Chizik's Tigers Blending Newcomers, Veterans

Senior Neiko Thorpe and junior Emory Blake talk about their 2011 Auburn football team.

Auburn, Ala.--With the departure of 18 starters from last season's national championship team and the influx of a full class of talented freshmen wanting to break into the playing rotation, Auburn's preseason camp has been one of opportunity for newcomers.

Coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers are going to need a lot of help from the freshmen, but that doesn't mean his third Auburn team doesn't have returning veterans who are expected to be leaders on offense and defense.

That is certainly the case with junior wide receiver Emory Blake and senior defensive back Neiko Thorpe, who is going through a transition of his own with the move from cornerback to free safety.

"It has been pretty smooth," Thorpe said of his experiment at safety, which began in spring training and looks like it will stick. "This is my first time actually changing positions so I don't know how it's really supposed to go, but I feel like it's going smooth. I have my times where it might be rough, but then again, I like the switch so it's going pretty good."

Thorpe said he felt comfortable at the position on Wednesday when the Tigers had their first scrimmage this preseason. He noted that he felt like he had a solid effort.

While newcomers like cornerback Robenson Therezie and safety Erique Florence have created a buzz with their play so far this preseason, despite losing three starters from the championship team's secondary the Tigers still have players at cornerback and safety with extensive game experience, a fact that is not lost on Blake. "There's experience back there in the secondary," he said, naming Chris Davis and T'Sharvan Bell as guys who have a lot of it in addition to Thorpe.

"I think people kind of take that for granted and say we have a young team, but there are certain spots on our team where there is some experience and that is definitely one of the spots," Blake pointed out.

The addition of talented true freshmen to the secondary is still a welcome development, though, Thorpe noted. "It feels good to have them and just know we've got some young guys who can step up," the senior said. "All of them, they're stepping up trying to fill up the roles so they're doing a good job."

Emory Blake is Auburn's leading returner in receiving yardage.

The wide receiver corps also features a group of young players like Sammie Coates, Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson who are using fall camp to adjust to the speed of the game at the collegiate level, which is even more difficult with the pace of offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle system.

"They're doing good, trying to get into that pace shape," Blake said of the young receivers. "We did a little bit of it and got to see how the young guys responded to it, and they responded well. I think Coach Malzahn was pretty pleased with the second group going in and doing pace like they did."

After taking Thursday off the Tigers continue their preparations for the Sept. 3rd season opener vs. Utah State with two practices on Friday and single sessions on Saturday and Sunday.


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