Tigers Focus On Recruiting, Special Teams

With most of the coaches on the road recruiting, the Tigers concentrated on the kicking game in Thursday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's entire football coaching staff, with the exception of Jay Boulware, was on the road for Thursday's practice, a 90-minute workout devoted to special teams play.

The other coaches, including head man Gene Chizik, are on the road recruiting with the exception of Gus Malzahn, who is returning from Jonesboro, Ark., where he was introduced as Arkansas State's new head football coach on Wednesday. Malzahn and other coaches are expected to be back on the practice field for Friday evening's session and to play host to recruits this weekend.

The group of prospects expected to visit includes offensive lineman Alex Kozan from Colorado, a 6-4, 295 pound offensive guard from Valor Christian High School in Highland Park. He is ranked as Scout's No. 18 guard prospect in the country. He was in for an unofficial visit to AU earlier this year.

Five-star offensive tackle Jordan Diamond is scheduled for his official visit to Auburn. He also visited Auburn earlier this year. Diamond, who is rated as the No. 9 offensive tackle in America, is from Simeon High School in Chicago.

Tight end Darrion Hutcherson, a four-star prospect from Dadeville High, is also expected in for an official visit. The tight end is a verbal commitment to the Tigers.

"Practice was great...it was crisp, it was sharp," Boulware said. "Coach Chizik likes to run our program here at Auburn like an NFL?team and basically we had an NFL?special teams practice today. It allowed us to hone in on some of the things game plan-wise.

"We were also able to go back and refine some of the other things that we haven't hit and touched on in a while since our last ball game, things that we touch on once a week--hands team, onsides kick team, stuff like that."

Thursday's practice was the fourth as the Tigers prepare to play Virginia on New Year's Eve in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Special teams play was a key element in allowing the rebuilding Tigers to win seven games.

"Our continued development in that area, to work to get better, is essential to the development of this program as we are trying to get back to the national championship game and first, and foremost, the SEC Championship Game," Boulware said.

"We have to be stronger on special teams," he added. :We have to be better in all areas. That is where we are trying to go with it. The development we are doing now will pay huge dividends for us down the road."

A player who developed nicely this season in his first-year as the full-time starting punter is All-SEC pick Steven Clark. Boulware said that Clark became much better with his consistency and noted that the sophomore has the potential to improve as a junior with his strong leg.

"He did a phenomenal job of working his way into a more consistent player," Boulware said. "He is not perfect. He has got a long way to go, but his development throughout the course of the year is really what we are looking for our punters to do.

"Those kids work extremely hard, him and (kicker) Cody Parkey, to get better at their trade and it shows," Boulware said. "They are not complaining about having to do some of the things...When I first got here, guys were like ‘why are we doing that, why are we doing this?'...They have bought in and are reaping the benefits on the field.

One of the team's top players on special teams, wide receiver Emory Blake, has been limited in that role this season since suffering an ankle injury. The junior said on Thursday that he is still not 100 percent physically, but is making progress. "Ankle sprains take a very long time to heal. I am still working on it. Hopefully, it will get better soon...It feels a lot better."

The junior from Texas said he is glad that Malzahn will stay with the team through the bowl game. "That is definitely nice. First of all, I don't know who would call the offense if he left. Second of all, just to have one more game with him will be nice before he leaves."

Blake said he is sad Malzahn is leaving, but happy the offensive coordinator reached his goal of becoming a head coach. "At first I was a little shocked, but it is great for him and his family. Coach Malzahn recruited me and had been recruiting me since he was at Tulsa. It is hard to see him leave, but I am happy for him that he is getting a head coaching job."

Blake said he will be happy with the new coordinator as long as he likes to throw the football.

Commenting on Auburn's offense as the Tigers prepare for Virginia, Blake said, "I know we are working really hard right now and we are having really good practices. Practice has been very up-tempo and people are being physical and flying around, and that is a good sign. We are definitely getting more prepared for the game."

Emory Blake is Auburn's leading receiver this season.

Bowl practice gives young players plenty of extra time to develop. Four of those are in the receiver corps with Blake. The group includes true freshmen Quan Bray, Sammie Coates, Jaylon Denson and C.J. Uzomah. All played except for Coates, who was injured and redshirted. Coates is back at practice, but can only have limited contact.

"They have grown up a lot," Blake said of the receivers. "Sammie got hurt. He is kind of back now, kind of practicing with us. C.J. and all of them have kind of grown up a lot in the last six months and we are proud of them, especially Quan, and C.J.--and Jaylon. I forgot to mention Jaylon and he has been doing a very good for us. I am proud of him."

With Chizik serving as linebacker coach and defensive coordinator for the bowl practices, Blake said the practices have been different. "He is usually walking around and he will put his two cents into everything...Now he is just focused on the defense and he is really hands on. It is cool to see him actually get into it like he is. He is intense, a very intense, defensive coach."

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