Tigers Open Spring Football Drills

Comments from Auburn coaches and players along with news and notes are featured from the first practice for the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football team opened spring drills on Wednesday with a workout that lasted 2 1/2 hours in shorts as the Tigers begin the on-the-field task of rebuilding after winning the 2010 national championship.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof both said they liked the intensity they saw on day one of 15 spring practice dates.

Head coach Gene Chizik, who is fighting an illness as he begins his third spring at Auburn, missed the first part of the practice and then bypassed a post-practice interview session.

However, none of the coaches were as enthusiastic as the new member of the staff, defensive line coach Mike Pelton, who has returned to his alma mater to replace Tracy Rocker, who was hired away by the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

"It is natural high to be back at Auburn," said Pelton, an All-SEC defensive tackle for the Tigers in the 1990s, who Auburn hired away from Louisiana-LaFayette.

"This is personal to me," Pelton said. "This is a guy coming home. This is where I?grew up, where I?played, where I became a man."

Pelton also has the familiarity of joining a coaching staff led by Chizik, who he worked for at Iowa State for two seasons.

Roof said on Wednesday that the transition from Rocker to Pelton as the defensive line coach has been a seamless one because Pelton knows Auburn and its defensive system and he is a coach who takes a lot of pride in what he does.

Commenting on the first practice, which was held at the Hutsell-Rosen Track and Field as well as the soccer field, Roof said he saw "a lot of exuberance" as backups try to impress a coaching staff that must replace eight defensive starters and eight offensive starters.

With linebacker starters Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens gone, Jake Holland opened the spring running with the first unit at middle linebacker backed up by senior Eltoro Freeman. Jonathan Evans was at the spot where Stevens started last year while Daren Bates is the returning starting on the outside.

Asked about the status of another outside linebacker, rising sophomore Jessel Curry who missed much of the 2010 season, Roof said that was a question to be addressed by the head coach.

Coach Gene Chizik watches the first practice of spring.

Roof said that the other two linebackers who joined Holland and Curry in the 2010 signee class, LaDarius Owens and Jawara White, worked at the strongside and weakside linebacker spots on Wednesday. He noted that after redshirting in 2010 White and Owens had an "edge" in Wednesday's practice as they try to show they are ready to challenge for starting jobs.

Neiko Thorpe, is working at both free safety and strong safety, Roof noted. The defensive coordinator said he thinks the move from cornerback to safety is a good one for Thorpe and free safety will prove to be his best position.

Commenting on the first day of offensive practice, Mazahn said, "There were a lot of new faces out there. It was good. There was a lot of energy. You could see there was a lot of excitement. I really feel like our coaches were excited to be out there, too."

Malzahn said that the coaching staff has high expectations for the offense despite the heavy losses to graduation, but he added, "At the same time as a coach we have to be a little patient. We are going to be an inexperienced team, but we have some options."

Malzahn, who doubles as coach of the quarterback, didn't put a timetable on when he wants to name a starter to replace Cam Newton as junior Barrett Trotter and redshirt sophomore Clint Moseley compete for the starting job. The coach noted that while the Tigers will have a new starter for a third straight year, this season he has the bonus of working with two QBs who have been in the system for two seasons. "They have a good understanding of the offense even though they have not been on the field in game type situations much," he said. Malzahn said that Trotter and Moseley will get equal reps with the first offense this spring. "I think both of them had very solid days," Malzahn said.

Chad Slade, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall, shares a laugh with fellow offensive lineman John Sullen (right), at Auburn's first day of practice at the Hutsell-Rosen Track and Field.

In other news and notes:

*At the first practice it was quickly apparent that the coaches have hit on a spring training theme to motivate the players by using the phrase "all of the good players are gone." The Tigers lost 23 seniors from the 2010 team including the SEC Offensive Player of the Year (Cameron Newton) and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Nick Fairley).

*In addition to the loss of the seniors, five scholarship players have been kicked off the team during the offseason so the Tigers are down to 53 scholarship players on the spring roster, although offensive tackle Shon Coleman has not been cleared to practice as he continues his recovery from cancer.

Ladarious Phillips, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall, is working out at fullback for the Tigers. He is a large one. He is listed as 6-0, 291 pounds for the start of spring practice.

Malzahn said he thinks the big back actually weighs 295. "Believe it or not, he is pretty agile on his feet," the coach said. "It is just a matter of him learning offense and being comfortable enough where he can react. He has got some football smarts to him. We just have got to keep him healthy and he has got to learn the position."

*Brandon Mosley, last year's starting offensive right tackle, is working at left tackle where Lee Ziemba started last season. Others who were working with the first unit offensive line to start practice included John Sullen at left guard, Blake Burgess at center, Eric Mack at right guard and A.J. Greene at right tackle. Greene started the first three games at right tackle last season, but was lost for the season with a knee injury vs. Clemson. Mosley started the rest of the games.

*Back as a walk-on, offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips is listed at 6-5, 344 pounds. The former Olive Branch, Miss., High star is listed as a redshirt freshman.

*Logan Paul, a redshirt freshman walk-on quarterback from Gulf Shores High, is the third quarterback on the team and is wearing number 18.

*Cody Parkey was kicking the ball well in practice today. The sophomore is the favorite to replace Wes Byrum.

*Neil Caudle, a 2010 senior, was the holder last year. Trent Fisher, a walk-on redshirt freshman safety from Christ Presbyterian in Nashville, was working at that assignment on Wednesday.

*Wide receiver Travante Stallworth is moving better than last year as he continues his recovery from knee surgery. He is a player who is expected to get a look as a wildcat quarterback. With Newton graduating, Malzahn said he will use a wildcat guy more this year.

*Another player coming back from a knee injury, Trovon Reed, is working as both a punt returner and a kickoff returner. Malzahn said that Reed "looked close to full speed" on Wednesday. "He was competing and he had a smile on his face," Malzahn said. "He is one of those guys we need to be on the field. Before he got hurt last year in the fall, he made some of the wow plays. He has the ability to make big plays so we definitely need him on the field."

*Offensive tackle A.J. Greene said after practice he is not 100 percent yet recovering from a broken bone in his leg, but notes that he is pleased with his progress and is on schedule as he competes to regain his starting spot he had to open the 2010 season.

Greene said despite the losses the 2011 team has the same goals as last year's team did starting with going to Atlanta to win the SEC Championship Game.

*The Tigers are scheduled to practice again on Friday and Saturday to close their first week of workouts.

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