Chizik And Tigers Excited About New Beginning

Auburn Head Coach Gene Chizik talks about his team and the upcoming season from SEC Media Days.

Hoover, Ala.--The Gene Chizik era at Auburn officially got underway from an SEC standpoint as he had his first opportunity to speak in front of the media on Friday at SEC Media Days. Coming in with more questions about himself and his team, Chizik said it's just nice to get back into football and concentrate on the 2009 season.

"It has been a long seven months, all in the name of preparing for next week when we start," Chizik said. "We're excited about it. Our team is excited about it. We think we're on the right track."

The biggest question for the Tigers coming into the season is going to be at the quarterback position where Kodi Burns and Neil Caudle enter the year expected to challenge for the starting job, but Chizik said don't count out senior Chris Todd just yet. No matter what happens, the first-year head coach said it can't happen soon enough though.

"I would like a guy to step up tomorrow," Chizik joked. "We would love to get that thing cleared up, but the fact of the matter is that it's wide open. It's kind of a unique dynamic. You've got Kodi that played all spring and Neil that played all spring and Barrett (Barrett Trotter) got hurt at the end of spring. You've got two new guys who've come in (Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley).

"Then you've Chris Todd now who's healthy and throwing the ball around. He didn't take a snap all spring because of a shoulder issue. It's muddied right now, but obviously the guys that will have an advantage have had reps in this offense. We've got young talented guys coming and then guys that have experience that didn't even play in the spring like Chris. We just don't know."

A transfer from Texas Tech that started early in the season before shutting it down because of his shoulder, Todd has spent much of the last six months getting his arm ready for his senior year. Chizik said that may give Todd a chance to make a run this fall.

"He's as close to 100 percent as he's been since I've been here," Chizik said. "There's no question about that. How close he is to 100 percent of what he was before I got here, I can't accurately comment on that. He's much better than he was in the spring."

Because the quarterback situation is still up in the air there is always the possibility that more than one guy could play early in the season until things get sorted out completely. Chizik said while it's not the plan right now, you can never say never.

"Nothing is off the table because you don't ever want to go back and backtrack on something you said earlier," Chizik said. "All possibilities are open. You can't ever slam the door on possibilities. We know what we would like to do. We would like to settle on a quarterback, but we don't know how it's going to unfold."

While there are some questions at several spots on offense, Chizik said there are several spots where he thinks the Tigers have a chance to be good in his first season at Auburn.

"I think we've got some running backs that have a chance to be very good players," Chizik said. "I think if our offensive line stays healthy and they continue to grow in this offense then the offensive line has a chance to be good. Obviously there are some other questions, but they've come together as a unit and worked hard this summer. We need some success early, but more importantly they need to get better every week."

Defensively Chizik said that he's looking for several veterans to have a good year after they played well in the spring. He singled out Antonio Coleman, Walt McFadden, Mike Blanc and Craig Stevens all as guys who he was pleased with during spring practice.

From a personnel standpoint Chizik said that the only players that aren't with the team any longer are Christian Thompson, Jomarcus Savage, Marcus Jemison and Dax Dellenbach. Despite the rumors Chizik noted that both Philip Pierre-Louis and Cameron Henderson are still a part of the team.

Gene Chizik signs an autograph in Hoover on Friday.

Another player that Chizik said he's expecting to see wide receiver Montez Billings on the field this fall. He did not there are still some issues, but he would be reporting for the start of fall practice. The Pelham native sat out of spring practice because of some academic concerns, but will be ready to go this fall.

On the injury front Chizik didn't disclose anything on injured players such as Mike McNeil (leg), Tim Hawthorne (ankle), Aairon Savage (Achilles), and Barrett Trotter (knee). He said all were still being evaluated daily and rehabbing. He said all were a work in progress.

With just over a week until Auburn opens fall practice on Aug. 5, Chizik said several players are still waiting to hear from the NCAA Clearinghouse. While he didn't mention any players by name, guys like Terrance Coleman, Izauea Lanier, Josh Jackson, Taikwon Paige and Demond Washington are all waiting to hear word back, but Chizik said they don't know anything yet.

"It's coming down to the wire so we're working really hard to get those guys cleared if indeed they have a chance to get cleared," Chizik said. "All of them have different issues out there. We're counting on the ones we know are here and there are very few who have not arrived on the Plains."

Fans hoping to see the Tigers this fall won't have that luxury as Chizik said all of the practices will be closed to the public just like spring training. They will all take place on the practice fields, no longer on the intramural fields. After a physical spring, Chizik said they'll have to be careful with how things are done beginning in August.

"We're going to have to be really smart because we don't have a very deep football team," Chizik said. "In the spring we were five or six months away from the season and now we're a month away from the season. You want to keep a physical mentality, but you also have to be smart on your approach. We'll do that. We know we've got to take our best players into the game on Sept. 5. That's our whole goal."

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