Tigers Need to Be More Physical, Coaches Say

A report on Saturday's football practice features comments from Auburn players and coaches.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers put on the full pads for the first time this spring in practice three and did limited 11 on 11 work at the session that lasted a little more than two hours on Saturday.

"It was our first day of contact so it was interesting, to say the least," head coach Gene Chizik said. "It was a good first day (in pads). A ton of room for improvement. I like their effort. They are really trying hard. I think we will make some more progress every day."

The defense held the upper hand in the 11 on 11 work and none of the quarterbacks stood out at the session. Kodi Burns, who wrapped up the 2008 season as the starting QB, opened the 11 on 11 work as the number one quarterback, but offensive coordinator and QB coach Gus Malzahn said he will continue to rotate the quarterbacks.

Even though the offense struggled to move the football, new defensive coordinator Ted Roof gave his group mixed reviews and said the Tigers were not physical enough for his liking, something he hopes to correct in the coming practices.

"I thought we did some good things in practice," Chizik said. "I thought at times we showed signs of being physical, but we certainly didn't make a habit of it today, which is obviously what we have to get back to. Again, I think they showed signs of having it in them, but at the end of the day it certainly wasn't near enough.

"We have got to back to continuing to run the ball," Chizik added. "I thought we did some nice things. At times when we were physical, we were able to run it. When we were physical defensively, we were able to stop the run. Those are the two things we are trying to do other than the obvious--get a good grasp on the offense, defense and special teams."

Defensive end Antoine Carter said the theme of getting physical is something the players hear about from their position coaches, coordinators and head coaches every day.

"Everything we do we have to be physical," Carter says. "That is what Auburn is going to be about this year."

A senior who has a chance to step up and be a key player on offense is Andrew McCain, who is running number one at right tackle with last year's starter, Ryan Pugh, moving inside to center.

McCain is getting a fresh start with new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes and says he is trying to be physical, too, and prove he is ready to be an SEC starter.

"He is a players' coach, a really nice guy, very approachable," McCain says of Grimes. "He expects effort, but if effort is given then he will work with you, encourage you and as long as you aren't making the same mistake over and over again he is going to do everything he can to make you the best player so we can in turn be the best offensive line we can be. That has been great.

"He comes from a great football background and has coached a whole lot of great players," McCain adds. "We are really excited to have his leadership and expertise on board. It is really exciting."

Andrew McCain is a redshirt senior this season.

Commenting on the offense being directed by new coordinator Malzahn, McCain says, "It is a fast-paced offense. We like to use the term two-minute pace. You will see teams at the end of the game run the two-minute drill. That is really what we do the whole game. The reason behind that is so we can run plays in a shorter amount of time. You get to run more plays and score more points. At least that is the theory.

"We run the ball a whole lot," McCain adds. "We play-action. Obviously we have got plays that will spread out the field. It is a really balanced attack, but it is fast-paced and very detailed oriented."

McCain says the style of play will give the offensive line the chance to play physical football, something he likes.

"It gives us a chance to really assert ourselves up front as offensive lineman," he notes. "That is the exciting part for us when you really get to hunker down and block for the run, which is nice to be able to put your hand in the dirt every now and then and really get after somebody as opposed to feeling like you are moving side to side most of the time. It is exciting for us to have kind of a mixture of that, but to also know we have got the ability on offense to spread the field laterally and horizontally.

Another senior who could be a key player for the Tigers is defensive back Aairon Savage, who missed the entire 2007 season after suffering a knee injury in preseason. He is still in rehab and is limited on what he can do this spring. Savage has a reputation as being very physical, but is not cleared for contact yet.

Aarion Savage

Savage, who has played both safety and cornerback, says he expects to be a cornerback when he is cleared for contact, although he is not certain when that will be. "I have made a lot of progress, but I still have a ways. I am still not satisfied yet. I haven't played a down in Jordan-Hare in almost two years."

The senior has earned praised from the new coaching staff for his work ethic in rehabbing his knee injury. Savage says he likes what he has seen from the coaches.

"They are a very energetic group," Savage says. "We are all very excited. We are looking forward to every day, every practice, every film session."

Savage was one of the few players who knew Chizik before the new head coach was hired away from Iowa State. Chizik was defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Auburn when Savage was recruited to Auburn.

The defensive back notes that Chizik has kept a close eye on the defensive backs in practice, but he has watched the other players, too. "He is pretty much floating around everywhere," Savage says. "You know Coach Chizik. He is pretty much hands on."

The Tigers are scheduled to return to practice on Sunday evening for session four of the 15 allowed spring practices dates.

News and Notes: The offense didn't have many big plays in the 11 on 11 work, but Ben Tate did make several good runs...Chizik notes that on a day like Saturday with bad weather it would be nice to have a 100-yard indoor facility. He says that is something he believes is in the mix for the future. The coach notes that the artificial turf outdoor field helped the Tigers on Saturday, but they would have had a problem if there had been lightning with the rain...Chizik says that January enrollees, linebacker Eltoro Freeman and running back Onterio McCalebb are making progress on the football field and doing well in the classroom. "They have really come in here and tried to stay focused on their school work," Chizik says. Both missed qualifying after being signed by the Tigers as seniors in high school. Freeman spent two years in junior college, but redshirted one year so he has three seasons of eligibility at Auburn. McCalebb spent last fall at prep school and has four seasons to play for the Tigers. "Eltoro is strong, he's fast, he's aggressive," Chizik notes. "He can run and all of those things. It is going to be a matter of him learning what to do. Onterio, as we know right now, is a very fast guy, he is very skilled with a ball in his hands. He has to get bigger and more physical in things that we already know by watching him, but again, both of them, are doing a great job of trying to do what we are asking them to do." McCalebb is also getting practice time at receiver.

Inside The AU Tigers Top Stories