Chizik Pleased As Tigers Open Practice

Comments from the head coach and players are featured in this Auburn football practice report as the Tigers opened drills without Zeke Pike.

Auburn, Ala.--As the Auburn football team took the field for its first preseason practice on Wednesday, the big news for Coach Gene Chizik's Tigers was who was not there.

Zeke Pike, a freshman from Dixie Heights High in Pikeville, Ky., was not with the Tigers and will not be, noted Auburn's head coach, who said the decision was made within the last seven to 10 days to not bring the quarterback back to the team.

Chizik said that Pike will be transferring to another college and he wishes him well along with another player not returning to the team, sophomore cornerback Jonathan Rose, who also plans to transfer. Rose was not on campus this summer.

Zeke Pike is shown at a spring practice.

A six-foot-six, 229-pound four-star prospect, who was nationally recruited, Pike chose Auburn over a long list of colleges and enrolled at AU in January after graduating early from high school.

Pike participated in spring practice, but was sent home in June after being arrested in an off-campus incident in which he was charged with public intoxication.

Two other members of the signee class are still working on becoming academic qualifiers--tight end Darrion Hutcherson from Dadeville High and wide receiver Jaquay Williams from Sandy Creeky High in Tyrone, Ga. Auburn coaches are hopeful that both will be cleared to report to campus before the start of fall semester classes on August 16th.

Chizik talks to the Tigers during Wednesday's practice.

One of the happiest players to take the field for practice on Wednesday was Nosa Eguae, who missed all of spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Eguae, a returning starter, faces a major challenge for playing time this year with the depth situation much different at his position.

"We are a cohesive unit and we have a bunch of guys who can play a bunch of different positions on the defensive line and we have a bunch of guys who are competing. We are all competing for jobs and all doing what we can to make sure that Auburn, on Sept. 1st, is ready to go out there and win a football game."

The six-foot-two, 268-pound redshirt junior said he is eager to see an improved defense when the Tigers take the field this season. "We can be as good as we want to be," he said, noting that he believes the front four will be leading the way. "We haven't had this kind of depth across the defensive line and the offensive line since I have been here and since this coaching staff has been here," he said. "We are looking forward to competing. That is our big thing."

Eguae noted that late last season the Tigers were down to three healthy defensive ends, but that will be very different this fall "There are six, seven or eight of us out there at defensive end who can go in and play," he said. "Nobody is asked to play 70 plays," he said. "Everybody is going to be rolling and staying fresh. I am looking forward to it because that brings out the best in everybody."

Perhaps an even happier Tiger at Wednesday's practice was offensive tackle Shon Coleman, who has missed the past two seasons battling a childhood leukemia. Coleman has made major progress with the help of a new treatment from St. Jude's Children Hospital in his hometown of Memphis.

Chizik said that the six-foot-seven offensive tackle has started gaining weight and reported for the first day of practice at 305 pounds. "I am really, really proud of Shon," Chizik said, noting the lineman has improved his strength. "He really loves football. He is just enjoying being out there and loving the fact he has the opportunity to play the game again, which is outstanding, and he has done really, really well.

"Obviously, he has to knock some dust off, too," the coach added. "Overall, we are really proud of where he has come from."

Chizik noted that Coleman will be able to have full contact when the full pads go on next week.

In other news and notes:

*With Pike missing the Tigers opened camp with three scholarship quarterbacks (Kiehl Frazier, Clint Moseley and Jonathan Wallace) plus 6-2, 177 redshirt freshman walk-on Tate O'Connor from Savannah, Ga., and 6-2, 200 freshman walk-on Ryan Carter from Hoover. Chizik said the group threw the ball well on Wednesday.

*Chizik had praise for his other class of 2012 quarterback Wallace from Central High in Phenix City. "He has studied in the summer on his own and it is apparent," the coach said. "He is a very smart young man. He loves football so he has done a really, really good job. He is going to get an opportunity like the rest of the young guys. We will see if he capitalizes on that."

*Chizik noted that overall it was "a very solid first day" of practice for the 2012 team. "Everything is pretty much where we thought it would be coming out of spring practice," he stated.

*Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's son, Mack, is a freshman walk-on at linebacker. He is 6-3, 190 from Gainesville, Ga.

*The Tigers had just one fullback on the roster in the spring (transfer Jay Prosch). That number has doubled with Austin Autrey, a 5-11, 207 freshman walk-on from Jay, Fla., now at practice.

*Perhaps the most interesting walk-on is Melvin Ray, a former minor league pro baseball player who has not competed in football since he was a high school senior in the fall of 2007 in Tallahassee, Fla. Ray, who signed to play for Alabama, instead signed a pro baseball deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. When baseball did not work out he enrolled at Auburn last year and worked on becoming academically eligible to join the Tigers this year. He is considered a redshirt freshman in eligibility.

"It's been a while for him coming out of baseball and sitting out a year," Chizik said. "The jury is out. We'll see, but we are glad to have him on the team."

Ray checked in at 6-3, 205 to start practice. "Obviously, he is a physical specimen in terms of size for a wide receiver," the head coach said.

*Chad Slade, who is the returning starter at right offensive guard, lined up at right tackle at the first practice. He worked with the first unit ahead of a pair of true freshmen, Patrick Miller and Avery Young. Miller was an early high school graduate who participated in spring training and worked with the first team much of the spring.

"I am at right tackle for right now," said Slade, who noted that he also expects to also practice at both guard spots. "Right now I am just trying to get better a one position, each and every day."

*Eguae said that he is impressed with how the offensive line looks physically. The defensive line said he is expecting some serious competition from that group when the pads go on next week.

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