Freshman LB Has Chance For Bigger Role

Coordinators Brian VanGorder and Scot Loeffler talk about the defense and offense in this Auburn football practice report.

Auburn, Ala.--After watching the Tigers work out for two hours under the lights on Tuesday night, Auburn's first-year coordinators both said they thought their football players brought a lot of energy to the session.

Working in full pads, Auburn began installing the game plan for Saturday's SEC road game at Vanderbilt.

"It was a good practice, a lively practice," said Brian VanGorder, who noted that his defensive players have a major task at practice this week to prepare for a Vanderbilt offense that tries to cause problems for opposing defenses with a variety of different formations.

"They do some things that take time with respect to preparation," VanGorder said. "It was a little rough around the edges with some of that, but it was good spirit, good body language tonight."

The veteran coordinator said that the Tigers have a lot of players whose on defense whose games are "ascending" and that has helped keep the energy up at midseason despite the team's struggles on Saturdays with just one victory in six outings.

"I think they enjoy learning," VanGorder said. "I think that makes for a good environment for practice. The bottom line is we need to go out and finish a game, win a game."

The defensive coordinator noted the Tigers started a pair of true freshmen at the cornerback spots vs. Ole Miss with Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones making their first starts. He didn't rule out the possibility of other changes in the lineup such as true freshman Cassanova McKinzy moving ahead of junior Jake Holland and senior Ashton Richardson on the depth chart.

"We will look at some other guys, but they have got to go out on the practice field and show they are ready to do that (take expanded roles)," the coach said.

Cassanova McKinzy has seen very limited action at linebacker this season.

Asked about McKinzy, VanGorder said, "Cass will get some more reps. We will see how ready he is to stand in front of a huddle and manage and make calls that a middle linebacker has to do.

"We have seen a player (McKinzy) getting more and more comfortable in the college game. Every freshman who comes in is a little bit different in how they adapt to the environment of big-time college football, the volume of practice and sometimes the coaching pressure--all those things that are different to a lot of players.

"He had a slow start in respect to all of those things so we have been seeing him gradually get better, evolve. We got him into the Arkansas game late against some 22 personnel (two tight ends). We will give him a shot this week during practice to see how he handles. He has a long way to go."

Another young linebacker, redshirt freshman Kris Frost, is "coming along," according to VanGorder. "I wish the process was faster with Kris, but it is just not," he said. "I like what I see for him in the future. He works hard at it on the field.

"He is still learning how to see the big picture of football and how to see the game in the classroom," VanGorder noted. "He is still learning about physical leverage on blockers and all of those things, but he has some good physical traits."

Looking at the defense as a whole, VanGorder said that backups have a chance to move up the depth chart. "We have got to keep improving and competition is one of the ways you do that," he pointed out.

Tale of the Tape, Part 1: VanGorder said the game video of the loss to Ole Miss showed the Tigers made mistakes early in the game and didn't handle some of the new wrinkles the Rebels threw at them last Saturday. "It was a game of inconsistency," he said, noting the defense didn't play well enough in the fourth quarter to win the game.

Tale of the Tape, Part 2: Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said the game video showed progress in the first half, but too much inconsistency and noted the fourth quarter continues to plague the offense, which has scored just three points in the period this year. "We had our fourth quarter woes, to say the least." He added, "The positives are you see some sparks of what an offense is supposed to do. We saw that in the first half."

Quarterbacks: Commenting on Clint Moseley's first start of the season, Loeffler said the quarterback's play was a mixed bag with some good plays and missed opportunities vs. the Rebels. Who will start this week is still uncertain.

Clint Moseley

Loeffler said that Kiehl Frazier, who started the first five games, shared reps in practice with Moseley and freshman Jonathan Wallace, but noted that Frazier was limited passing the football as he recovers from an arm injury. The coach said not to expect a major expansion in the role for true freshman Wallace this week, who has been taking the role of a wildcat formation QB.

McCalebb's Take: Senior running back Onterio McCalebb said he is trying to be a team leader as his Tigers look to break into the victory column for the second time this year. "I just have got to be there for them and talk to them when they are down," he said. "I can't let anybody on the team get down about the 1-5 start."

McCalebb said the team's fourth quarter failures have played a major role in their struggles. "A lot of times we shoot ourselves in the foot," he said. "We have just got to go out there this week, practice harder and execute. We just have to go out in the game this weekend and finish in the fourth quarter."

More From VanGorder: The defensive coordinator said starting safeties Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead have been "fairly solid" this season and are improving. He said the defensive tackles need to make more plays, particularly in the pass rush, but said he is seeing improvement from Gabe Wright, a sophomore who said that the Tigers had outstanding energy at Tuesday night's practice. VanGorder said he likes how productive senior linebacker Daren Bates has been.

The coach said that sophomore safety Erique Florence is a guy who was set back by preseason injuries. "He is improving and getting better," VanGorder stated.

Erique Florence

Commenting on another sophomore defensive back, he said that Robenson Therezie is the team's most physical cornerback, but needs a lot of work defending the pass. "He is still a very young player to me," the defensive coordinator said. "I remain optimistic about him and the future." Therezie plays in a defensive package against double tight end sets and on special teams.

Tickets Taken: Vandy has listed the game at its 40,550-seat home stadium as a sellout. Last week's contest vs. Florida was also a sellout. The Commodores last had back-to-back sellouts at Vanderbilt Stadium 16 years ago.

The last time the two teams played, Oct. 4th, 2008, was a sellout in Nashville. In a battle of ranked teams, the 13th-ranked Tigers jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead, but did not score again and 19th-ranked Vandy rallied for a 14-13 victory to improve to 5-0 for the first time since the 1943 season. That setback ended a 13-game Auburn winning streak in the series.

The Foot In Football: The last time the Tigers played Vandy, the difference in the game was a missed PAT by Wes Byrum on a kick that hit an upright. Auburn's Cody Parkey has not missed at PAT this season and is 9-10 on field goals. Vandy's Casey Spear has made 10-13 field goals this season.

Cody Parkey

Challenging the Record: Auburn will try to prevent senior Zac Stacy from breaking the Vandy record for most career rushing yardage on Saturday. Stacy, a senior from Bibb County High in Centreville, Ala., has run for 2,501 yards, which is 131 shy of the school record set by Frank Mordica from 1976-79.

Stacy is also second in career rushing touchdowns with 24, two short of the record set by Dean Davidson, who played from 1947-50.

Third Downs: Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler has not been pleased with the Tigers' lack of production in converting third downs into first downs. The Tigers have been successful on 29.9 percent of their tries., which ranks 12th in the SEC. Third downs have been a struggle for the Commodores, too, who are 13th in the league at 28.1 percent.

Radio/TV: Radio coverage on The Auburn Network can also be heard on Sirius Channel 92 and XM Channel 200. Television coverage is on the SEC Network with Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano calling the action from Nashville. Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m.


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