Tigers Trying to Tackle Game 3 Problems

A report on Wednesday night's Auburn football practice features comments from coaches and players plus news and notes.

Auburn, Ala.--The theme of focusing inward rather than on this week's opponent continued again on Wednesday evening as the Auburn football Tigers drilled for two hours with the focus on alignments and assignments.

The Tigers started the session in shorts and helmets. About halfway through they put on their shoulder pads and did tackling drills, trying to clean up the problems they have had in that area on defense this year.

Coach Gene Chizik said he liked what he saw in the workout and wants to see his Tigers finish the week of preparation with another good practice on Thursday when they wrap up on the field preparations for Saturday evening's home game vs. Florida Atlantic University out of the Sun Belt Conference.

"It has been a good opportunity for us to really go back and work on us--Auburn," Chizik said.

The head coach pointed out the Tigers are working on getting a lot of young players ready to see action vs. the 0-2 Owls on Saturday.

A pair of young players who did not make the road trip to Clemson last week, true freshman cornerback Jonathan Rose and redshirt freshman fullback/H-back Ladarious Phillips, are back from their one-game suspensions for violating an unspecified team rules. One or both players could see action on Saturday night vs. FAU.

Ladarious Phillips

Commenting on his plans for game four, Chizik said, "We are going to end up playing a lot of young people."

The coach noted that he has been pleased with how his team has responded after suffering a 38-24 loss to Clemson to drop to 2-1 for the season. It was Auburn's first loss since the 2009 season.

"I think they are eager to get better," said Chizik, who noted his players want to get back into a game situation and play better than they did vs. Clemson. Another Auburn coach expressed a similar sentiment.

Assistant coach Jeff Grimes said after practice on Wednesday night he was disappointed that the offensive line didn't execute its assignments vs. Clemson as well as the players did in practice. He also was not pleased with the false starts or how the Tigers handled the crowd noise.

"The positives were, I thought, we showed up and competed against a very good defense," Grimes said. "After having played them last year, our guys understood the challenge with their guy, number 98, living in our backfield about half of the night. That was a big challenge for us in the run game. I thought for the most part we handled that well. The guys, I thought, stepped up competed and played hard.

Jeff Grimes

"What we did not do was always keep our composure," Grimes said. "We had a couple of false start penalties and did not handle the crowd noise very well. The tackles were particularly disappointing because they have been in that situation before. A.J. (Greene) and Brandon (Mosley) have both been there. I really believe they will be fine. They will fix that."

Looking at the big picture of Auburn's offensive line play at Clemson, Grimes said the Tigers ran the football well at times, but didn't perform well enough to win on the road. "We didn't get it done when we had to."

Grimes said he isn't sure if he will play any backups this week. He said he is concerned about getting the job done vs. FAU. He said on video he sees talent on that team's defensive front so getting his front-line guys ready to deal with that is his focus. However, the coach also noted that competition for playing time is still open and he will make a change, if warranted, in game four, game five or even game eight, a message he relayed to his players.

He also has not ruled out playing a pair of highly-regared true freshmen, guard Christian Westerman and tackle Greg Robinson. Neither has played yet this season and they are available to be redshirted.

In other news and notes:

*Defensive line coach Mike Pelton had praise for redshirt sophomore Nosa Eguae after practice Wednesday night. Pelton said after grading the video he was pleased with what he was seeing from the redshirt sophomore defensive end, the only returning starter on the front four. "He is showing up on film," Pelton stated.

Mike Pelton

Pelton said he is seeing progress from the young defensive front, but the group isn't improving as quickly as he would like. The coach did note that true freshman tackle Angelo Blackson has improved each game.

*Another freshman defensive tackle, Gabe Wright, is improving, too, but still has a lot of work to do, Pelton said. A starting defensive tackle, Jeffrey Whitaker, showed improvement vs. Clemson, Pelton said.

*Quarterback Barrett Trotter said he feels like he is making progress. His three starts this year are his first extended action in a real game since December 2007 when he was a senior at Briarwood Christian in Birmingham.

"I feel more comfortable each game just being in there getting reps and getting to play. You are going to feel more and more comfortable. Hopefully, that will continue throughout the season."

*As is the case with Trotter, guard Jared Cooper had not started a game since he was a high school senior in 2006 at W.S. Neal High in Brewton.

Cooper said the rebuilt offensive front is making progress, but has plenty of room for improvement going into game four. He said the loss last week at Clemson has the players serious about improving on both sides of the football.

"I think we are going to be a lot more focused this week," the fifth-year senior said. "Not to say we weren't focused last week, but obviously with the outcome last week we have to dig a little deeper and find out what we are doing wrong and improve on it this week."

One of the more versatile players on the team, Cooper is starting at left guard but can play any of the other five spots on the offensive line, even center. "I am still getting some reps at center in practice every week," he said.

*Cornerback coach Phillip Lolley noted that sophomore Chris Davis, who was shaken up twice vs. Clemson, is doing fine and has a high ceiling. Lolley has predicted the sophomore can become a great cornerback because of his athletic ability and toughness and after Wednesday's practice said he is not backing off his predictions for Davis.

*This week's opponent, the Florida Atlantic Owls, has only played intercollegiate football for 11 seasons. Saturday's game will be just the fourth for FAU vs. an SEC team. The Owls are 0-2 vs. Florida and also lost a game to Kentucky.

*Florida Atlantic has struggled to move the football in its losses to Florida and Michigan State this year, but the team does have the second leading rusher in school history on the roster. Alfred Morris will come into Saturday's contest with 2,380 yard son 521 carries, but is off to a slow start this year. He is averaging just 1.5 yards on his 24 rushing plays this season.

*Kickoff time is set for 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday from Jordan-Hare Stadium. The contest will be televised on Fox Sports South as Florida Atlantic makes its first ever appearance on Auburn's football schedule.

*Florida Atlantic's Howard Schellenberger is in his 27th year as a head coach, but this is the first time one of his teams has played Auburn.

*NFL teams have been checking out Auburn's practices this week. A total of 32 scouts have been at the Tuesday and Wednesday night workouts.

Video comments from Gene Chizik:



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