Chizik Enjoying Interim Coordinator Role

A report on Auburn's return to football practice is featured with news, notes and quotes.

Auburn, Ala.--Defensive lineman Jeffrey Whitaker said that he could tell that Gene Chizik was enjoying himself at Monday night's practice in his role as interim defensive coordinator and linebacker coach.

Chizik, the Auburn head coach, put his Auburn Tigers through a workout that lasted more than two hours, the first practice for the Tigers following a two-week break since the team completed the regular season.

"Practice was good today," said Whitaker, a sophomore defensive tackle. "It was almost like the beginning of the season because you have got that two weeks to really focus on school and rest your body.

"We ran and did stuff like that, but it was just a time for us to get away--Coach Chiz stressed getting away."

Whitaker said he came back "ready to roll" as the Tigers began on-the-field preparations for their New Year's Eve Bowl game vs. the Virginia Cavaliers. He also said that Chizik looked fired up at the practice, just like he was.

"Coach Chiz is always a high motor, high energy, high tempo guy and he was that today," Whitaker pointed out. "You could tell he was back in his comfort zone. He didn't want to say anything, but you could tell he kind of had that edge to himself."

Chizik, who began his coaching career instructing linebackers how to play football, said he was comfortable in that role on Monday, an assignment he is sharing with graduate assistant coach Dustin Landry.

"I enjoy being around the guys," Chizik said. "I love teaching and I?love coaching. I am doing it more in-depth than normally I do and it was a lot of fun tonight, actually."

Monday's practice was the first without suspended tailback Michael Dyer. Chizik said that junior Onterio McCalebb will have to take on a larger role in the offense and the same is true of freshman Tre Mason, who will likely do most of the inside running.

Chizik said that Dyer is "temporarily removed from the team" and will not be allowed to practice for the bowl game or play against Virginia. The coach said the door is open for the sophomore to return to the team in 2012. "The suspension is going to be until he does the things that we feel he needs to do to get back at Auburn and to get back in an Auburn uniform. When he does that, if he does that, he will have a chance. If he doesn't, he won't."

Chizik said he is disappointed that Dyer had to be suspended and said he is hoping that Mason is ready to contribute in a major way vs. Virginia. "He has played enough this year to at least give himself a chance to contribute," Chizik said of the freshman running back. "He has done some things carrying the ball, not just on special teams, but offensively that makes us think he will have a chance to help and contribute.

Michael Dyer led the Tigers in rushing this season while earning All-SEC honors.

"He is going to have to work extra hard if he is going to carry a bigger role in this particular game," the coach added. "He has got a lot of work in front of him."

Chizik said the Tigers were rusty at Monday night's practice, but improved as the workout progressed. "The energy level was up," he said, noting it should be with the Tigers being rested.

"We got a lot of things accomplished tonight," Chizik said. "We worked on technique and fundamentals and not a lot of Virginia. It was more Auburn."

Chizik was in Atlanta at Chick-fil-A headquarters on Saturday for a luncheon with Virginia head coach Mike London and bowl officials, who also sponsor two regular season football games at the Georgia Dome.

Gary Stokan, chief executive officer of the bowl, said the season-opening matchup featuring Auburn vs. Clemson in 2012 will be played on either Thursday, August 30th, Friday the 31st or Saturday, Sept. 1st.

Monday was fall semester graduation day. Five Tigers were among those honored. The group includes: Dashaun Barnes from Tallahassee, Fla., Chandler Brooks from Huntsville; Eltoro Freeman from Alexander City; Josh Harris from Carrollton, Ga., and Davis Hooper from Montgomery. Those players arrived at Auburn as walk-ons with the exceptions of Freeman and Barnes, who was put on a medical hardship redshirt scholarship.

Freeman said he was thrilled to graduate, fulfilling a life-long goal of his mother for her son. The former Benjamin Russell star from Alexander City said the biggest thing he experienced at Auburn is that his relationship with God has gotten stronger. He said that no matter what you're going through, and no matter how hard the road may be, if you keep the faith in God things will turn around.

Eltoro Freeman is Auburn's starting middle linebacker.

Freeman also had praise for his head coach on Monday night and said the bowl practices are going to be good experience for the team, especially the young players.

"He's the real deal, man," Freeman said of Chizik. "He set the tone starting today and it actually started two weeks ago before practice. He set the tone for us in the classroom, off the field, and on the field. He's real strict and he's a man of his word. He expects things done right and the Auburn way. If it's not done either one of those ways then you won't be a part of Auburn.

"I think these bowl practices and the standards Coach Chizik has set are going to help Auburn men become better men and also better football players," Freeman added.

In other news and notes:

*Chizik said he is in no rush to name a new defensive coordinator to replace Ted Roof, who left the staff last week to take a job at the University of Central Florida. A media report on Monday afternoon that Auburn had hired FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops was not accurate, Auburn officials said.

*Chizik said that there is no change in the quarterback depth chart from the end of the season with Clint Moseley running number one. He said with so much time to prepare for the bowl all three QBs will get plenty of work. "Quarterbacks are going to be like every other position," he said. "We are evaluating everybody every day."

The coach said that for Frazier to take over the No. 1 role at quarterback he will need to gain a "better grasp" of the overall offense. The coach noted that the freshman has made progress in that area.

*Chizik said he noted he is hopeful there won't be any academic attrition with the fall semester grades being posted. "It appears right now we are in good shape," he said.

*Sophomore punter Steven Clark has been named to the All-America team announced on Monday by Pro Football Weekly. Last week Clark was named to the Coaches All-SEC First Team and was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is presented to the nation's top punter.


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