Scrimmage One Receives Mixed Reviews

A report on Auburn's first major scrimmage of spring training has comments from players and coaches.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's seventh practice of the spring featured the first major scrimmage with Gene Chizik and his new coaching staff in place.

Chizik gave the session, which lasted two hours and covered approximately 90 plays, a mixed review.

"There were some good things that happened today," Chizik said. "I think we have a long way to go everywhere."

The coach noted that the theme of Saturday's scrimmage was to get physical and to do that most of the session was devoted to running the football. The head coach said approximately two-thirds of the plays were runs.

"I think there were 60-some odd runs vs. 30-something passes, but there is some means to the madness," Chizik said. "We have got to get back to that physical mentality. I think the kids responded and we did a lot of good things. We did some bad things--explosive plays, turning the ball over, things of that nature, we are really emphasizing on both sides of the ball. I think some of both of those things happened today.

"Special teams wise we have got to get a lot of that buttoned up with our kicking game," Chizik added. "We are working on that. I think overall it was a good day. I think it really went as planned. A good thing is we got out and I think everybody is healthy and we got accomplished what we wanted to today."

Gene Chizik talks to the players after Saturday's scrimmage.

Although no statistics were kept of the session, several players singled out redshirt freshman Justin Albert walk-on as having a big day running the football.

Albert, who is from Prattville High, turned down scholarship offers to walk on to Auburn after leading PHS to the 6A state title. Albert redshirted last fall while he rehabbed a knee injury, but has been quick and impressive through spring drills.

Albert is getting plenty of looks in practice with Mario Fannin sidelined with an ankle injury.

"Jusin Albert showed out today," sophomore running back Eric Smith said. "He had a lot of good plays up the gut. He was running hard and breaking tackles."

Cornerback Neiko Thorpe said the defensive front had a good scrimmage, something several offensive players pointed out, too. Junior Zach Clayton led the charge up front at tackle and noseguard with a pair of sacks.

"The defense won the scrimmage," Thorpe said. "It came down to the last series and we ended up getting a turnover."

A defensive end, redshirt freshman Cameron Henderson, recovered a fumble to end the scrimmage and give the defense a "win" in Chizik's system that gives points to the defense for sacks, fumble recoveries, three-and-outs and other good defensive plays. The offense also gets points for big plays and three consecutive first downs in addition to touchdowns and field goals.

Sophomore safety Drew Cole, who has won praise for his play throughout the spring, forced the final turnover, knocking the ball away from true freshman running back Onterrio McCalebb, a speedster who joined the team from prep school in January.

The top three quarterbacks, Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle and Barrett Trotter, all shared reps and Chizik said that none of the three have separated themselves. For part of the scrimmage they were made "live" meaning the defense was allowed to tackle them to the ground.

"You have got to be able to have a gauge when you are trying to measure two or three close guys in a battle right now," Chizik said, explaining his decision to allow the QBs to be hit for part of the scrimmage. "It is hard to separate them with two-hand tag. You have got to be selective when you go live...We tried to get everybody some series of being live. We are going to run the football with the quarterback. He has got to learn how to tuck the ball away and not turn it over."

Kodi Burns throws a pass on Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

So far the race is still on to be the No. 1 QB, said the head coach, who notes that nobody has separated himself from the others. "I don't know if there will be separation in seven more practices to be honest with you. I really don't." Chizik said that the first team reps are being shared to make it fair to the three candidates competing for the number one job.

Senior Chris Todd is still recovering from shoulder surgery and has not joined the QB battle yet. It may be August before that happens.

"We all got equal reps at quarterback," said Caudle, who threw a touchdown pass to Zachery. "I thought we had a pretty good day on offense and ran the ball pretty well."

The Tigers will return to practice on Sunday evening and have more practices scheduled next week for Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

News and Notes: Kyle Coulahan, an offensive guard, is giving up football to concentrate on academics, Chizik said on Saturday. Coulahan has not been seriously in the mix for playing time at any time since arriving at Auburn...The offense, which has been working on running plays at a fast-pace, was slowed on multiple occasions by the coaches on Saturday because the defense wasn't able to get lined up quickly enough. Chizik said it was important for scrimmage one to make sure the defensive players were lined up properly...Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said he liked how physical the players were on both sides of the football. He also had praise for offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. "Malzahn is a genius," Taylor said. "He is the real deal. I made the right decision (to come to Auburn)."...Senior running back Ben Tate notes he thought the effort was really good in the scrimmage on both sides of the football. "We had three or four fumbles and we have to improve on that," Tate said. "I had a fumble, McCalebb had a fumble and I know there was a fumble on the quarterback exchange. We can't do those type of things if we are going to win a game. Overall, I would say the running backs get a "C" as a group. Justin Albert played well and Eric Smith played well. As a group we have to get a lot better."...Ralph Spry Jr. caught a TD pass from Kodi Burns and is making progress in practice, WR coach Taylor said.

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