Defensive Backs, Linemen Earn Praise

Comments from Gene Chizik, Jeff Grimes and Auburn football players are featured in this report.

Auburn, Ala.--Gene Chizik had praise for the defensive backs as the Tigers wrapped up their third preseason football practice on Friday evening.

"I thought the secondary did some nice things," said the Auburn head coach, who made his name in the college ranks teaching defensive backs. "I thought they made some nice plays with the ball in the air, which is very nice to see for our pass defense.

"I think both lines, offensive and defensive lines, were trying to play a physical game today so that was good to see," Chizik added. "As far as individuals, I am not ready to go out on that limb yet."

Chizik said that with three practices in the books he has been pleased with how the young offensive linemen have performed. The Tigers have seven true freshmen on the practice field.

Jeff Grimes, who coaches the offensive linemen, said on Friday night, "There is a light at the end of the tunnel, I just don't know how long that tunnel is.

"I really like our young guys," he added. "There is a lot of ability there, and every one of them has a long way to go before they are ready to play. These next three weeks will tell us a lot."

Center Tunde Fariyike (left) does a one-on-one drill vs. defensive tackle Jamar Travis (right) at Friday's practice.

Despite having three returning starters, Grimes said there is plenty of competition for playing time. "The jobs are really wide open," he said. "They really are. Some more so than others. I told all of them I don't care whether you have played, I don't care if you are a senior, I don't care if you are Freshman All-American, I don't care about any of that. The best guys are going to play.

"What I have been doing is rotating different lineups in there every day," Grimes added. "Every day the lineup is different. We have different guys going with the first group, different guys with the second group, sometimes guys at different positions because I don't know enough about some of them yet."

However, Grimes did say that the group of seven freshmen has a chance to be "really, really good."

Jeff Grimes

The fourth-year Auburn coach added, "Not only in quantity, but quality, this one has the opportunity to be special if they are the kind of kids I want them to be if they are willing to work hard, be tough--do all the things it takes to be a great player. Early indications are certainly showing me that is the case with some."

Commenting on the practice as a whole, Chizik said, "I was really pleased with the energy," noting he liked how "guys really tried to push through."

The head coach added, "It was a good third day. We are starting to improve some."

One of the sophomores on the team who has a chance to greatly increase his playing time this fall is Angelo Blackson. Although he saw action in all 13 contests last season, the defensive tackle was on the field for just spot duty. He finished the year with two solo tackles and four assists. He has the talent to do much more.

"Practice has been going great," the 6-4, 310-pounder said. "We have been learning a lot. There has been a lot of teaching tempo and the things we need to get down to get us ready for the season."

Asked what the focus is for the defensive tackles in the first week of practice, Blackson said, "We are putting a big emphasis on coming off the ball and using our hands to get their (offensive players) hands off of us.

"I feel like I have made a lot of progress," Blackson said. "Last year I wasn't really using my hands. This year I can really tell the difference. It is harder for them to block me."

Blackson runs a drill at Friday's practice.

Blackson played at 330 pounds as a freshman, but is currently 20 pounds under that and he likes playing at a lighter weight. "I feel good, I am faster and quicker and more mobile so this is where I want to be," he said.

The Tigers will enter the season with more depth and more experience on the defensive front than the 2011 team featured. "We have high expectations from every one, but we just have to continue to work," Blackson said.

"We have size, we have got speed and we are all athletic. We are young, too. We have to get all of our moves down, our pass rush and our plays, and bring it all together when the season comes."

A defensive lineman who has been working on gaining weight is end Dee Ford, who is ready for a do-over of his junior year after being injured early last fall. Because of that he was granted a medical hardship redshirt.

Ford, who weighed just 237 pounds at the end of spring training, has bulked up to 250 pounds, which he said is the weight he wants to play at this fall.

The defensive end pointed out that he has been working on "fundamentals, fundamentals" to get ready for the season because that is a key to success in Brian VanGorder's defensive system. "When people (on offense) throw the unexpected at you, it always goes back to fundamentals," Ford said.

He added if the Tigers take care of their assignments they should be in good shape at end because the depth is much better at the position than it was last year.

Ford and fellow juniors Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae are expected to be leaders of the defense as ends this fall. "We need to change the game," Ford said. "That is one of our goals."

With Craig Sanders, LaDarius Owens, Keymiya Harrell, Justin Delaine and true freshman Gimel President also competing for playing time the Tigers should be in excellent shape depth-wise unlike last year when the team played with three full speed ends at times due to injuries.

Gimel President is the only defensive end the Tigers signed in their 2012 recruiting class.

In other news and notes:

*Backup offensive guard Eric Mack missed the practice. The redshirt sophomore suffered a gunshot wound in his posterior in June, but has been physically cleared to play. "Eric is not out there right now," Chizik said. "Eric is working through some issues and we are keeping a close eye on it."

*Another offensive lineman, senior John Sullen, is being held out of practice with what Chizik said was a minor injury.

*The Tigers will practice in helmets and shoulder pads again on Saturday evening before taking Sunday off. The first full pads practice is scheduled for Monday.

*Senior cornerback T'Sharvan Bell said after Friday night's practice that he is pleased with how he is performing in practice following major knee surgery following the Georgia game. Bell said at times he feels better physically than he did prior to his injury vs. UGA.

Bell won praise from secondary coach Willie Martinez, who said that the entire group of cornerbacks and safeties is off to a good start this preseason.

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