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Monday, September 6, 2010

Late night practice notes: Safeties Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage rusty in return from injuries

While he was glad to see Zac Etheridge and Aairon Savage return to the field after suffering potential career-threatening injuries, Auburn safeties coach Tommy Thigpen didn’t necessarily think his seniors played that great Saturday.

“There was a lot of rust still on both of them,” Thigpen said candidly Monday. “I look for 200 percent improvement this week.”

Savage was back after missing the last two seasons with ACL and Achilles’ injuries. Etheridge returned after tearing ligaments in his neck and cracking a vertebrae in a scary injury last fall.

Although Savage had seven tackles and Etheridge four, Thigpen thinks there was definite room for improvement.

“Most of the things we got beat on were things with eye discipline and recognition of things,” Thigpen said. “I’ve challenged them to come in and watch more tape on their own and know their points inside and out. Not play outside their system, just play inside the call. Do what you’re supposed to.”

Etheridge missed a crucial tackle early in the third quarter, allowing Arkansas State’s Derek Lawson to score on an 8-yard run. He also got beat twice on deep passes.

“It goes back to the eye discipline,” Thigpen said. “It was nothing physical. What you’re looking at on the back end is really important. On one call, you might have to look in the backfield. On the next call, you can’t look in the backfield.

“He got caught peeping in the backfield and those are the reasons why we gave up two long passes.”

Thigpen had good things to say about junior Mike McNeil, who was returning from a broken leg that cost him all of 2009. McNeil finished with two tackles in limited playing time.

“I probably should have played Mike a lot more,” Thigpen said. “He played with that fire. Mike was playing with an edge. He was focused. He was in tune with that game.”

Thigpen said he'd also like to get walk-on Ikeem Means close to 25 snaps a game.

"That'll save us in the long run," he said.

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Here are some more notes and quotes from Monday's late interviews:
  • Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor sounded confident that wide receiver Trovon Reed will make his debut Thursday. The freshman has been dealing with a bruised knee cap. “He’ll play early in special teams and he’ll play early in the offense,” Taylor said.
  • Reed went to the ground as he made a play on a ball Monday. After some prodding from Taylor, he got back up. “He fell down and everybody was just waiting. I told him, 'Get up, clown! Ain't no time for that. Get up off the ground,'" Trooper said. "And he popped right up and kept on going.A lot of his is going to be mental, getting confidence back in that leg,” Taylor said. “But he looked good. On one leg he looked better than some on two, so I’m going to put him out there and see what he can do.”
  • Short exchange with running backs coach Curtis Luper about Mario Fannin's last carry, which ended with a fumble:
  • Reporter: Mario didn’t get a carry after the fumble. Coincidence?
  • Luper: No. No coincidence.
  • Reporter: Where does he stand now?
  • Luper: He’s fine.
  • Reporter: Is he still the No. 1 guy?
  • Luper: Yep.
  • (Crickets chirping)
  • Luper clarified later that it was no coincidence that Fannin didn't return the next series. But had the game been closer, Fannin would have gotten more work.
  • Instead, freshman Mike Dyer got in the game. He finished with 14 carries for 95 yards. “I think he knows he can play,’’ Luper said. “He already knew that. It was just confirmed on Saturday. If I known he had 95, I would have gotten him five more yards.”
  • Dyer also didn't fumble, which was a big plus for Luper. "He’s really strong. He’s compact and he’s strong, and he’s really conscientious of it. I’m glad they tried to take it from him. In the evolution of a running back, it’s generally the last thing they perfect. That, and pass protection."
  • Luper on FB Ladarious Phillips, who missed the opener with an ankle injury. "He’s moving around well," he said. "We’ll make some decisions about him. He’s progressing."
  • Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said he doesn't worry about getting in a shoot out with opposing teams. "Honestly, we just try to do what we do and try to score as many points as we can and try to help our team win, whatever that means," he said.
  • There will be cowbells Thursday. That is a fact. But Auburn does a lot of hand signals in from the sideline. So are the Tigers affected less by noise? "I think good crowd noise can affect either one," Malzahn said. "You have to have a simple system as far as your communication goes to deal with it. In this league, you're going to get great crowds everywhere you go. This will be our first road test with a new quarterback and so it will be important."
  • As we mentioned in yesterday's notebook, Thursday is a big day from a recruiting standpoint. "As a matter of fact, I've had a lot of recruits who have already called me this week and we're already starting the one phone call a week and I don't even mention the game," Taylor said. "They watched our game this Saturday and they said they noticed that we're going to be playing on Thursday. It's just any time you put yourself out there, exposure, it helps you. Especially on the national stage. That's what Auburn is accustomed to doing it. That's what we want to continue to do."
  • Thigpen said the recruits have especially noticed Newton. "Right now, I think they all want to play with Cam," he said. "Hopefully this week he'll have another one of those all-star performances."
  • Trooper would have liked for his receivers would have made some more plays on the ball Saturday but was still pleased, especially with the blocking on the perimeter. "I was proud of the lack of loafs," he said. "The guys played hard."
  • Trooper heaped some more praise on Quindarius Carr, who was a boon to the punt return game. "You've got to have a guy who can change it," he said. "The biggest deal is just making a play first. Q saved us first downs in the game. He averaged 10 yards per return. That changes field position and gives our offense chances to score. Big returns? That's icing on the cake. If he takes it to the house, we'll throw a house party for him. Just catching it -- for us, it was baby steps."

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