Chizik: Tigers Improving, But Need More Work

Comments from Auburn coaches and players are featured as the Tigers continue preseason football drills.

Auburn, Ala.--Getting physical has been a theme for the Auburn football team going back to spring training and with two August scrimmages in the books head coach Gene Chizik said the Tigers are making progress in that area.

Chizik is getting his team ready for its third scrimmage, which is scheduled for Wednesday, as the Tigers prepare for their Sept. 1st opener vs. Clemson. He noted the team has plenty of room to improve.

"I thought there were some really good things that happened in the scrimmage," Chizik said of the Saturday evening session in Jordan-Hare Stadium. "I thought the physicality portion of the scrimmage is closer to where we want to be.

"I still feel there are a lot of minute details that require a lot of focus that we have not arrived at, but I feel like we have improved at the last two practices on those things."

Chizik noted the quarterback competition continues. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said that he has seen improvement from junior Clint Moseley and sophomore Kiehl Frazier. Loeffler also noted that true freshman Jonathan Wallace continues to do well.

Chizik said that the Tigers need to improve the communication on the back seven defensively, the group that includes the three linebacker spots, two safeties and two cornerbacks. "The back seven is very, very important in terms of building the structure of the defense," he noted. "There has got to be some improvement there."

Chizik said, "You look at probably half the season you are going to play with some type of nickel defense so that is a fifth defensive back who has got to come in and be productive. The back seven is very, very important in terms of building the structure of the defense."

The head coach said he is seeing signs of improved communication on the back seven, but more is needed. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder made similar comments on Monday.

VanGorder said the Tigers were inconsistent and gave up too many big plays after the first scrimmage and he said scrimmage two "was more of the same."

"Obviously, the explosive plays are the thing that continue to jump out," he said. "We have got to work on that and get it solved. We have got another scrimmage coming up and it is very important in that scrimmage we slow that down."

VanGorder, who has a background coaching linebackers, said he saw "more problems at that position" in the second scrimmage. "The linebacker has to take on a lot in respect to communication and then getting our defense lined up. More of the same problems I would say. I think the overall execution, for the most part, was slightly better by the defense. Still a lot of work to do."

In other news and notes:

*Safety Ryan Smith is pushing for an increased role in the defense and is off to a solid start in preseason. Smith said he isn't sure how he fits into the playing rotation, but he is certain the Tigers are making progress as a group on defense. "Absolutely we have improved as we get more comfortable with the defense," he said. "That helps go out there and be able to play fast."

Ryan Smith is shown in an August practice.

*Wide receiver Sammie Coates said the offense is still pushing to get ready for the season opener vs. Clemson. "We have to lock in, learn what we are supposed to do and get lined up right. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself."

The redshirt freshman from Leroy High said he thought the offense improved from scrimmage one to scrimmage two. He noted that one of the reasons for that is improved play from the quarterbacks. "They are starting to look like a quarterback is supposed to look," he said. "They are making better reads and throwing the ball better."

*The only senior on the offensive line, guard John Sullen, missed the first week of practice, but is competing again for a starting spot. "I think he is getting back into the groove," Chizik said.

*Tailback Mike Blakely, who has a bruised knee suffered in scrimmage two, missed practice time on Monday. Chizik said that the redshirt freshman will hopefully be back soon.

*Chizik said he is seeing improvement from the true freshmen as a group although he added he is "not ready to buy stock in them" yet. The head coach mentioned offensive guard Alex Kozan as one of the newcomers who is off to a good start in the August practices. Kozan, who is working on the left and right side, has been splitting time between the first and second units.

"I am really proud of Alex," Chizik said. "He has a tough job in there. Not only learning the mental part of the game, but dealing with 310-pounders every play is something that when you are a freshman guard that is a mouthful.

"I think physically, early on, he got the quick picture that this is SEC football and it was a lot different. I think day by day he is trying to fight and figure out the speed and strength of the game, but I am really proud of him. He has taken a lot reps and he has improved."

Chizik isn't ready to say where Kozan or the other offensive linemen will land on the depth chart. "We are developing some really good ideas," he said. "I think we will be coming down the home stretch in the next five or six days in solidifying that--at least that is where we would like to be."

Former Central High of Phenix City quarterback Jonathan Wallace is shown in action for the Tigers.

*Freshman quarterback Jonathan Wallace has earned praise throughout the preseason and that was the case again on Monday. "He is another guy I am very proud of," Chizik said. "There has been a lot thrown at him. He works day and night trying to retain information. He has done some nice things."

*Chizik said that he won't rule out the possibility of a freshman starting at any position at this stage of preseason camp. VanGorder was asked if there is a chance a freshman can start at linebacker. "It is possible, but it is difficult--a difficult challenge for a young player coming in." VanGorder said the only freshman linebacker who started for him while he coached at the University of Georgia was Tony Taylor.

*VanGorder said that defensive ends Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier are solid number ones right now, but there is plenty of competition for playing time at both end spots and both tackle positions.

"When you are talking about substituting during games, that is the area that carries major concern right now," the defensive coordinator said. He added that the pass rushing ability of the ends, other than Ford and Lemonier, is "questionable" and "developmental" right now.

*Chizik had praise for transfer fullback Jay Prosch. "He loves to do the dirty work, he loves to do his job," the coach said. "He is a big human being, and he is fast, he is strong. He brings a lot to the table for us. That position in this offense, there is a lot required."

*The Tigers are scheduled to return to the practice field on Tuesday as the coaches have their undivided attention until fall semester classes start on Thursday.

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