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April 4, 2011

Correcting mistakes; O line eager to improve

Monday's Auburn football practice served as a teaching day that corrected mistakes made in Saturday's full scrimmage.

According to head coach Gene Chizik, there were a lot of them.

"After evaluating the scrimmage, we had a lot of improvements that were visible for our guys to see," Chizik said. "So today, really, it was one of those days where we tried to circle back, get better at what we tried to accomplish in the scrimmage, which we did not get that done.

"Today I thought we made some more progress. I thought we moved forward today. Again, in the name of trying to offensively get a pace going, defensively being able to line up against a fast pace and still being able to play physically aggressive on defense, that's a challenge. But we're moving in the right direction. I feel good about that. I feel good about special teams continuing to move ahead. After evaluating, we know we've got a long way to go. But again, our guys are really doing a nice job of willing to work and press on."

Chizik said the offense had some explosive plays in the running game and in turn exposed a weakness on defense.

"Also missed a couple of explosive plays that were there that we really could have had some big hits on," Chizik said. "Missed a couple of those that you would have liked to had back. And also I felt like at time we ran the ball very effectively."

What Chizik saw out of the running backs' first group was promising.

"I thought we ran the ball the way we envision it being run," Chizik said, adding that the group hasn't arrived yet because it is inconsistent.

Defensively, Chizik was pleased with the team getting off the field in third downs, among other positives.

"I thought there was times when we were really playing aggressive and physical on the runs," Chizik said. "I thought our pass-rush at times, our four-man pass-rush, looked good. Obviously we have not arrived there either. I think we're making some strides there with our young defensive line."

A glaring area that needs improvement on defense is the inability to stop explosive plays.

"Last year, defensively, that was kind of our Achilles heel with big plays, certainly in the air," Chizik said.

To decide if a big play unfolded because of offensive talent or a defensive mistake, Chizik said it has to be examined individually.

"You just kind of assess each situation differently," Chizik said. "Again, when you're in a 100-some-odd-play scrimmage, you're going to have things happen on both sides. We had that.

"We could have moved on today to the next thing, but we weren't ready to do that because we've got to go back and clean some of those things up that we weren't very good at.

"It was encouraging in some regards. Conversely, it was something glaring you need to work on. It balances itself out."



O line needs work




Offensive line coach is practically starting from scratch this spring since he retained just two starters from last year's team.

However, one starter, A.J. Greene, lasted just three games before he was lost for the year with a severe leg break. The other, Greene's replacement Brandon Mosley, still doesn't have a full year of offensive lineman experience under his belt as his is a converted tight end and defensive lineman.

Although offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn recently described the offensive line as "ugly at times," Grimes said the players have the right attitude and want to improve.

"I've got a bunch of guys I think are very hungry to play," Grimes said. "I think they all recognize that they're going to have to work to earn a spot. I like the fact that early on these guys are buying in to trying to be a physical group."

However, their eagerness doesn't outweigh the lack of experience.

"What I'm not pleased with to this point is where we are technically," Grimes said. "We've got a long way to go before we're ready to play at very many positions. Even the guys who do have some experience have a long way to go.

"As a group, we've got a long, long way to go in terms of our technical development and know how, but it all starts with their attitude and effort and I'm pleased with that as a starting point."

Greene won the starting right tackle job last August after he got experience in just two games in three seasons at Auburn. The then-redshirt junior was thrilled about the chance to finally play alongside the veterans that were part of his signing class in 2007, but his season was cut short Sept. 18. Late in the fourth quarter of the Clemson game, Greene broke his left tibia and dislocated his ankle, and injury that required a metal plate and a dozen screws to repair.

Six months after the injury, Greene is back at the right tackle spot, while Mosley has moved to left tackle. Grimes said it's good to see Greene back on the field.

"It feels like a long time since he's been out there with us," Grimes said. "He's still not quite back to full speed and after you have that kind of injury it takes a little bit of time to get back to full speed and knock the rust off and kind of get your confidence back. But I think he's getting better each day and I think he'll be fine once we get back around to fall for sure."

As for center, players competing for the job include sophomore walk-on Blake Burgess, true freshman Reese Dismukes and, most recently, senior Jared Cooper. Cooper played in every game in 2010 mostly on special teams.

"At this point, there are so many different variables and spring ball is the chance to find out who can do what different things," Grimes said "At the end of the day, what you want to do is get you best five guys on the field and so sometimes you might have to move some guys around to make that happen, so I'm just trying to find out who can do what."

Dismukes could still be a senior at Alabama's Spanish Fort High School, but he opted to graduate early and go through Auburn's spring practice. According to Grimes, he is picking up the offense well.

