Chizik, Loeffler Pleased With Practice

The Tigers finished their first week of preseason football practice with a session that got a thumbs up review.

Auburn, Ala.--Gene Chizik and his offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler both said they like the progress the Tigers are making this preseason while linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen said his group has a long way to go to be ready for a football game.

The Tigers wrapped up their first week of practice on Saturday evening with a session that ran approximately two hours in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads. Installing the offense and putting in blitz packages were points of emphasis in practice number four for the football Tigers.

"I really thought today was another good day," Chizik said. "I don't think we took any steps backwards. There is still a lot of learning going on, but overall I am very pleased again. They are tired and (Sunday) they have the day off, which I think comes at the right time, but they are pushing through it.

"I?thought the energy level was up and they were very focused,"the head coach added. "It was four productive days before our first day off so that was a good thing."

Chizik said the Tigers focused on blitz packages, installing the running game and third downs during the Saturday evening practice.

From what he has seen out of his team the first week of practice, Chizik said, "There was a lot of leadership this summer, apparently, that happened which is good." Chizik noted that players like Philip Lutzenkirchen and Onterio McCalebb, both seniors, have become strong leaders for the team.

Both Chizik and Loeffler said that it is too early to say there is any separation in the battle to be the No. 1 quarterback with junior Clint Moseley trying to hold off a challenge from sophomore Kiehl Frazier. "We are still in the installation phase of so many things," Chizik said.

Commenting on the first week of practice, Loeffler said, "It's been great, it's been exciting. The players' mentality has been excellent. We have had four great days of installation.

"The guys are picking it up, which is encouraging," Loeffler said. "They are doing a great job with effort. We will find out on Monday exactly where we are when we put on the (full) pads."

Loeffler, who is the position coach for the QBs, said, "There is no separation between either one of them. It is too early in install to make any evaluation with that whatsoever. As we get later in camp, and installation is done, we will be able to assess exactly where we are at."

Both coaches had praise for the team's other scholarship quarterback, true freshman Jonathan Wallace from Central High in Phenix City. "I am really proud of him," Chizik said. "He made a couple of really nice throws again today. He is making his share of freshman mistakes, but he is into it. He is a football guy and he is trying to soak it up every day. I am very pleased with his improvement."

Jonathan Wallace

Commenting on Wallace, Loeffler said, "I love him. He has a great mentality. He is a winner. He is learning for a young guy being able to pick up the verbiage and being able to communicate walking into the huddle. For the first time he has done a good job.

"He is young and at times he is swimming just like all of the freshmen are," the offensive coordinator added.

Asked about the young offensive line that features seven true freshmen, Loeffler said, "It is going great. The addition of the new freshmen has been outstanding. We have got great depth on the offensive line.

"We are young, but those guys have done a really good job picking up the installation for being so young," he said. "I am very encouraged where that is going."

Depth at linebacker was a big question about the 2012 Tigers going into preseason drills. That has not changed.

Commenting on the linebackers as a group, Chizik said there is "a lot of learning going on" and they are a "work in progress."

"They have a ways to go, along with a lot of other positions," the head coach noted. "Every day they are learning and getting better, but there are a lot of growing pains there. We are expecting some young guys to play for us."

Jake Holland is running first team at middle linebacker.

Thigpen agreed with the head coach and said, "They have a lot of work to do. Every day with the new calls it is a challenge for us to get lined up. The thing we are concentrating on is making sure the communication gets a lot better."

Thigpen said that the theme is to get tougher on defense and play with the attitude that Auburn defenses over the years have been known for around the SEC.

Kris Frost, who redshirted last year with a shoulder injury, is full speed ahead this fall at outside linebacker.

The linebacker coach said it is essential that junior Jake Holland step up and be the leader of the defense because the middle linebacker is responsible for reading the offense and getting everybody else lined up properly.

"Some days are really good, some days are just okay," Thigpen said. "We have got to get consistent at that position where if he is going to take control he is going to take control of that huddle and earn the respect of his teammates. He has to learn the defense and all of the ins and outs of it."

Freshman Cassanova McKinzy, Chris Landrum and Ashton Richardson are the other middle linebackers. Thigpen said he has been "pretty pleased" with McKinzy's progress noting he can see why he was a highly recruited player, but added the freshman "has a lot to learn."

The team's most experienced linebacker is senior Daren Bates is making good progress, Thigpen said. He noted that sophomore Justin Garrett is making progress, too.

After Saturday evening's practice Frost said he felt like he is making progress. "Finally, today I felt like I did a lot better than I?have been doing. Everybody has their struggles from time to time, but we are all really getting in the room and watching more film.

"The more film you watch, the more you got out and practice it the better you are going to be," he added.

In other news and notes:

Ikeem Means was plagued by injuries as a junior, but the former walk-on from Wetumpka has hopes for a better finish to his collegiate career.

Means, a safety who can also line up at linebacker in passing situations, gives a thumbs up review on the new secondary coach, Willie Martinez, who works with both the safeties and cornerbacks.

"He is very hands on," Means pointed out. "If we have a question he can draw it up and show it to us. He pulls film ahead of time so we can see it before we actually do it. He is a very good coach."

Means noted that like new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, Martinez is very detail oriented when coaching the Tigers. The senior said if someone is lined up out of position, even by six inches, he can expect to be corrected by Martinez.

*Offensive guard Eric Mack did not practice again on Saturday and Chizik noted he isn't certain when the redshirt sophomore will be back. Mack is dealing with emotional issues after being wounded in a shooting incident that killed two of his former teammates in June. The head coach said the staff is on top of the situation trying to help Mack through a trying time.

*The Tigers are looking for another wide receiver to step up and join Emory Blake as a go-to guy this fall. "I think Trovon Reed is coming along," Chizik said of the redshirt sophomore who is play both the outside and slot receiver spots.

"Quan Bray has done some nice things,"?he added. "We have got to get them all to step up--Sammie (Coates) has got to step up, Jaylon Denson has got to step up, Ricardo Louis has got to step up, Melvin Ray...They are all learning.

"Trovon, I think, really came into came in (to preseason camp) in really good shape and he just seems more comfortable out there," Chizik said." He has kind of figured the college game out now, which we have been waiting on. I am not saying he has arrived, but he has certainly shown steps he is growing up."

*Loeffler said the wide receivers have been up and down as a group so far through four days of practice. The offensive coordinator had more praise for the running backs. "They are stronger, leaner, faster and they have done a great job," he said. "I am really happy with the work they have put in during the summertime. Their hard work has obviously shown the first four days."

*Loeffler said it is too early to tell how much freshman Jovon Robinson will contribute, but said the tailback's "effort and attitude" has been wonderful.

*The Tigers will not practice on Sunday. When they return to the field on Monday evening they will be in full pads for the first time this preseason.

*Fan Day is scheduled for next week. It will be held on Sunday, August 12th from 2-4 p.m. CDT at the Auburn Arena.

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