Chizik Upbeat About Sunday's Practice

Comments from Gene Chizik and Byron Isom are featured along with Auburn football practice news and notes.

Auburn, Ala.--Head football coach Gene Chizik put the Tigers through a 2 1/2-hour practice on Sunday evening and said he liked what he saw from his Auburn football team.

"I thought we had a really good day," said Chizik, who added, "there was a lot of energy" for a team practicing for the fifth day in a row. "Typically at this time, they are going down a good bit," he noted. "I am really excited about what happened today."

Sunday's session was mainly a teaching day as the Tigers worked in shorts and helmets.

Auburn will take the field for two practices for the first time on Monday. One of those sessions will be the first full pads practice of the preseason. Chizik noted that he considering a full pads practice on Sunday, but decided to hold off. On Tuesday the Tigers will practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium and are scheduled to have their first scrimmage of the preseason.

"We have so many days to go in pads," Chizik explained, noting why the Tigers didn't put on full pads on Sunday.. "You have 29 practices before you play."

With the Tigers short on depth at linebacker to begin with, they were shorter on Sunday with sophomores Spencer Pybus and Adam Herring being held out of the session as the coaches try to get those two players back to full speed physically.

"We have to practice really smart," said Chizik, who noted there is a "high concern" about the health of the linebacker corps. "We just don't have a lot of bodies out there," he added.

The head coach singled out a defensive lineman for his good play in Sunday's practice. "I will tell you what, Zach Clayton had a really good day today. I am really proud of him."

Clayton, a junior, had moved inside from defensive end to tackle. The new plan is to get him ready to play both end and tackle this year. "We double teach them because of the depth issues on our team," Chizik said. The coach added, "Every time I looked up he was somewhere around the ball--a great effort guy."

One of the players who will be counted on to protect the quarterback and make the running game go is offensive guard Byron Isom. After a solid spring, the junior from Lovejoy, Ga., High says, "Everything is going good. It feels to get back out there and get a little hitting going on.

"I feel like I have made some progress, especially putting some weight on," Isom says. "I am 295 now. Last year at this time I was 285."

Isom is shown at Sunday's practice.

The offense in general was disappointing last year, but Isom sees that changing in 2009. He says the offensive line will be carrying its share of the load. "I think we will be a strength of the team. Everybody has experience, everybody is willing to work and everybody is out there getting better every day."

Commenting on his new position coach, Jeff Grimes, Isom says the former assistant coach at Colorado is fitting in well with his new team. "We are meshing great with Coach Grimes. The camaraderie with the new staff, especially Coach Grimes, is great. We can communicate with him on a good level."

In other news:

*Isom notes he is keeping an eye on true freshman Andre Harris, who is also from Lovejoy High. "I give him advice all of the time," Isom says. "We talk all of the time. He asks me questions and I let him know when he is doing stuff right and I let him know when he is doing stuff wrong. He is playing right guard and is doing well."

Jeff Grimes gives instruction to freshman Andre Harris (70).

*Safety Mike McNeil, who is trying to recover from breaking a bone in his leg, has made some progress, but Chizik said the junior is "day to day." Chizik added, "He is not there yet."

*Freshman offensive tackle Aubrey Phillips, who was out of action on Saturday after having medical tests done, did not practice on Sunday but watched the action. "He has made some progress," Chizik said. "As I said earlier, we were just working through some medical issues...but he is fine."

Wide receivers John Cubelic (left), Montez Billings (center) and Jay Wisner (right) do a ball-handling drilling in which they must put a football between their legs and around their back.

*Clinton Durst showed his strong leg in practice on Sunday. He nailed two punts of plus 4.61 seconds in hang time as he continues to compete with Ryan Shoemaker for the starting assignment at punter. Chizik said he will know more about the punters after they are in full-speed, 11-on-11 situations punting under a full-speed rush.

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