Luper Looking For Leadership This Spring

Auburn running backs coach Curtis Luper talks about the spring and the importance of leadership.

Auburn, Ala.--With just a week left in practice coach Gene Chizik said on Monday that all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams, need work before the Tigers close out the spring. Offensively one of the areas of concentration has been on the running game as coach Gus Malzahn looks to once again be physical running the football.

Fortunately for Malzahn and position coach Curtis Luper, Auburn's most experienced position is running back with junior Onterio McCalebb and sophomore Michael Dyer back after having a huge 2010 season. Luper said at the moment he's looking for more out of them and the offense as a whole as they work towards Saturday's A-Day Game.

"I'm evaluating my guys extremely tough and I‘m critical on them because I expect a lot from them," Luper said. "Having said that we have progressed and we are getting better daily, which is what our emphasis is. There are some things we're working on as individuals. I want to see Mike get better at a few things and Onterio has a few things he needs to improve on. Individually we're getting better.

"The offense as a whole, we were out of sync most of the scrimmage. A lot of that has to do with rotating players and having players out and the quarterbacks rotating. We don't have a set 11 that are going to be out there everyday yet. It take a while to get that offensive continuity, but it will come."

Onterio McCalebb

In his second year as an everyday player for the Tigers McCalebb was outstanding in his role as the speedster on offense. Carrying the ball 95 times for 810 yards, an average of 8.5 yards per carry, McCalebb scored nine touchdowns.

While McCalebb provided the spark, Dyer provided the punch. Playing in all 14 games as a freshman he broke Bo Jackson's freshman rushing record with 1,093 yards and five touchdowns on 182 carries. Luper said both players have shown what they can do on the field, now it's time to see that same display in all facets of the game.

"I have seen some leadership," Luper said. "Being in a situation like they were in last year where Cam was the leader offensively vocally and we had guys like Terrell Zachery and Kodi Burns and Lee Ziemba, those guys were really leaders as well. We didn't ask much of them (Dyer and McCalebb) as vocal leaders. That's a big step for those two to make, to become vocal leaders. Often we have to teach them how to lead. It's a work in progress."

Michael Dyer

With the second tailback Anthony Morgan banged up the Tigers have been forced to turn to several walk-ons to get significant time this spring. Auburn will get help in the fall from a pair of freshmen though in Tre Mason and Quan Bray.

However Luper is looking for immediate help where the departed Eric Smith held down the fullback role for the Tigers. In addition to walk-on Chris Humphries, redshirt freshman Ladarious Phillips is getting a chance this spring to show what he can do at running back. Luper said at the moment he's got a long way to go, but he's got time to get there.

"He's coming along," Luper said. "He had the injury last fall and for a guy 300 pounds it takes about a year for him to get all the way back from that injury. He's getting close. He just needs reps and needs to play and get comfortable in the offense. He'll need to have a very good summer and fall camp and he'll be ready to go."

With only three practices to go and Saturday's spring game, Auburn is looking for some big improvement on both sides of the football. Luper said as far as he's concerned it begins and ends with his two veterans and the leadership they show in the next week.

"I just think we need to continue to improve daily," Luper said. "We really emphasize getting better every single day and becoming a better leader and better student. The leadership from Onterio and Mike needs to filter through our entire team, not just the offense and defense, but all the way through. It's fun to see leaders emerge. That's really what we're looking for is to get better every day and leadership."

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