A "Sluggish" Friday Says Chizik

Coach Gene Chizik discusses Friday's first practice in shells.

Auburn, Ala.--After two days in shorts and helmets, the Auburn Tigers put on the pads for the first time Friday afternoon as the team continued to work in two groups during the three-hour practice. While it was just shoulder pads and not full gear, Coach Gene Chizik said the team was able to get in some 11-on-11 work as well as inside running drills to get some physical contact in.

"It was our first day in shells," Chizik said. "It was a hot day and I thought we were a little sluggish, which a lot of time is expected on the first day of shells. We tried to be physical at times but we're certainly a long way off from where we need to be. Overall it was an okay day. I'm not going out on a limb and say it was a great day. We're going to pick it up tomorrow.

"We did some team stuff today," he added. "We had an inside run period today which we had not been able to do without shoulder pads on. We had a chance to get down there and try to get physical. We added about 10 minutes of that to the flavor of practice."

Splitting practice time between two groups is something that the Tigers are doing under Chizik this preseason and it has worked well to allow younger players on both sides of the ball to get more reps than they would normally get in a practice. Chizik noted that helps but they still have to take it slow with the newcomers and not give them too much too early. It also applies to the returning guys as they try to learn as much as possible without overloading the system.

"Everything is a progression," Chizik said. "You've got to walk before you run. You have to install what you have to install but to the same degree you have to be smart about what you give them mentally. You've got to take baby steps but we only have 29 days until we play.

"It's a really good mixture. There's a fine line in there on what you do and what you don't do. We try to go as slow as we can in the beginning. We're looking for retention. We'll pick up the speed and the pace as we go."

DeAngelo Benton goes up to snag a pass.

There are several positions where newcomers will have a chance to make an immediate impact for the 2009 Tigers. One of those is at wide receiver where DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake are both likely to challenge for extensive playing time this fall. Chizik said Benton has shown signs of life in the first three days but still has plenty of work to do.

"He's a work in progress," Chizik said. "He's getting better and learning a lot. He hasn't played football in a long time. He's going to have to continue to work, which he will, but he's got to work at our pace and our way. It's a work in progress for him.

"I think he's made some nice catches," he added. "He's not the only one. He's done a nice job. He's got talent. We've just really got to cultivate his talent. He's got a chance to be a good football player."

Another position that could be impacted greatly by freshmen is at linebacker where Harris Gaston and Jonathan Evans are both in line for a potential back up role this fall. Chizik said because of that they may get a little bigger crash course than some of the other newcomers on the team.

"We don't really change the way we approach it but obviously there is a lot more one-on-one tutoring," Chizik said. "They've got to get more time than a lot of the older guys who have been around it but that's one of the great things about these types of practices. When they go out there they're getting every rep. That's different than being out there and watching because they're the third guy in. I think that's really helped the young guys."

Daren Bates arrived at Auburn and practiced for the first time on Friday.

Auburn signee Daren Bates finally got good news on Friday as he was cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse and practiced for the first time as a Tiger. Chizik said it was good to see the athletic safety on the field after missing the first two days of the preseason.

"It was great to see Daren out there," Chizik said. "He's been waiting. We're trying to kick all the rust off of him right now but it's great to have him out there. He's getting some reps and did a nice job today."

Auburn returns to the practice field Saturday afternoon for the fourth day of the preseason. The Tigers could be in full pads but it's expected to be Monday before that happens.

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