Gene Chizik also noted that he likes what he has been seeing from some of the younger players on the roster.
Through four games the Tigers have played seven freshmen from their 2012 signee class. The group includes: cornerback Josh Holsey from Creekside High in Fairburn, Ga.; cornerback Jonathan Jones from Carrollton, Ga., High; wide receiver Ricardo Louis from North Miami Beach, Fla., High; linebacker Cassanova McKinzy from Woodlawn High; offensive tackle Patrick Miller from Dwyer High in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., High; quarterback Jonathan Wallace from Central High in Phenix City and offensive tackle Avery Young from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., High.
Young has three starts at right tackle and Miller replaced him in the starting lineup for the LSU game.
"I thought Patrick, for starting his very first (college) game ever vs. LSU, did a really, really nice job," Chizik said. "He tried to play physical. Obviously, he has got room for improvement like our whole team does. I am very proud of him right now. He is the starting right tackle.
Patrick Miller is shown in action vs. LSU.
"Every week we have seen improvement from him," Chizik added. "That is why he won the job. He obviously had the spring reps that helped. He came back when he wasn't the starter and he just continued to work. That is what we appreciate the most about him. We saw him improve week to week and I think he gained confidence every week."
Following Wednesday night's practice, Miller said he found out a couple of days before the LSU game he would be making his first college start. "I had a really good time," he said of playing in the SEC contest won 12-10 by LSU. "I really liked it."
Interestingly, Miller's first start came against the team he had previously been committed to before changing plans and enrolling at Auburn in January.
"It was no big deal for me," he said of his first start being against LSU. "I am an Auburn player so I just play whoever." Miller noted that after the game he chatted with some of the LSU players he got to know during his recruitment, but did not talk with any of LSU's coaches.
LSU features one of college football's top defensive lines and the freshman held his own on Saturday night. "It was a good matchup for me," he said. "I feel like I got a lot better just from playing in the game with all of those live reps."
Miller pointed out his biggest areas of improvement that helped him move into the starting lineup have been getting better with his assignments and his pass blocking skills. He said he is working hard to get bigger and stronger.
Noting he weighed 260 early in the year, he is up to 285 and is eating as much as he can to try to get bigger, and is even planning his daily schedule around meals. "I just want to get bigger, stronger and be able to move people further down the field," he said. "I want to be able to be quick and strong at the same time."
Another young offensive lineman, redshirt freshman guard Christian Westerman, is pushing for playing time now that he has recovered from an injury suffered in practice prior to the ULM game, Chizik said on Wednesday night.
Freshman cornerback Josh Holsey also received praise from Chizik after practice. "Josh played close to 30 plays defensively (vs. LSU) as well as special teams," Chizik pointed out, noting that Holsey is working his way into an expanded role with the defense.
"We don't care if it is a true freshman, we don't care if it is junior or a senior, if these guys are continuing to improve, and their production is up, then they are going to see the field," Chizik added.
The coach said that he can see Holsey's confidence growing and noted that when the cornerback was challenged on a long pass into the end zone vs. LSU the freshman stepped up and made a play on a well thrown ball vs. one of LSU's top receivers without having any help from a safety on the play. "That was a big play," the coach said, noting it was a confidence-builder for the player and for the coaching staff in Holsey's ability to produce.
Holsey said his deflection in the end zone was an "adrenalin rush" for him personally as well as a big play for the defense, which was building confidence during the course of the game vs. LSU.
Asked if he felt confident prior to getting his first cornerback action on Saturday night, the freshman said, "Yes sir, I feel confident because being on the sideline watching all of the people in front of me play I just knew what I needed to do and not to do when I got in.
"LSU is one of the biggest games we play in so every game I get in will be like a regular game now that I got all of my nerves out," he added.
Holsey noted that he is surprised he has played so much this early, but added, "I know with work comes payoff so if you work hard it pays off in the end. I guess I have been working hard and my reward is getting on the field."
Commenting on Wednesday night's practice in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts, Chizik said, "I thought the kids were very energetic. It was a very lively practice. We had a very physical practice. The guys were really into it. They had a couple of days off."
The Tigers will practice again on Thursday evening and again on Friday before taking Saturday off. With no practices from Sunday through Tuesday, Chizik said the coaching staff had an opportunity to study video of the first four games, which he said "was very revealing" to the team. "The thing that jumps out the most is a lot of missed opportunities," the head coach noted. "On both sides of the football, that is kind of the theme. I think the players can see it."
Chizik added, "Both defensively and offensively, we are leaving big plays out on the field we have got to capitalize on."
Not Happy Yet: Despite the improvement defensively in game four vs. LSU, Chizik made it clear the coaching staff is far from satisfied with the level of play. "There is huge room for improvement--we are not even close to where we want to be in terms of executing the defenses called," he said.
Former Trainer, Student Assistant: On Wednesday some of the coaching staff attended the funeral of Joe Bagwell, who died on Saturday of natural causes due to a heart problem before the game. Bagwell had been working as a student administrative assistant coach for the team this season after previously being a team manager.
Tigers Vs. Razorbacks: When Arkansas visits Jordan-Hare Stadium next week for an 11 a.m. CDT kickoff, the Razorbacks will be trying to close Auburn's lead in the series. The Tigers hold an 11-9-1 all-time edge, but Arkansas has won four of the last six meetings and the teams are 5-5 in their last 10 matchups. Chizik has a 1-2 mark as Auburn's head coach vs. the 1-3 Razorbacks, who will play at Texas A&M this Saturday.
Top Tackler: Senior linebacker Daren Bates is not only the leading tackler on his team, he tops the Southeastern Conference with 11.75 tackles per game.
Offensive Woes, Part 1: The Tigers are averaging 17.5 points per game, which is last in the SEC. Vandy is 13th with 21.8 points per game. Georgia tops the league at 47.5 points per contest.
Offensive Woes, Part 2: The Tigers are the only team in the SEC not averaging at least 300 yards per game. Auburn is gaining 297.8 yards per contest. Georgia (530.0) and Tennessee (513.8) lead the league.
Offensive Woes, Part 3: The Tigers are at the bottom of the conference stats in passing yardage with 144.8 yards per game. Florida is 13th with 183.0 per contest.
Long Gone, But Not Forgotten: It's been 40 years since the team known as the "Amazin's" lined up for the Tigers. At the Arkansas game the group will be honored as the players from that team return to campus for their 40th anniversary reunion.
In what was forecast to be a rebuilding season after losing Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, All-American wide receiver Terry Beasley and other key players from a strong 1971 team, Coach Shug Jordan's '72 Tigers posted a 10-1 record that included a season-ending 24-3 whipping of Colorado in the Gator Bowl.