McNeal And Tigers See Change In Chizik

Auburn safety Demetruce McNeal discusses Gene Chizik as a coordinator and the defense heading into the bowl game.

Auburn, Ala.—One of the many young players playing a key role on Auburn's defense in 2011, sophomore Demetruce McNeal, has started all 12 games for the Tigers this season at safety. Third on the team in tackles with 70 and adding two interceptions, McNeal has consistently improved the more he has played this season.

With bowl practices into the second week as the Tigers prepare to face the Virginia Cavaliers, McNeal said that this team is focused in improving and working as hard as possible to get win number eight. That won't be easy against a team that has shown the ability to beat good teams, but McNeal said the Tigers aren't sleeping on the ACC foe.

"It has been all right," McNeal said of the practices. "It's just a lot of preparation and time we're putting in day in and day out. We're not getting a lot of time during the day to ourselves.

"The thing is it doesn't matter who we're playing. We don't take any teams lightly. We're going to put in all the work we can and go into this game like it's any other game, like an SEC game. We're not going to take these guys lightly. We're going to keep preparing until the game comes."

One of the things that should help Auburn's defense focus this bowl practice is having Gene Chizik acting as the coordinator with Ted Roof moving on to Central Florida. Known for being driven and focused as an assistant coach, Chizik has transitioned well to that guy once again and it has caught the attention of his players.

"It has been so much up-tempo with him," McNeal said. "You can see the big difference between him and Coach Roof. Roof was kind of calm and tried to set things down. Coach Chizik comes in the meeting room and everybody just stops. You just stop and listen because he's the head coach and now he's the defensive coordinator.

Gene Chizik is shown at Saturday's practice.

"We're making sure we don't do anything wrong because if we do something wrong it doesn't end well," McNeal said. "We're all just getting focused and getting ready for this game.

"With Coach Chizik coaching the defense there's not much of a change, it's just a different type of scheme and how he wants things done, especially with the linebackers," McNeal adds. "I can tell a big difference now from the linebackers from when Roof was here. Not saying that Coach Roof was a bad coordinator. He was a great coordinator. It's just a big difference with how Chizik wants the linebackers to play and how Roof wanted them to play. We're bonding real well with this bowl practice. We're just going to take it from here on out."

There hasn't been just a difference in Chizik himself, but also how the practices have been run on the defensive side of the ball. McNeal said it's very noticeable in every aspect of the things they are doing each day.

"It's a lot different, especially with him coming to the sidelines when we're getting ready to go against the offense and he's talking to us instead of Coach Roof," McNeal said. "It's just a big difference. When he's talking to you, you can't get anything wrong. It's like he sees everything. He's looking this way but he really sees you. It's going to come out well. I think we'll be a better defense in this game the way Coach Chizik is teaching it and the way he has slowed things down. He's really showing the young guys how things should really be done. I can see why he was very successful at places like Texas. He's a great guy."

With Chizik in charge and the young guys getting better with every practice McNeal said this team is focused on playing its best game of the season on New Year's Eve in Atlanta. Having to count on true freshmen such as Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, Justin Garrett, Jermaine Whitehead, Erique Florence and others to provide help on defense McNeal said the work they are getting now should only make them better when they take the field in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.

"They have come a long way," McNeal said. "It just seems like yesterday it was summer practice and spring practice and things like that. We're seeing those guys just grow up and get a lot of playing time this year.

"When we recruited them we knew those guys could help us in different areas on the field," the safety added. "They have come a long way and progressed. Everything is going smooth with those guys. It is a different feel for them than for me going into national championship bowl practice. It was totally different and something I wasn't used to. These guys are coming along very well and getting better every day."

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