Tigers Put On The Full Pads For First Time

Comments from Auburn football players and coaches are featured following Monday's practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gene Chizik praised the wide receivers on Monday as the Tigers put on full pads for the first time this preseason.

One of the young receivers trying to move up the depth chart, Jaylon Denson, said that he thought the session went well. "It was physical, definitely physical.

"We had to stay focused," the sophomore added. "We had to keep it up-tempo."

Chizik said the blocking of the receivers got his attention, which Denson said was good to know. "As a group the wide receivers try to lead by example," he said. "We feel like what we do, the rest of the team will do."

Denson is one of the team's larger receivers at six-foot-three, 211 pounds. Chizik said that the opportunity is there for several wideouts to step up and join senior Emory Blake as a go-to guy when the Tigers pass the football.

"I am working on it," Denson said of his goal to become a starter. "I am trying to get all of my assignments down and do everything I need to do so I can get a larger role. I have been working hard and I feel like I had a good summer preparing for the season"

Jaylon Denson is a sophomore from Hoover High.

Blake, who was Auburn's leading receiver last season, said he is enjoying the new NFL style offense the Tigers are installing with new coordinator calling the shots. "It is great for me," said the senior, who has aspirations of playing on Sundays. "It is a lot of the same stuff they use in the league. I am very excited for myself and even for our younger guys because it is going to be beneficial for them to learn this offense."

Looking at the offense as a whole, what is Blake's assessment with the Tigers heading into their first two-a-day practice on Tuesday and their first scrimmage on Wednesday? "I am excited," he said. "I don't think people really know right now what we are capable of."

The senior said he sees a hungry football team this preseason and it shows with the progress the returning players have made physically in the strength and conditioning program.

Freshman offensive guard Alex Kozan (right) blocks sophomore defensive tackle Angelo Blackson in Monday's practice.

Chizik has given a post-practice thumbs up to each of Auburn's preseason sessions. On Monday night that didn't change, although he cautioned his football team has a lot of work to do.

"I thought the first day in pads there was energy out there, which was good to see," said the coach, who noted the Tigers are continuing with their spring training theme of being physical. "We are working in that direction," he said. "I?think today was a good start."

Tight end could be a strong position for the Tigers with players like sophomore C.J. Uzomah competing for playing time behind preseason All-SEC pick Philip Lutzenkirchen.

In other news and notes:

*Returning starter John Sullen was in full pads for the practice and participated in some drills, but was held out of the contact portions of the session. At the previously sessions the senior guard had done rehab on the side recovering from what the head coach said is not a major injury.

*Chizik said that he likes what he is seeing from his freshmen as a group, but noted, "I don't feel good about popping somebody's name out there. It's tough to do. They are all in the same boat right now. They are trying to learn and absorb it...There is a lot going on for those guys right now, but I am very proud of that class. All of them are really, really focused and into it and they are all trying to get a job."

*Brian VanGorder said after practice on Monday evening that the linebackers are still a work in progress. Chizik agreed with the new defensive coordinator, saying, "I don't feel like there is one guy who has just stepped up to the front and you say, ‘wow, he has really turned his game on.'

"There is a lot of learning still going on so they are trying hard and their effort is good, but it is a difficult position to learn," Chizik said. ‘Again, I think it is baby steps and they are continuing to grow. Overall, it is one of the positions on the field where it is wide open. We are taking a good look at all of them."

Junior middle linebacker Jake Holland talks with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder during Monday's practice.

*One of the players expected to compete for a starting job, senior Jonathan Evans, missed spring training with an injury, and it shows, Chizik said. "Jonathan right now mentally is behind," he said. "I think he knows it and he has got a long way to go to learn (the defense).

"The spring would have been a huge help to him, but we are where we are. He will work hard at it. He is like everybody else. He is just scrambled up in there and he has a chance to win a (starting) job just like the rest of them."

Keymiya Harrell, a redshirt freshman defensive end, is trying to make a push for playing time this preseason. He is shown at Monday's practice.

*VanGorder said one of the spring experiments continues to go well with sophomore Jermaine Whitehead performing well at safety. Whitehead worked at cornerback and as a nickel last season.

Quarterback Kiehl Frazier, a sophomore, throws a pass in Monday's practice. He is competing for the starting spot with junior Clint Moseley.

*Chizik said Wednesday's scrimmage will be an important one for the Tigers and it is particularly big for the quarterbacks. "Every scrimmage is going to be really big for the quarterbacks," the coach said. "There is no question about it."

Chizik said he wants to get a starter named as soon as possible, but said there is still a lot of evaluation that needs to go on before that happens.

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