Smith Will Play, Eltoro Still Questionable

An Auburn football practice report features comments from Gene Chizik and several of his assistant coaches.

Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gene Chizik said Wednesday night that running back Eric Smith will definitely play in Auburn's SEC opener and he hopes that linebacker Eltoro Freeman will be able to make his Auburn debut on Saturday night vs. Mississippi State.

Freeman, the first team weakside linebacker, missed Auburn's opening night victory over Louisiana Tech with a hamstring problem. Commenting on the redshirt sophomore junior college transfer, Chizik said, "We are hoping and we are going to play that by ear, but we are hoping Eltoro is coming along. We think today he looked better, but I don't want to be premature on saying that. We are hoping he will be able to play on Saturday."

Eltoro Freeman's play was a highlight of spring drills after he transferred to Auburn in January.

Smith, who played last season as a true freshman, was suspended for the opener due to his involvement in an off-campus fight. "Eric Smith is going to play Saturday," Chizik said. "I am really proud of the way he has responded by doing the things we asked him to do. I think he is ready to play.

"Obviously, early in the week, maybe a little sluggish," the coach said of Smith. "Nothing alarming, but probably what you would expect playing himself back into playing shape so we expect him to play Saturday."

Running backs coach Curtis Luper said that Smith will see playing time at the "3," which is the hybrid fullback/H-back position. "He will play mostly there, but he will also play some 4 (tailback)," Luper said.

Having another player in the mix is a big plus, Luper added. "We had three running backs the last game," he said. "He has some experience, he has played....It gives us a few more options on offense."

Smith and Mario Fannin, who also plays H-back, are the third options at tailback behind Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb, Luper said. The running backs coach said that McCalebb's workload of 22 rushes in the opener was a "little much for him."

Luper added, "He is about 170 pounds. We are not trying to get him 20 touches a game. We will take it slow with him, but we will get the ball to him in various ways. It won't always be running downhill between the tackles. He will be on the perimeter some, he will be catching the ball some, he will be in the return game...15 touches in various ways."

Luper said that fullback John Douglas, who started in the opener, "is a tough, blue collar type guy" who has "great hands" as a receiver. The running backs coach said he is a tough guy who "can play with a little nick here, a little nick there."

Luper added, "He knows our offense well. In the spring, he was just consistently good, consistently there, every practice, every day, and he earned the right to play, and he played well. He is not as physical as you would like him to be. A couple of times in the game a linebacker got the best of him, but he is going to stick his nose in there every time. That is just Auburn football."

Freshman Dontae Aycock, who is making the transition from high school quarterback to tailback, is a candidate to be redshirted. Luper said he hops the Tigers will be able to do that.

The Tigers practiced for two hours in shorts, helmets and shoulder pads working on the game plan for their SEC opener vs. Mississippi State, a 45-7 winner in its opener vs. Jackson State.

Asked if the practice is different this week with the Tigers preparing for their first conference game, Chizik said, "We have got to be the same every day. It doesn't matter who we are playing. Obviously, the SEC and the league and your opponents, we are aware of those things, but it really should never change how you practice and prepare.

"As I tell our team, we are products of what we repeatedly do--those become your habits. For us to have great habits we have to practice great. It doesn't happen every day, but that is the goal."

The Tigers will have a light workout on Thursday before heading to LaGrange, Ga., on Friday for team meetings and to get away from campus. "I thought it was a really good Wednesday practice," Chizik said.

"The tempo was high," he added. "We certainly need to brush up on some things some touch-ups, but today I thought was good."

In other news:

*Chizik said it is "great" that his assistant coaches have two-year contracts instead of the normal one-year deals for assistants. "I think it is very important," Chizik said. "I think everybody who coaches college football appreciates that. I am so very, very happy our administration provided that for our guys. It means a lot."

*Tickets are still available for Auburn's SEC opener.

*The game will be televised live by Fox Sports Net South, Sun Sports, Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Houston (Louisiana) and Fox Sports West. It will be televised on a tape delayed basis on Fox Sports Arizona on Sunday at 7 p.m. CST.

*Auburn's coaches said they are still trying to decide who will return punts this season. In the opener, Fannin and Anthony Gulley had that role. Demond Washington, Quindarius Carr and Walt McFadden are also possibilities.

*Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said on Wednesday night that he wants his starters to get in "better game shape so they can play harder for a longer period time."

*Special teams coach Jay Boulware said that he wasn't pleased with how Fannin "danced" on his kickoff return in the opener. "I am looking for a guy who is going to hit it," Boulware says. Boulware said that Onterio McCalebb, who had two kickoff returns, did "a nice job of getting downhill."

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