Young Players Have Big Special Teams Roles

Comments from Auburn football coaches and players plus news and notes are featured in this practice report.

Auburn, Ala.--As the Tigers continue to tune up for Saturday's football opener with Utah State Auburn's special teams coordinator said he is looking forward to seeing how young players handle their roles in the kicking game.

Commenting on sophomore punter Steven Clark and sophomore kicker Cody Parkey, Coach Jay Boulware said, "They have been pretty consistent most of the camp. I feel really good about where they are and I?think they are doing a really good job.

"We still need to be more consistent," the coach said. "I don't think I will ever be happy with that until we are perfect, which we will never be, but I am pleased where both are now in their careers. They are both sophomores and they both had some playing time last year, and they stunk it up. I look forward to them having a much better season this year."

The weakest link in the kicking game last year was the punt return team. Boulware said that redshirt freshman Trovon Reed and true freshman Quan Bray have been doing a good job in practice and noted that fans could see one or both in action as punt returners on Saturday. However, the coach said he wants to pick a featured guy at that position and stay with him. Reed is listed as No. 1 on the depth chart, but that is subject to change, Boulware pointed out.

Jay Boulware is in his third season as Auburn's special teams and tight ends coach.

Boulware said he is expecting help from young players on the kick and punt coverage teams. True freshmen Robensen Therezie, Jermaine Whitehead, Justin Garrett, Erique Florence and Jaylon Denson along with sophomore Ryan White have a good chance to help the Tigers. Boulware said the coaches will be watching those players closely to see how they perform in game situations on special teams.

Justin Garrett is shown at practice.

Boulware said the plan is not to play all six of those young players at the same time, but noted he likes their potential and will work them into the rotation. He singled out freshman linebacker Garrett for extra praise. "Garrett has been a tremendous surprise to me in terms of how he works and how he hustles," Boulware said.

Head coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers had a "crisp" practice on Wednesday night. "I thought there was a lot of high energy as you would expect getting closer to game time.

"We worked a lot of different situations, something we have been spending a lot of time on here lately," Chizik added. "Overall the focus was really good and we are getting close to getting ready to play."

The Tigers are expected to go into the opener as a healthy football team considering there were four scrimmages and a lot of other full contact practices in what Chizik said has been a long preseason. He said a lot of contact work was necessary to get a young team ready to play a game.

Nobody who was projected as a starter this season will be out of action for the opener. "That is a huge part of how the whole season unfolds," the coach said of the need to avoid injuries. "I feel like our team is about as healthy as it can be."

One of the players who will be making his college debut on Saturday is redshirt freshman Chad Slade, who will start at right tackle ahead of senior A.J. Greene. Slade was a player offensive line coach Jeff Grimes had prepared to play at a moment's notice throughout his redshirt season last fall if one of the starters was injured, but that group stayed healthy as Auburn posted a 14-0 record.

Slade said he is eager to get the season kicked off. "I just have to out there on Saturday and not worry about the crowd or anything else and play my game," he said. "I plan to do everything I have been taught by Coach (Jeff) Grimes and Coach (Gus) Malzahn."

Slade checked in at 330 pounds last year, but has dropped weight and improved his quickness. "In the spring Coach Grimes challenged me to get down to 320 and I did that. Then he challenged me to get down to 305 and I did that, too."

The redshirt freshman said that less has been more when it comes to football. "I put in a lot of work trying to eat right and run a lot to get in shape," he pointed out. "It was hard to do, but it helps me out a lot. I feel a lot quicker and I just generally feel better than when I weighed 330."

Greene, who will be the backup at right tackle, said he is going to do what he can to be supportive of the redshirt freshman and the other starters. "I understood the coach's decision and I am proud for Chad," the senior said. "These guys are my brothers. I am never going to have an upset attitude about what is going on. I am a team player. I am very proud of Chad and I have seen him grow a lot."

Greene noted that he is still rehabbing his injured ankle from the injury that ended his 2010 season in game three vs. Clemson. "I would say I am doing pretty well, but I am still dealing with the injury each and every day," he said. "I am going to continue to work, I am going to continue to rehab."

A.J. Greene is shown in action at the 2011 A-Day Game.

Commenting on his status, he said, "I am not going to lie. It (the injury) does affect my performance." He admits that he does wonder if he will ever bounce back to the level he was playing at prior to the injury.

Whatever happens Greene said he plans to be the guy on the sideline motivating his fellow linemen and said if he is needed to step in and play he is ready for the assignment, something offensive coordinator Malzahn said is a real possibility of happening.

In other news and notes:

*Although season tickets have been sold out for more than a month, single game tickets are available for Saturday's 11 a.m. season opener vs. Utah State. The west and east side box offices at Jordan-Hare Stadium will open at 9 a.m. Saturday and the ticket office at the Auburn Arena will be open until 6:30 p.m. on Friday.

*Running backs coach Curtis Luper said he is expecting true freshman Tre Mason to perform well on Saturday after playing well in the preseason scrimmages.

*Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said that there is a good chance that defensive tackle Jabrian Niles will be redshirted because he isn't ready to contribute yet and is not scheduled to dress out for Saturday's game. "He is a great kid and he is going to be a good player here at Auburn," Pelton said.

Angelo Blackson played high school football in Delaware last fall.

*Another true freshman defensive tackle, Angelo Blackson, earned praise from Pelton on Wednesday night. "He is a great kid to work with and the sky is the limit for Angelo," Pelton said. "He has a lot of talent and a great attitude."

*Going into the opener senior wide receiver Quindarius Carr from Huntsville is the player who has seen action in the most games with 39 as a collegian. A player who has seen limited playing time the past three seasons, he is scheduled to start vs. the Aggies.

*Neiko Thorpe from Atlanta has played in more games than any member of the 2011 defense. He has been in 38 contests. A starter the past two seasons at cornerback, he is scheduled to play his first game as a safety on Saturday.

*Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor had praise after pratice for juniors DeAngelo Benton and Travante Stallworth. Stallworth will make his first start on Saturday and earned it with his performance in practice, the coach said. Taylor said that he has been impressed with Benton's hustle and all-around work in practice this preseason.

*Boulware said that freshman tight end/H-back Brandon Fulse is continuing to make progress and will see action on Saturday.

*Auburn's game can be heard on satellite radio again this season. Saturday's game is on channel 220 for Sirius and 201 for XM. Rod Bramblett will do the play-by-play with Stan White as the color analyst. Quentin Riggins is the sideline reporter, Paul Ellen is the studio host and Andy Burcham will report from the locker room.

*Television coverage of the first-ever Utah State vs. Auburn football game is on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins doing the play-by-play and former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti as the analyst.

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