Head Coach Happy As Tigers Open Practice

A report on the opening day of Auburn's spring football practice is featured including video and news on position moves.

Auburn, Ala.--The head coach is still a bit wounded, and so are some of his players, but overall Gene Chizik was upbeat when talking about the first practice of spring training 2012 that featured a couple of position moves.

Chizik's Tigers worked out for approximately two hours at their indoor facility to avoid rain in the area that could linger into Saturday, which will be their second of 15 scheduled practice dates.

"Today I was really pleased, " Chizik said. "We had a really, really good offseason. I think obviously a lot of our players and coaches, having some guys new on this staff, we were anticipating this day, and we were anxious for this day to come.

"I really feel like our players did a really nice job of focusing," Chizik said. "They have been really excited. They have been great trying to learn new verbiage, new concepts--things of that nature so today was the first day we were able to put that into action and it was a good day."

It was the first practice for new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder as well as new secondary coach Willie Martinez. Loeffler said he liked the energy and so did VanGorder, who said the execution left a lot to be desired.

Gene Chizik is wearing a shoulder harness after having surgery last month.

"It is fun to watch the new guys out there--some new blood, some new life," Chizik said of the coaching staff changes. "I think for the players as well. I think overall it was good for everybody to get that first day in."

Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes makes a point at Friday's practice.

Chizik had praise for rising sophomore C.J. Uzomah, who has moved from wide receiver to tight end. Currently 6-4, 246 pounds after putting on weight in winter workouts, Chizik said that the move to the new position is not an experiment. The coach added when the Tigers signed Uzomah out of North Gwinnett High in Suwanee, Ga., where he also played quarterback, their intent was to eventually play him at tight end.

"There have been a lot of ex-high school quarterbacks who have become very good tight ends," Chizik pointed out. "He has had one of the best offseasons of anybody on the team. He has worked extremely hard. He has gotten strong. He was very dedicated in the weight room in the offseason getting in shape. What he is going to have to learn is the physicality of the game at that position, which I?really feel he will be able to grasp."

The starting tight end from last year, Philip Lutzenkirchen, is sitting out of spring training while he rehabs after having offseason shoulder surgery.

A player getting a look at a new position on defense is rising sophomore Jermaine Whitehead, who saw significant action last fall as a cornerback and nickel back. VanGorder said he is giving Whitehead a look at safety, too, and noted the former high school valedictorian looks like he could be capable of handling multiple assignments in the secondary.

As expected several of the team's better players are still rehabbing from injuries and surgeries and didn't take part in the practice.

Chizik said he is very encouraged with how 2011 starting cornerback T'Sharvan Bell is recovering from major knee surgery after being hurt in the Georgia game. The hope is that Bell will be ready for the opener vs. Clemson.

Two defensive line starters are being held out to rehab shoulder injuries--end Nosa Eguae and tackle Kenneth Carter. Eguae said on Friday he is eager to get back on the field as soon as possible, but noted that will be in August.

Part-time starter Jonathan Evans, an outside linebacker, is also out with an injury as is fellow senior Ikeem Means, a walk-on safety. Sophomore fullback Ladarious Phillips missed the practice with what Chizik said was a personal problem.

Practice One Photo Gallery

In other news and notes:

*Chizik said that offensive tackle Shon Coleman continues to make progress recovering from cancer and has been able to work out, but has not been cleared to practice football.

*The head coach noted that senior defensive end Joel Bonomolo, who decided to give up football, told him that he plans to stay at Auburn and complete work on his degree.

*Transfer fullback Jay Prosch won praise from Chizik. "He has been everything we hoped he would," the coach noted. "He is a tough guy. We have seen him play college football so we are not guessing whether he can play or not."

Auburn has applied for a waiver to allow the Mobile native from UMS-Wright to play this fall without sitting out a year as a transfer from Illinois because he made the move to be closer to his ill mother. Chizik said he isn't sure when the Tigers will hear from the NCAA on that request. "He is a tremendous worker," Chizik said. "Football means a lot to him. He has been a great addition to our team."

Gene Chizik on video:


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