Chizik Sees Progress With His New Safety

A report on Auburn's football practice features comments from Gene Chizik and others as the Tigers continue preparations for their Homecoming game.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn football coach Gene Chizik said his Tigers were energized on Wednesday evening as they continued to install the game plan for Saturday's homecoming game vs. Furman.

The Tigers worked out in shorts, shoulder pads and helmets and Chizik said the move of junior cornerback Demond Washington to safety is going smoothly. "He is a very smart football player,"?the head coach said.

"Demond has really done well," noted Chizik, who was secondary coach at Auburn for three years under Tommy Tuberville from 2002-2004.

"Obviously, the stakes aren't as high in practice so it is easier to be more relaxed and things of that nature, but Demond is a very smart football player," Chizik said. "He plays a couple of different positions for us. He is the nickel as well as the corner. Now he is learning safety. Mentally, he is capable of picking all of that stuff up. It will be interesting to see what happens on Saturday, but at this point, after two days of practice, we are really happy with him."

Mike Slade, who played safety last week after Zac Etheridge was injured, could play the safety role this week when the Tigers are in nickel packages or that assignment could go to T'Sharvan Bell.

Chizik said a decision has not been made yet on whether or not Onterio McCalebb will play this week after sitting out last Saturday as the freshman running back tries to heal an injured ankle.

Running backs coach Curtis Luper said, "We have to let that ankle completely heal. Speed is his game." McCalebb has not been effective running the football since being injured on a special teams play vs. Ball State.

Chizik said he plans to talk to the seniors to see what the team can do "within the regulations and rules of the NCAA" to honor junior safety Zac Etheridge, who suffered a serious injury vs. Ole Miss that has put his football career in jeopardy. The safety suffered a fractured fifth vertebra. Chizik said honoring Etheridge would be "the right thing to do."

During the Ole Miss game after he was injured, some of his teammates held up four fingers (Etheridge is No. 4) to honor the team leader.

The head coach has had strong praise for Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott, who had the presence of mind to stay still while underneath the injured Etheridge, who said if Scott hadn't done that he may still be in the hospital and have been unable to walk for the rest of his life.

"I talked to Rodney Scott and it was a really good conversation," Chizik said. "He is a great young man. He is just amazing. He said it was a God thing. He just knew something was different. It was almost like he couldn't explain it. He just laid there and it was pretty amazing."

In other news and notes:

*Chizik said he is dealing with flu-like symptoms this week, but noted his team has been fortunate to avoid major problems in that area. "We have been really lucky,"?he said. "Of course, our medical staff does a great job of being pro-active on those type of things."

*Chizik said that freshman defensive end Nosa Eguae is doing well in practice. "We really think he is going to be a good player,"?the coach said. The original plan was to play him, but he was injured just prior to the opener. Chizik said as a whole the redshirting freshmen "have come to work every day and they have really done a nice job."

*Running backs coach Luper said that redshirting freshman running back Dontae Aycock has dropped 10 pounds this fall and is making progress working with the scout team. "He has really worked on his body," said Luper, who noted that Aycock currently checks in at 215 pounds.

Dontae Aycock is redshirting this fall. He is moving from being a high school quarterback to a college running back.

*Luper added that freshman receiver Travante Stallworth is doing a good job in spot duty running the football and could see an expanded role in the coming weeks. "He really stepped up," said Luper. "He is gritty, he is tough, he is conscientious, he is smart, he works hard. He is going to be a good football player."

*Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes said that his only redshirting player, Andre Harris, has dropped around 35 to 40 pounds this fall. Grimes notes that Harris wasn't in good shape when he arrived on campus this summer and definitely needed to redshirt. "He has got really good feet," said Grimes. "He has gotten himself in better shape. He still has a ways to go there. He is really raw, but he has really good feet. If a guy has size and has got good feet, you have something you can work with."

*Grimes said that the other freshman offensive lineman, John Sullen, "has a ways to go," but had praise for the work Sullen has done on field goal protection at guard along with walk-on Jorell Bostrom, who has also done a solid job in kick protection, the coach said.

*The Tigers, who have been near the bottom of the weekly SEC statistics in third down defense, have moved up to seventh in the league after allowing Ole Miss to convert just 3-15 opportunities. Auburn is allowing opponents to convert just 34.8 percent of their opportunities. Florida leads the SEC at 24.5 percent.

*In offensive third down conversions, the Tigers are third in the league at 39.7 percent trailing Florida (47.0 percent) and LSU (42.0 percent).

*Conversions on fourth downs have been a struggle for the Tigers much of the season. Auburn is 11th in the league converting just 27.3 percent of the time in those situations on offense and 12th in fourth down conversion defense allowing opponents to convert at a 58.8 percent rate. Kentucky leads in conversions at 75.0 percent and Arkansas leads in fourth down defense at 22.2 percent.

*The Tigers are fifth in quarterback sacks for SEC teams with 2.00 per game. Ole Miss, Alabama and Florida are tied for the lead at 2.88. Auburn is tied with Ole Miss and Mississippi State for fifth place in fewest sacks allowed per game with 1.33. Alabama is first at 1.00.

*Auburn is fourth in the SEC in turnover margin at plus 0.56 per game. LSU is first at plus 1.12. Georgia is last at minus 1.88.

*Saturday's game vs. Furman is Homecoming. The Tigers are 69-8-5 all-time in those games and haven't lost one since falling to Mississippi State 24-17 in 1991. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. from Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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