Injured Tiger Returns, Freshmen Make Progress

One of Auburn's starters is back from an injury, but others are questionable as the Tigers look to work more freshmen into the playing rotation on defense.

Auburn, Ala.--One of the missing starters from the Ole Miss game should be ready to play on Saturday, but two other injured starters are questionable for this week's game at Vanderbilt.

That was the word on Wednesday night from Auburn head football coach Gene Chizik following a two-hour practice in helmets, shorts and shoulder pads. Chizik said the practice was a good one, but added his Tigers have work to do before they will be ready to take on the Commodores in an SEC West vs. SEC East contest on Saturday morning at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Chizik said that cornerback Chris Davis "practiced well" at the Wednesday night practice, but defensive end Dee Ford and center Reese Dismukes are questionable. Davis missed the Ole Miss game after taking a blow to the head vs. Arkansas.

Chris Davis

Tunde Fariyike could start at center again this week with Dismukes having a shoulder problem. If Ford doesn't start, Nosa Eguae could start for a second consecutive week at defensive end, a position he regularly started at in 2011.

Fariyike, who had a bad snap that Ole Miss recovered for a touchdown last Saturday, stayed after practice and worked on his snapping, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes noted after Wednesday night's practice.

Chizik said that sophomore Kiehl Frazier, who started the first five games at quarterback but did not play last week, is still bothered by a "nagging injury" that is affecting his throwing. Chizik said the situation is the same as last week when a decision on the starting quarterback wasn't made until late in the week when Clint Moseley was named the starter.

Commenting on Frazier, Chizik said, "He is just going to have to push through it."

The head coach said that the other scholarship quarterback, freshman Jonathan Wallace, practiced well on Wednesday night, but added, "His package is the same. We are trying to get it to grow some." Wallace has been used to run the read option play in the previous three games and has not thrown a pass this year.

Linebacker coach Tommy Thigpen said after practice that Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost have become more serious about learning their assignments on their own over the past two weeks and that has carried over to the practice field. He said that both should have an expanded role this week. Thigpen wouldn't say that McKinzy will start over Jake Holland, but didn't deny it.

Commenting on McKinzy and Frost, Thigpen said, "They have been growing up. It has been fun to watch them. They have really stepped up their play."

Thigpen said the coaching staff is making a commitment to get those freshmen on the field more. "Their study has gone up, their production on the practice field has gone up and they have taken a lot of interest as far as coming in and studying tape and getting their alignments down. It is actually showing up on the field."

McKinzy could be making his first college start at middle linebacker ahead of junior Jake Holland. Frost backs up the team's leading tackler, Daren Bates, who has rarely been off the field this season. Thigpen said that ideally the coaches would like to get 15 to 20 snaps per game out of Frost to keep Bates rested and avoid injuries. Bates is leading the SEC in tackles. "He doesn't need to be playing 85 or 90 plays," said Thigpen, who noted that he will be counting on Bates to help McKinzy get the defense lined up properly against a Vandy offense that gives opponents a variety of looks.

"Coach VanGorder (defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder) says it over and over--you get what you earn," Thigpen said, noting that the extra work is earning the freshmen linebackers a chance to contribute.

Cassanova McKinzy

Chizik agreed with Thigpen that McKinzy and Frost are making progress. "It has been fun to watch," the head coach said. "They have really been focused, they have really been into it. I think, again, they see a great potential opportunity for themselves.

"The last two days, particularly, yesterday in full pads and today in shells, they worked themselves in trying to improve, especially with alignments. That has been fun to watch. I?think they have had fun. They put in some extra time on their own, which is very, very good to see. We will see what happens Saturday."

Chizik said that football is very important to McKinzy and notes he is a talented player. He said the case with both McKinzy and Frost has been the coaching staff developing a level of trust with the freshmen that they will make the proper reads and carry out their assignments properly game situations. "Kris has really stayed at it and been very focused trying to improve," the coach added.

Redzone Touchdowns: Despite converting two trips into the redzone for scores last week, Auburn is still last in the SEC in this category with a conversion rate of 28.6 percent (4-14). Vandy is 13th at 34.8 percent (8-23) with six runs for scores and two pass plays. All of Auburn's redzone touchdowns have been on runs.

Redzone Touchdowns (Defense): The Tigers and Commodores are ranked higher in the SEC stats this week in stopping opponents from scoring touchdowns from the redzone. Vandy is No. 2 at 42.1 percent (8-19) and Auburn is No. 4 in the league at 48.0 percent (12-25).

Fourth Quarter Flops: Auburn being outscored 62-3 in the fourth quarter of games has been a much discussed topic. Vandy has had issues in the final period, too, but not at Auburn's epic level. The Commodores have scored 26 points and allowed 43 in the final quarter of their six games.

Backup Back: Asked about tailback Corey Grant's lack of playing time, Chizik said the redshirt sophomore is improving, but needs to continue to improve and get healthier to get on the field this season.

Young Backup: Grimes said that Patrick Miller made progress in his third start at right tackle vs. Ole Miss. Fellow true freshman Avery Young, who opened the season as the right tackle starter, is trying to move up the depth chart while working with the backups, the line coach noted.

Time of Possession: In preseason Chizik said he was hopeful that Auburn's change in offensive systems would help the Tigers improve their time of possession statistics. The Tigers are tied for sixth in the SEC this week with an average of 29 minutes, 10 seconds time of possession. Last year Auburn averaged 27:58 time of possession. This year Florida is leading the league at 33:53. Vandy is fourth at 30:19.

Big Play Not Enough: C.J. Uzomah made a long kickoff return vs. Ole Miss. Currently the third string tight end, Chizik said that the sophomore needs to become a more physical player to earn more playing time this season. "We would like to see him come on some more," the coach said. Chizik added that Uzomah has improved "some" on his blocking, but needs more work.

Return Engagement In Nashville: Auburn defensive line coach Mike Pelton spent the 2010 season on the Vandy coaching staff. When James Franklin was hired as head coach to replace Robbie Caldwell the only assistant he retained was offensive line coach Herb Hand.

Mike Pelton

Pelton landed a job at Louisiana-LaFayette, but accepted an offer to return to his alma mater from Chizik, who he had worked for in 2007 and 2008 at Iowa State.

At the Stadium, On the Air: Vandy officials have listed the game as a sellout at 40,550-seat Vanderbilt Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11:21 a.m. CDT. Radio coverage on The Auburn Network is available on Sirius Channel 92 and XM Channel 200. TV coverage is on the SEC Network with Dave Neal, Andre Ware and Cara Capuano handling the telecast.

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