an early lead and let the 2's and 3's play out the clock.