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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Late night practice notes: Auburn looking for stronger effort in its lagging punting game

Auburn special teams coordinator Jay Boulware is mostly satisfied with how his many units have played this year.

The punting game is a notable exception.

The Tigers enter Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe ranked last in the SEC in net punting with a 34.8-yard average. They’re 82nd nationally.

Senior Ryan Shoemaker has handled all 16 of Auburn’s punts this year, averaging 38.9 yards. That’s nearly two yards less than Clinton Durst’s average last season.

“You’d like for a senior to be able to handle the responsibilities of punting, since he is a senior, he has played in games,” Boulware said. “He’s done some decent things, but obviously you don’t want him to just do what he’s supposed to do, which is get rid of the ball. You want him to do that and beyond.”

Auburn has another option on the roster. Steven Clark, a strong-legged, 6-foot-5 freshman from Kansas City, battled Shoemaker for the starting job up until the final week before the season. If he plays, he’ll lose his redshirt.

“That’s something that obviously we’ll keep evaluating,” Boulware said. “Steven’s a young kid that’s got a lot of ability. There are some things that he needs to continue to work on as well.”

(Quick blog plugs: Twitter and Facebook. I'll also be doing my regular live chat tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT. The link will be up tomorrow.)

And now for some more quotes and notes from today's interviews:
  • Place-kicker Wes Byrum uncharacteristically missed a pair of field goals against South Carolina, coming up short on a 52-yarder before hitting the right upright on a 23-yarder early in the fourth quarter. The senior, who was 16 of 17 on field goals last year, has missed three of his last five attempts. “Wes has been going through a number of other things that nobody knows about,” Boulware said, declining to give further specifics. “Obviously that field goal is inexcusable from our standpoint. ... And I think that field goal has really gotten his attention in terms of trying to work himself through those things. We’re hoping that we’ll see last year’s Wes come through.”
  • Boulware, commenting specifically on that 23-yard miss: "You should never miss a 23-yard field goal. Ever. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever. Ever. That's the type of thing that you're supposed to be able to close your eyes and swing and make.We didn't execute that one. He actually hit it really good, to be honest with you. His aim was off, which is very unusual for Wes, which you guys know."
  • Head coach Gene Chizik said he couldn't think of any freshmen who have not played who might. "Off the top of my head, no," he said. (I'm guessing Clark could be an exception.)
  • Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said Trovon Reed (knee) looks better but has not been able to go full speed in practice. The freshman will need to during today’s practice if he is to play against ULM.
  • If Reed is unable to get to full speed, he could apply for a medical hardship waiver, which would allow him to redshirt even though he played in one game already. NCAA rules allow for that if a football player has participated in three games or less and not in the second-half of the season. "I don’t want to go there," Chizik said, when asked about the possibility. "Obviously, he’s had some injuries we’re trying to tend to, but again, we’ll play it by ear and see how it unfolds."
  • Running back Mario Fannin practiced without the shoulder harness he’s worn since injuring his left shoulder against Mississippi State. “He looks healed,” Taylor said. “He looks better.” Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor thinks Fannin shoulder affected him on the fumble. He wasn't able to bring his free hand over the top to protect it. Apparently removing the harness allows him to do that easier.
  • Chizik said fullback Ladarious Phillips (ankle) hasn’t been able to do anything more at practice. Phillips, a freshman, hasn’t played this year.
  • Taylor said freshman WR Antonio Goodwin (wrist) might have a bigger role this week, both on special teams and as a receiver.
  • Trooper said Travante Stallworth (knee) did better this week. He's no longer practicing in a brace after having ACL surgery last year. "He actually did pretty good," Taylor said. "I teased him I was going to take that brace off his knee and put it on his neck if he dropped another ball. But he’s doing a lot better.”
  • Trooper did not think Philip Pierre-Louis (knee) would be ready. "That was a tough injury, and he probably came back sooner than he should have," he said.
  • It's a big ball security week for Auburn after it fumbled three times against South Carolina, losing two. Even Mike Dyer, who had not fumbled yet, put one on the ground. "We don’t think it’s a chronic problem, but we want to make sure we nip in the bud," running backs coach Curtis Luper said. "He was elevated – off his feet – and the ball was exposed to the defense. He naturally has good ball security."
  • Luper would prefer not to see Dyer in that position again. "I like him to be on the ground – both feet ... on ... the ... ground."
  • Hey, Eric Smith fumbled too. Here's why: "We lead with our shoulders," Luper said. "We don’t lead with our head or our front, we lead with the shoulder, and that in turn, protects the ball because you keep the ball on the side instead of bringing the ball to the front. Eric had the ball in front. He – and we – were very fortunate on that one."
  • Luper thinks Onterio McCalebb has improved since a disappointing first few weeks. "My expectations – and our expectations – for him are high, and he didn’t come close the first couple of weeks," Luper said. "He’s added that dimension that we need, speed on the perimeter. He’s a good complement to Mike and Cam, and we need that to keep defenses honest."
