Long Way to Go After Scrimmage 1, Coaches Say

A report on the Auburn football team's first scrimmage of the spring is featured.

Auburn, Ala.--Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said it, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it and head coach Gene Chizik agreed with his top assistants that the first scrimmage of spring practice showed that the Auburn football team has a long way to go to be ready to play an SEC schedule.

In a scrimmage "won" 55-45 by the offense on Saturday, according to the coaching staff's scoring system that assigns points for important plays on both offense and defense, both sides of the line of scrimmage had impressive plays and major mistakes.

Asked if the offense or defense is ahead at this point of spring, Chizik said, "I think they are fairly close in how far away both of them are, if that makes any sense. We are just a long way away on both sides of the ball. We are a long, long way away. That is why these long scrimmages and these days are invaluable."

Looking at the big picture with the Tigers having used seven of their 15 spring practice dates this spring, Roof said, "We were able to make some big plays, but we gave up too many. That is what gets you beat and we can't do that. We have got to keep working to eliminate some of those and find a way to get them on the ground."

Roof said that the scrimmage, that lasted approximately 120 plays, will give the coaching staff plenty of video to evaluate. "If you were breathing you were playing today," the defensive coordinator said.

"I think we have gotten better every day," Roof said. "We are not were we need to be, we are not where we have to be, but I think we have got to keep focusing on improvement every day and if we do that I think we will make a lot of strides."

The Tigers appeared to get through the scrimmage without any injury issues. Chris Davis, who is expected back at practice next week, was held out of the scrimmage at cornerback so Ryan White worked opposite of T'Sharvan Bell at cornerback. White, a quarterback in high school, is just learning the details of how to play the position.

One of the points of emphasis on both sides of the football has been to be tough. "In this league if you are not physical you cannot survive," Roof said. "There is a premium on that. The only way to do it is to keep grinding and keep drilling it in order to be tough you have to live tough."

The Tigers must replace two of the three starters at linebacker and Roof said the overall group has a lot of work to do, but he noted that he saw some good things from a pair of second-year Tigers, LaDarius Owens and Jake Holland, at Saturday's scrimmage.

"I have seen them improve and I have seen the excitement on their face when they see the improvement and say, ‘Yes, I get that, I have done it right now.' As a coach that is what you want to see."

"LaDarius has gotten better each and every day," Roof said of Owens, who will be a redshirt freshman this fall. "He had a better day, maybe his best day as a linebacker here.

"With Jake, I saw Jake cut it loose today and not think as much, and when he did make a mistake he would come off the field and know what mistake he did make," Roof said. "Believe it or not, that is a positive, too."

Holland moved up to second team on the depth chart last season behind 2010 senior Josh Bynes.

Commenting on the scrimmage, Chizik said, "There were a lot of good things that happened on both sides of the ball, I thought. We will know more after we watch the film. The main thing is that I thought the effort was good and I thought the energy level was good, which is what you look for in the first (scrimmage).

Obviously, we worked a lot on our pace and how fast we practice the game from both sides of the ball," the head coach added. "That was a big emphasis today. I saw a lot of things that were good. Obviously, a lot of things need improvement."

On the plus side, Chizik said that the Tigers continue to practice at an intensity level that he likes. "It has really been enjoyable to be around this football team because we have got a lot of young guys who are hungry and eager to play football for Auburn. That is really neat to see.

"We are certainly looking for that type of enthusiasm, energy and passion to play the game from all of our guys," he added. "We think that has to be one of the things that is very important with these young guys--the energy and the passion because they are going to make mistakes with inexperience and they have got to make up with how fast they play, how intense they play. I?have really been good with our overall team effort."

On the down side for Saturday's, there were high snaps on the center/quarterback exchange from early high school graduate Reese Dismukes, who is making a push for early playing time at center in a good battle with Blake Burgess. The offensive line play was inconsistent as the Tigers work to replace four starters. The same could be said of the play up front on defense.

Chizik said the linemen, on both sides of the ball, have a long way to go. "I think they are trying to make it a physical game up inside. We are definitely not there yet, but they are really trying to understand the importance of the physicality inside with our running game, our power running game.

"On the defensive side of the ball we have linemen trying to play on the other side of the line of scrimmage, which is good to see," Chizik added. "We have some offensive line who are trying to come off the ball and be physical at the point of attack."

Although the emphasis on Saturday was on the running the football, Chizik said he thought that quarterbacks Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley had solid days. "I thought our quarterbacks did a nice job, for the most part, of protecting the ball," the head coach said. "Overall, I thought quarterbacks did a nice job."

Philip Lutzenkirchen catches a touchdown pass in Saturday's scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Offensive coordinator Malzahn said he needs to study video of the scrimmage to know for sure how individuals played on Saturday. He said the quarterback competition was "fairly close" coming into the scrimmage.

The rebuilding offensive line has a long way to go, the coach pointed out. "Right now, it is a little bit ugly at times," he said. "We are trying to rotate young guys in there and give them a chance to figure out who our top five are. There were a few missed assignments and all of that, but that is to be expected with inexperience."

Looking at the big picture, Malzahn said, "My expectations are real high and we are rotating so many guys in it is not pretty sometimes. We are not where we want to be, but it is kind of expected. I am getting kind of impatient. I would like us to be a little ahead of where we are, but at the same time we are rotating a lot of guys in there so it is hard to get any kind of continuity."

In other news and notes:

*Auburn's top running backs from in 2010, Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb, looked like they were in midseason form with impressive play in Saturday's scrimmage.

*Chizik said that punt returning has been an "Achilles heel" for the Tigers the past two seasons. The Tigers had live punt return drills as part of the scrimmage as Trovon Reed, Quindarius Carr, Demetruce McNeil and Jonathan Mincey try to win the starting assignment. Chizik said the Tigers will go full speed on punt returns and coverage whenever they are in full pads the rest of the spring. The coach said the coverage unit is doing well, but the return unit needs to improve.

*Emory Blake had a good day catching the football including an impressive catch in the south end zone.

*Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he liked what he saw from Blake as well as fellow receivers DeAngelo Benton and Carr.

*Another Tiger who had a good day catching the football, tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, lined up as a slot receiver on Saturday where Kodi Burns started last year.

*Freshman cornerback Jonathan Rose got a pick on a play in which Barrett Trotter was pressured by defensive end Corey Lemonier.

*Safeties Demetruce McNeil and Neiko Thorpe made good plays in the scrimmage and McNeil got an interception as did cornerback T'Sharvan Bell.

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