AU Football Practice 4: News, Notes, Quotes

Comments from coaches and players with notes from Auburn's fourth preseason football practice are featured.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers wrapped up week one of preseason drills with their second contact practice that featured an emphasis on being physical on both sides of the football.

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ted Roof both said they saw progress with the team's toughness on Saturday evening.

Auburn's special teams coordinator, Jay Boulware, said he liked what he saw from his kicker and punter at Saturday's session in shoulder pads and shorts.

Sophomore Cody Parkey, the heavy favorite to take over for four-year starter Wes Byrum, was 8-8 on his field goal kicks on Saturday after going 7-8 on Friday evening.

"He has got a strong leg," Boulware said. "He is doing a really good job in both areas--kicking off the ball and field goals."

Sophomore Stephen Clark, the heavy favorite to take over for 2010 senior Ryan Shoemaker, was inconsistent in the spring and that has been the case through four preseason practices in August.

Boulware said he liked what he saw from Clark on Saturday. "It was much better today," the coach said. "He looked like a Division I-A punter. He has been up and down and that is part of it when you are young."

Clark has the ability to hit very long punts, but has had a tendency to shank the ball at times leading to very short kicks.

Boulware, who also coaches the tight ends and H-backs, said he is encouraged with what he is seeing from the group that has been bolstered this year by freshmen C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse.

"They are doing well," Boulware said of his group. "We are in the process of hopefully developing more depth than we have had there since I have been here."

Boulware added, "I feel like at this point we are better technically than we have been in the last two years," he said, noting that the Tigers can make that an area of strength on the 2011 team.

In other news and notes:

*Brandon Mosley, the starting right tackle last year and the only returning starter on the offensive line from the national championship team, saw practice time with the first unit on Saturday evening at left tackle. He played some left tackle in spring drills.

*Redshirt freshman Chad Slade, who has practiced at both guard spots and both tackle spots, was working with the first team at right tackle on Saturday evening.

*One of the best battles for a starting job is at center where it is neck and neck with redshirt sophomore Blake Burgess competing with early high school graduate freshman Reese Dismukes.

Burgess worked with the ones on Saturday. Both players said after the practice that the battle is too close to call, something position coach Jeff Grimes mentioned Friday night.

*Walk-on offensive tackle Aubrey Phillips was injured in Saturday's workout. Head coach Gene Chizik, the only staff member who comments on injuries, was not available for questions after Saturday evening's practice.

Phillips, who was a highly-recruited offensive lineman out of Olive Branch, Miss., High School, originally signed with FSU in February 2009. He soon transferred to Auburn, but went home in October 2009 as a freshman. He said a combination of family issues and health reasons prompted him to return home.

Aubrey Phillips is shown during spring practice.

The offensive lineman said he missed football and that is why he was willing to return to the Auburn team in January of this year as a walk-on. Phillips, who is listed as 6-5, 338 on the roster, has been trying to work his way up the depth chart at tackle.

*Roof said he challenged the defense to come out at Saturday's practice and be more physical. He said the Tigers accomplished that mission in a session that included a lot of contact with the team in shells.

True freshman Anthony Swain (44) and redshirt sophomore Harris Gaston (56) are competing for playing time at linebacker.

*Coach Trooper Taylor said it is too early in preseason practice to have a good read on how the wide receivers are performing. He said that will have to wait until after the full pads go on and the receivers are live for full contact. However, he did say he has been pleased with how his group has been carrying out assignments and catching the football.

"The biggest thing I guess I have been impressed with is that they are getting lined up correctly," the coach noted.

*Taylor has challenged junior DeAngelo Benton to become a major contributor after playing minor roles in the offense the past two seasons. "Everybody knows God has blessed DeAngelo with a lot of ability," Taylor said of the former Parade All-American from Bastrop, La., High. "He gives them the tools. Now it is up to him to get out there and use them. If anybody's time is due, it is definitely his." Benton has seven catches for 103 yards since arriving at Auburn in 2009.

*Offensive coordinator Malzahn said that he is seeing signs that Benton is making progress. The coach said the Tigers need the junior to step up and become a key player on offense this year.

*True freshmen Quan Bray from Troup County, Ga., High, Sammie Coates from Leroy High and Jaylon Denson from Hoover High are trying to work their way into the playing rotation as wide receivers. Taylor said their "heads are spinning" trying to learn all of their assignments. "We are throwing a lot at them," the coach said. "We are different than most teams. We don't go from part to whole, we go from whole to part. We find out how much you can do, how much you can handle.

Freshman Quan Bray is practicing as a wide receiver and return man. A versatile athlete, he played quarterback, running back, receiver and defensive back in high school.

"We try to put as much pressure on those guys mentally as well as physically so when the game comes we will know if they can handle that," Taylor noted. "They are struggling, but we will pare it down and once the (full) pads go on we will be able to find out what each one brings to the table."

*Taylor said because of the numbers situation, several of the freshmen wide receivers will have to play this fall. That group includes C.J. Uzomah, who is working at the five position (slot receiver). Taylor said the 6-6, 248-pounder from North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga., is off to a good start in preseason drills.

*Taylor continues to have praise for wide receiver Emory Blake, who the coach said is showing that he is going to be a strong leader as a junior. Blake has been staying after practice helping the freshman receivers work on their assignments.

*Philip Lutzenkirchen, another junior receiver, is also showing he is a good leader, Taylor said.

*Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said that freshman guard Christian Westerman and freshman tackle Greg Robinson, both high school All-Americans last season, are in assignment learning mode. "Their heads are spinning, they are a little bit lost at times just because we have thrown so much at them," the coach pointed out.

"However, they are not allowing that to slow them down, which is impressive to me because most guys the first thing they do when they have a question mark about a particular assignment is they become hesitant and tentative," Grimes noted. "Those guys haven't done that. They may not block the right guy, but they are going to block the wrong guy hard if they can."

Greg Robinson is working at left offensive tackle.

*Robinson, who is from Thibodaux, La., High, said that practice has been a challenge the first week, but noted coming to campus in May and working out with strength and conditioning coach Kevin Yoxall has helped him deal with the August heat and the intensity of practice. The 6-6, 312 freshman said he worked out two hours a day to get ready for preseason drills.

*Grimes said that a high school All-American in the 2010 signee class, Eric Mack, wasted his first season on campus because he was so overweight after reporting at more than 360 pounds. He is in the 330s now and has a chance to compete for playing time at guard this fall, the coach stated.

Chris Landrum (33) works on his tackling form. He is a freshman from Class A state champion Sweet Water High School.

*The Tigers will take Sunday off and return to the practice field on Monday evening.

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