Chizik Pleased With First Spring Practice

Auburn practiced for over two hours in the the first of 15 spring football practices.

Auburn, Ala.--The first of 15 spring football practices is in the books for Auburn and first-year coach Gene Chizik as the Tigers worked out for over two hours in shorts and helmets Tuesday night under the lights. Working on all phases of the game and setting the tempo for how practices are supposed to be, Chizik said he was pleased with what he saw out of his team.

"I was really proud of how the guys hustled around and really tried to be in tune with practice," Chizik said. "I thought they were focused. Some parts of the day we were all over the place a little bit, but I was really proud of the way they tried to respond and practice hard. They really tried to do a good job of soaking up football and listen and learn. That was really encouraging to see. I think it was a really good first day.

"It was unbelievable just finally getting a chance to coach football," Chizik added. "It was just a great feeling as it was for the players and other coaches tonight. We've been waiting for two and a half months to do this. It was fun to get back out there and get in the football groove."

Several players were wearing non-contact orange jerseys for Tuesdays' practice including senior defensive back Aairon Savage. Chizik said it was good to see number two out there running around on the first day.

"It was great," Chizik said. "Obviously day by day we're going to make progress with him. I think it's a mental thing with him at this point just getting confidence. I think he did that tonight. He'll be a little sore tomorrow. We'll work to day two when we get to that. I'm really proud of the way he's tried to respond. He's another guy that has played a lot of football. He really tried to be focused and tried to learn. I was really proud of the way he pushed through practice."

Defensive back Aairon Savage takes part in drills on Tuesday.

Back in a non-contact capacity this spring coming off knee surgery last year, Savage said that just getting back on the field was a blessing for him and for his younger teammates at the cornerback position where he's currently working.

"I'm feeling good," Savage said. "It feel good to be back out there with the guys. Just to see the look in their eyes, the uplift in their eyes with me back out there, feels good."

While Savage is coming back from an injury, senior tight end Gabe McKenzie missed Tuesday's practice with an undisclosed medical issue. Chizik said at the moment they're not sure when he'll return, but they're expecting him back with the team.

"Right now Gabe is on the football team," Chizik said. "We're just dealing with a couple of medical issues right now that we'll work through. He'll be back out there when those things get worked out."

The offensive line will obviously be a point of emphasis for the Tigers in the spring and one of the new faces at that position is true sophomore Vance Smith. A tight end last season, the 6-2, 255-pounder lined up at right tackle Tuesday night in the first practice and coach Jeff Grimes said he showed some good signs of being able to help down the road.

"Obviously he's a little light in the pants right now, but I really like that kid's mentality," Grimes said. "He's got a grittiness about him. He's got real coachability and a real desire to please and work hard. He's got great feet and athleticism for an offensive lineman. I think he's got a bright future there."

Gus Malzahn directs his quarterbacks.

Another position that will get plenty of talk in the spring is at quarterback where Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter took many of the snaps on Tuesday while Chris Todd went through the drills, but didn't throw live. Caudle said for a first day he was pleased with how everything went and especially working with coach Gus Malzahn for the first time on the field.

"It was real fast paced," Caudle said. "It was a lot faster than what we're used to, even from last year. I feel like the guys really hustled today. We didn't do everything right, but it was the first day. Everybody had good pace.

"He (Malzahn) is constantly coaching," Caudle added. "If you run into him into the hallway he'll coach you on something. It helps a lot that he's always there to help us. He tells us what we're doing wrong and what we're doing right."

On the field the Tigers spent much of the practice running at a frenetic pace on both offense and defense. Running from sideline to sideline and drill to drill, the Tigers got a crash course in football Gene Chizik style and the coach said while it wasn't perfect, he appreciated the effort.

"I think it's different for everybody," Chizik said. "The tempo is fast. We don't want to trick ourselves, but we are moving at a pretty quick pace. Offensively we still have to get used to it. We've got some things we have to get cleaned up, jumping offsides, things of that nature.

"Defensively it's just getting the pace down and trying to get lined up in the proper amount of time," he added. "I think the pace was very new, but they'll get better and better at it as the days go on."

The Tigers will return to the practice field Thursday at 4:30 p.m. weather permitting. With storms expected in the Auburn area for much of the next four days, Chizik said they'll keep a close eye on the weather before making permanent plans.

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