  • Luper said McCalebb occasionally needs to slow himself down. "That’s him, because he’s a mile a minute, and a lot of times his feet are out from under him before he knows it," Luper said. "He tries to go too fast. I just want him to slow down a little bit initially and on his cuts."
  • Fannin, by the way, has been working all over the place, "just like he always does," Luper said. Hold on a second. I don't believe that was the company line all offseason. He tried to sneak that one past us. I'm guessing Luper would like to take back his "Mario will rush for 1,000 yards: book it" promise from the spring.
  • Luper would like Fannin back in the offense, though. He's a threat. "He always has a role out on the perimeter for us and at tailback," he said. "It’s just a matter of health for him. We need to get him back 100 percent so he can get some confidence back, and, hopefully, we can get him in the game this week and get him going and get him in the flow so he can get some of his confidence back and we can get it back in him."
  • Add Taylor to the list of coaches impressed Emory Blake's effort on a screen pass touchdown. "I told him we don’t have a drill for that, kind of made me look bad, that kind of one-legged kickback to the side a little bit," Taylor said. "But we had talked about him getting close to the end zone and not scoring and if ya’ll remember we threw the bubble earlier and the guy tackled him by one foot and so when he got to the sideline, he got an earful. He was not going to hear that again, so he got to the end zone."
  • As for Trooper designating Blake the "No. 3 receiver," he said it doesn't necessarily work that way. "We really don’t have it based off numbers that way, it’s really based off what’s open," he said. "With Mario’s shoulder being what it is, we wanted to put Emory in position to catch some bubbles that normally Mario would be the guy. But it’s not based off we’ve got to get him so many touches, it’s based off the defense putting one guy inside the box and not putting a guy on top of him. We’ve got to take what they give us."
  • South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gave Auburn offensive line coach Jeff Grimes a compliment earlier this week, saying "I don't know who their line coach is, but he's a hell of a coach." Grimes' response? "Yeah, I need to send Coach Spurrier a check, I believe."
  • Grimes, usually a tough critic, was impressed by the play of Auburn's line. "Normally when I watch a game in person then I come back and watch it on tape, if I thought we didn’t play very good, it’s usually not quite as bad as I thought," he said. "If I thought we played really well, it’s usually not quite as good as I thought. It’s usually somewhere in between. But the last two weeks have been the opposite of that. Seeing the Clemson game in person, I knew we didn’t play real well but when I watched it on film, it was even worse than I thought. The South Carolina game, I knew we did a good job or we wouldn’t have been able to do some of the things that we did, but when I went back and really looked at it in detail and saw how hard the guys actually played and how physical they were, I was even more impressed. Really, really pleased with their effort."
  • Grimes liked RT Brandon Mosley's effort Saturday. He said it's been tough on him, losing out on the job initially and the moving to the left side as a backup for a few weeks. "When guys are competing for a starting job and they don’t get it, typically they go in one of two directions,' Grimes said. "They’ll either go downhill because their focus wanes or they lose motivation. Or they’re driven to do even better. Some cases it helps them get better because the pressure’s off a little bit. I think both of those things happened with him. The pressure was off, and he had an opportunity to just focus on improving as a player. And he was hungry. He wasn’t just going to sit back there and take it. He focused on getting better every day. Really what he’s done the past couple of weeks has prepared him for this opportunity. It really wasn’t just that he did a great job last week in practice. He did. It was a culmination of what he’s done for a while.”
  • Apparently John Sullen tweaked a leg last week that kept him out for a little bit of practice. You have to think that plays a factor in him not getting the starting gig.
  • Safety Zac Etheridge and Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott were nominated for the 2010 Courage Award, which is given to a player or team that displays courage on or off the field. You've heard the story before. After Etheridge suffered his serious neck injury last year, Scott lay motionless underneath him while medical personnel came to the field. Etheridge was cleared medically this summer and has returned to action, starting all four of Auburn’s games. His 24 tackles are tied for second on the team.


Tar Heel Tiger said...

Fantastic report, AB. I inhaled it all. I.e., it's all in.

Scott M. Brannan said...

ALL IN? where have i heard that before?

nice work as always. hope Mario can get it going. he's a nice kid. i really want to see him have some success this year.

Moose said...

One thing I can criticize about this coaching staff is how they handle injuries. A lot of the times when Andy or someone finally wrestles SOME information from a coach, it turns out to be untrue.

Trooper Taylor was gushing over PPL's performance this spring and how his knee was great and he was going to do this and that. Same thing with Reed. I'm not sure who to point a finger at. All the coaches or just Trooper.

BTW, Great job Andy. Thanks so much for all of your hard work.

StalkThenPounce said...

I didn't hear Spurrier's comment about the line coach but I'm curious if we know for sure he was referring to the OL coach vs. the DL coach as both played really well on Saturday.

Andy Bitter said...

Spurrier was talking about Grimes.