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Monday, April 12, 2010

Full practice notes: Injuries thrust sophomore left guard John Sullen into prominent role

AUBURN, Ala. — Knee injuries to two players thrust Auburn’s John Sullen into the mix at left guard this spring, giving the sophomore a chance to work with the first team.

Although he remains a work in progress, Sullen has made the most of the opportunity.

“I’ve seen flashes and we’ve seen evidence that he’s got a chance to help us down the road,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “He’s just got to continue to improve.”

Sullen, a local product from Auburn High, had an up-and-down first year. He showed up to school overweight, maxing out over 350 pounds, but worked hard to slim down.

Despite being green, he was called upon to start against Ball State when guard Byron Isom was suspended. He fared OK, but was nonetheless replaced by Bart Eddins against Tennessee the next week, relegated to mostly special teams play the rest of the season.

But with starter Mike Berry and Eddins, a senior, sitting out this spring because of knee injuries, Sullen has stepped in.

“He’s been playing much harder and more physical, playing with more effort,” offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said. “A lot of that is just due to having more confidence after having been threw a fall and knowing the system.”

As has been the case since he got to Auburn, Sullen has worked on getting his weight down, playing this spring at 323 pounds.

“He was in much better condition than he was in the fall,” Grimes said. “In the fall he did not come in in great shape. He was overweight. He’s in much better position now in terms of just being able to play hard.”

Here are some other notes and quotes. Oh, and if you'd like, follow the blog on Twitter. The blog would appreciate it.
  • For three years, Anthony Gulley waited for paperwork to be processed that would allow him to be called Anthony Gulley-Morgan. It’s a nod to Matthew and Deborah Morgan, the Brantley, Ala., couple that became his legal guardians several years ago. The forms finally went through recently, thus the hyphenated name this spring. “I’ve been living with this family since I was real small,” he said. “They took me in. I went to church with them. It was my decision. I wanted to change my name because I felt part of the family. I wanted to thank them for all the stuff they did for me.”
  • Gulley-Morgan, who played receiver and cornerback his freshman year, has played exclusively on defense this spring in order to give the Tigers some needed depth in the secondary. He played some defense at Brantley High, so it’s not a foreign concept to him. “As I play it more I’m starting to like it better than offense,” he said.
  • Quarterbacks have not gone live this spring, meaning defenders aren’t allowed to hit them or take them to the ground. It means linebacker Josh Bynes hasn’t had to tackle Cam Newton, who, at 6-foot-6, 247 pounds, is a load to get to the ground. “I know he’s a big guy with nice size, but shoot, I’m big too,” Bynes joked. “I ain’t little. So he’s got to go down just like every other player I take down.” Bynes withheld judgment of Newton before he arrived on campus, not wanting to buy into the Internet hype. Consider Bynes impressed so far. “He’s competitive. He likes to get after it,” Bynes said. “He’s letting things come to him rather than let things happen.”
  • Bynes said he's seen a lot of improvement out of sophomore linebacker Jonathan Evans, who was rushed into action as a true freshman due to depth issues. Although wide-eyed, he started the finale against Alabama and made eight tackles. He's continued to progress this offseason. "As far as from last year to this spring, it's a whole different player," Bynes said. "He's settled. He's getting after it. He's a lot more physical. He's going after linemen, he's getting off blocks, he's making plays. He's faster than a lot of people think he is. He's got a little speed on him. This whole spring he's gotten a lot better and a lot faster. He calmed himself down and is just learning it and actually going out there and doing it."
  • Evans is the younger brother of former Auburn linebacker Chris Evans. How are they different? Bynes said Chris was "way intelligent," quickly clarifying that he didn't mean Jonathan was not. "His brother was like a whiz, it was outstanding," Bynes said. "He was like a quarterback out there, for real." Bynes thinks Jonathan will get there eventually. "He's not there yet," Bynes said. "But soon with enough experience, he'll get there."
  • The A-Day game will be televised by ESPNU. Does being on national television make things different for the players? "It'll make the stakes a little higher," running back Mario Fannin said. "Nobody wants to get embarrassed on national TV so I think it will be a lot of fun."
  • Chizik didn't seem to think that anything would change. "We're going to just run our offense, run our defense," he said. "How exotic we'll get with anything? Everyone has really seen us on film. Everybody knows what we do. We just got to do it better than we did last year. We'll open things up on both sides of the ball and, again, try to have a good scrimmage. The fact that we'll have a lot of recruits there and will be on TV, that won't necessarily change what we're trying to accomplish."
  • We asked several players who they thought would be the A-Day MVP. Onterio McCalebb went with himself. "Every time I step into the stadium, it feels like a game to me," he said. "I get excited. There will be a whole bunch of fans. I take it as a game -- I have to go out there and do what I have to do."
  • Linebacker Eltoro Freeman and safety Mike McNeil continue to be scratched from interview lists this spring, begging the question: is that an indication of something this spring? "I don't what you want to read into," Chizik said. "I don't know if you should or shouldn't but they both need to step it up."
  • Freeman has worked as Bynes' backup at middle linebacker this spring, which is kind of shocking, considering he started last year on the outside. "We really want to get some consistency out of him," Chizik said. "Just develop him as a player all around. Last year he came in, he was hurt and injured and we know the ups and downs he went through. We were trying to level out spring practice in terms of making it a very smooth situation for him and getting some consistency in football from him. I think he's working in that direction. I don't think there's any question that he's got a better feel for it. But overall, that's what we're looking for him, more of a consistent player."


Anonymous said...

"The fact that we'll have a lot of recruits there and will be on TV, that won't necessarily change what we're trying to college."

Ummm, WHAT? I ain't tried to 'college' anybody in a long time. It was pretty fun when I did though.

AUsome04 said...

Andy, I remember reading on Fannin's TD score he juked Mike McNeil. Through reports it seemed that at least A. Carter and Demond Washington were on the field at the same time. Doesn't that make it seem as if McNeil's playing with the ones?