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August 13, 2012

NOTEBOOK: Kozan wanted to compete with best

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AUBURN -- Alex Kozan waited more than three weeks after National Signing Day before officially accepting a scholarship from the Tigers.

Many analysts figured Kozan, of suburban Denver, Colo., would shy away from Auburn due to the program's usually rich array of offensive line signees. Interestingly, the Auburn freshman said Monday that the stout signing class actually strengthened his desire to play college ball on the Plains.

"At the end of the day, you're going to have to compete and earn your spot no matter where you go," Kozan said. "If you're looking to find a place where there's nobody else and you're just going to slide in there, I think that's the wrong approach. (At Auburn) I've got a high school All-America there, I have a high school All-America over there. It's going to help me out when I'm making my blocks."

The left guard has been perhaps the biggest surprise of fall camp so far because of his ability to rise quickly through the depth chart. Kozan has been playing in place of injured senior John Sullen since the second day of practice and clearly has impressed everyone with his acumen.

Even the head coach is taking notice.

"I'm really proud of Alex. He's got a tough job in there, not only just learning the mental part of the game, but dealing with 310-pounders every play," Gene Chizik said. "When you're a freshman guard, that's a mouthful. I think day by day he's trying to fight and he's trying to figure out the speed and the strength of the game. He's taken a lot of reps and he's improved."

WORK EQUALS PRAISE: Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace has become one of the team's most popular players because of his ability to grasp portions of Loeffler's offense quickly.

What's his secret to early relevance?

Wallace said it's all a function of determination.

"It depends on how much work you put into it," he said. "That's how you get your reps. Of course, they're not going to put somebody how there who doesn't know what's going on. So as you continue to grind out, that's what happens."

MALICE IN THE MIDDLE?: Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder on Monday again expressed displeasure with how the linebackers performed - this time during the team's weekend scrimmage.

He said last week that misalignments caused problems during the Tigers' first scrimmage. VanGorder didn't notice much improvement this time around.

"More problems at that position," he said. "Middle linebacker has to take on a lot in respect to communication and getting our defense lined up. More of the same problems, I would say. The overall execution, for the most part, was slightly better by the defense. Still a lot of work to do."

EVANS IMPRESSING: Senior Jonathan Evans, who missed spring ball because of injury, has been impressing VanGorder with spirited play at strong-side linebacker.

The coordinator said Monday that the decision to move talented freshman Kris Frost to the weak side - and therefore behind senior Daren Bates - was engineered to give Evans and sophomore Justin Garrett a chance to challenge each other directly on the strong side.

"We just wanted to get a position where we felt like it was competitive and gave (Evans) a better chance to compete for a starting job," VanGorder said. "Instead of being behind Daren, who has the most experience, we put him in a position where he could compete with Justin. We'll see where that goes."

Garrett was a starter in both scrimmages.

BREAKING OUT: Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said Monday that he's seeing significant progress at wideout.

Previously, that position drew only vaguely positive reviews.

``As a group, I think we're making great strides," he said. "Quan Bray is stepping up, (Trovon) Reed is doing a great job. Really happy about the progress of the receiving corps. They're blocking, they're being physical and their route-running has improved. Details is what we need to get."



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