"Really, really smart kid," Grimes said. "He came from a good high school system so he knows football. His knowledge of the game is at a really high level. Now it's learning how to do it and how to do it consistently. The pace is something that gets to young guys and it gets to him too a little bit, just being able to go out and run that many plays that fast. That's part of it for him right now, but he's learning every day and getting better."

Spring ball is now more than halfway through the schedule, but Grimes isn't ready to assemble a pecking order for his linemen.

"It would be ideal to. But I'm not going to do it just to do it," Grimes said. "It really doesn't matter to me. On the one hand it gives you a little bit of stability within the group. On the other hand, I like competition and I think competition makes everybody better. If there are couple spots that are still up in the air because the competition is too close to call, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing."



Quick-hitters




*** According to Chizik, the offense has not done any work with wildcat this spring. Yet.

"Right now we're trying to stay on a progression that will get us there," Chizik said. "We're not there yet."

*** According to starting quarterback candidate Clint Moseley, he and Barrett Trotter are still getting equal reps. Moseley said he is fully prepared for the competition to extend until fall camp.

"It could end up being the last day of fall camp," Moseley said. "It's a mindset. I just have to be prepared for anything. That's the biggest thing. If I have my mind set right and do all the small things right, I just feel like everything will take care of itself. If it takes to the end of fall camp or whenever it is or if I don't win it, I just have to be prepared for anything."

*** The team has not done any live kick returns yet, only live punts.

"We're really getting our kickoff return geared up where we can circle back and take a few live ones, hopefully," Chizik said. "That will be our goal. Don't know if we'll arrive there before the end of spring.

"But we'll continue all of spring with the hopes of finding a punt returner who can give us a weapon. We'll continue to cover those live."

*** The team will practice live punts on Wednesday.

*** The kicking game has had an overhaul with new place kicker Cody Parkey and several potential holders, including Ryan White, Trent Fisher and Chandler Brooks. Chizik described it as "a work in progress."

"At times it looks really good," Chizik said. "At times it doesn't. That's all about timing and getting the feel for the same person, over and over and over. Of course, Josh Harris does a great job snapping. We've just got to get the other two-thirds of that. We've got some live in that, and some not. We've got a ways to go in that, as well."

*** Chizik said the same of junior defensive back-turned-running back Anthony Morgan.

"He's got a lot of work to do," Chizik said "He's got a long way to go. But again, he's working everyday in that direction. Our expectations of him are very high. We expect him to jump in there and be a part of this offense. So he's got a long way to go to get there, but that's our expectation of him."

*** Two more players got the "work in progress" description: Defensive linemen Jamar Travis and Derrick Lykes.

"Long way to go," Chizik said. "We just have to keep plugging along."

*** Philip Lutzenkirchen has shown coaches what he can do at tight end and H-back. Now he's moved to Trooper Taylor's group working as a receiver.

"It's always good to get out there in the slot like I've kind of been doing my whole life," Lutzenkirchen said. "Just get back out there, get my feet underneath me and try to run routes and stuff. It's been good. Just glad to be back out there."

Lutzenkirchen admitted that it hasn't been a completely smooth transition back to receiver.

"I kind of have a different body from when I was younger and used to do that," Lutzenkirchen said. "It takes a little more to get all this weight going. But I think it'll continue to get more natural as we work at it."

*** Lutzenkirchen said he is seeing good things from Trotter this spring and is learning what Moseley has to offer.

"Barrett's thrown one of the nicest balls since we've been here," Lutzenkirchen said. "I always thought Barrett threw really nice balls. We've kind of known what he can do, and it's been real fun to see what Clint can do. Because both of them are just competing with each other. Once Clint kind of got his confidence back, I think the sky's the limit for him, because he was a phenomenal quarterback in high school - I think he won three or four state championships - like I said, with him it's always been kind of in his head. Once he gets confidence, he knows what he can do."

*** This year will mark the sixth consecutive year that Malzahn has a new starting quarterback guiding his offense. Lutzenkirchen believes this year will be a lot different than last year when Cameron Newton was leading the way.

"We all know Cam was a freak," Lutzenkirchen said. "He did a lot of things that I don't know if anybody will be able to do that again. With him, we kind of played to his strengths. That's one of the things with Coach Malzahn's offense: He plays to the strengths of the players on the field. Cam was basically a big running back at times for us last year, but he also could throw. I think this year you'll see more of Coach Malzahn's true offense, kind of what we saw with Chris Todd the first year. Kind of more running downhill to open up the play-action passes. I think that's what you'll see."

*** The next Auburn practice will be Wednesday at 9 a.m.


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