Up And Down Wednesday For Tigers

Notes from Wednesday's practice and an update on Craig Stevens are featured in this report.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers got practice number five in the books on Wednesday evening with a two-hour workout in full pads. With the focus on improving, the team has spent a lot of time getting familiar with the new schemes on both offense and defense.

In doing that it's sometimes hard to find guys that have made an impression on the coaching staff, but in just a week's time one of Auburn's most experienced linebackers has been doing just that. Singled out several times by new coordinator and position coach Ted Roof, junior Craig Stevens has started out very strong in spring practice.

"I have just been going out trying to work hard every day," Stevens said. "Do every drill full speed. I try not to take a play off and just get better every day. I guess they've noticed that I'm working hard.

"I feel like I'm going harder, longer," he added. "I'm trying to get better every play and not think about how tired I am. I feel like that has played a major difference."

It is important for some players to step forward at the linebacker position with a lack of depth hampering the Tigers in the spring. With just six scholarship players for three positions, Stevens said it has meant extra work, but that's fine by him.

"Right now we don't really have a lot of depth," Stevens said. "With Toro (Eltoro Freeman) coming in, that will help me out a lot. We still need some depth at Mike though. We have a little bit at the Will with DaShaun (DaShaun Barnes) behind Spencer (Spencer Pybus). Both of those guys are young. It will probably pick up when the freshmen come in. We'll have a little more depth."

Helping to build some of that depth has been Freeman. Coming in from junior college, Stevens said his current understudy has brought a sense of excitement and overall energy to not only the linebackers but the entire defense.

"I like him," Stevens said. "He kind of reminds me of Tray Blackmon. He can go hard every play and is energized. I think once he calms down and focuses on the plays he's got the he'll be a good player…he gets so amped up sometimes that he doesn't think about the plays and just runs around. He'll be alright though."

While the team is continuing to focus on the learning part of the game and installation on both sides of the ball, coach Gene Chizik said on Wednesday the team went through a 30-35 play full-contact situational scrimmage. He said there was some good and bad from the day, but several players stepped up and made plays.

"There were some good things on both sides of the ball," Chizik said. "There was high energy towards the end of practice. That was good to see. There were good things and bad things really

"Ben Tate had a long run," he added. "Onterio McCalebb had a long run. He did some nice things today. I was proud to see him come on. He's done some nice things for us."

A home run hitter at the running back position for the Tigers, McCalebb has the breakaway speed Auburn has been needing the last two seasons at Auburn. Chizik said that with his ability to cover ground in a hurry, McCalebb's speed can make up for a lack of size right now.

"I think it does to a large degree, but in this league there is such a pounding involved right now," Chizik said. "If you've got to catch him first it certainly helps. Speed is the great equalizer. If you can make a guy miss and put some smoke in his face with that type of speed then you can be a threat."

The quarterback battle continues to be an ongoing theme this spring as juniors Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle as well as freshman Barrett Trotter get the bulk of the work in practice. Chizik said while nobody has stepped to the forefront at the position, he liked some of the things he saw out of the group on Wednesday.

"They did some good things, but they're like anybody else right now," Chizik said. "They've done some really nice things and there are probably some plays in there they wish they would have taken back. I think they're really understanding the offense and grasping some things. Now it's just a matter of doing enough where it becomes a habit. They're really doing some nice things."

Defensive end Antoine Carter locks up with offensive tackle Vance Smith (right) in Wednesday's practice. Smith moved from tight end to tackle this spring.

Chizik said there was nothing new to report on the status of senior tight end Gabe McKenzie. Still not practicing because of medical issues, Chizik said McKenzie would be back out when cleared for play.

The Tigers will return to the practice field on Thursday for practice number six before taking a break on Friday. Saturday morning will feature the first full scrimmage of the spring, scheduled to start at around 10 a.m. The scrimmage is closed to the public.

"That's what we're looking at doing Saturday is trying to put it together for the first time and let the offense move the ball and face pretty much all the situations that aren‘t scripted, Chizik said. "We're going to try to do it at the stadium provided the weather cooperates."

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