Chizik Excited To Get Season Started

Auburn coach Gene Chizik talks about his team and getting ready for the 2010 season from SEC Media Days in Hoover.

Hoover, Ala.--Heading into his second season as Auburn's head football coach, Gene Chizik enters the 2010 season with a much better grasp of what he has not only on his own team but also about what to expect in the rough and tumble SEC as a head coach. One of the biggest factors for Auburn is continuity heading into the year, something Chizik said is much more important than people may realize.

"It's huge," Chizik said. "If you really look at our whole football team the majority of our football team has never had an offensive or defensive coordinator for more than one year. I think they are excited about that. I think the fact we were able to keep the continuity of our coaching staff was a huge priority for me. For our guys to be able to walk back in the meeting rooms and have the same guys that coached them the year before, there are a lot of guys on our football team that haven't had that.

"We know the players and the players know us," he added. "Last year we were trying to figure out our football team. We were trying to break the huddle and trying to figure out who our football team was. We're trying to really focus on being a great football team. I think a lot of those question marks we had at this time last year are totally different."

Perhaps the biggest change is the number of new players available this fall for Chizik and his coaching staff. Bringing in five newcomers for spring practice and getting 25 signees available for fall camp, the Tigers are closer to the 85 number than they've been in many years. He said that's huge for the program immediately and for the future because having a big senior class this year and a small junior group will make it necessary for that to happen more than just this season.

"They're going to have to be (an impact)," Chizik said. "I met with all the freshmen yesterday. Basically the message was that we recruited you guys and we expect you to play. We hope we eventually get to the point where when we recruit our freshmen class and have them in July we say ‘if some of them are able to help us then great, but if they're not and they can't do it right now then that's fine too'. We're not really there. We're more to the point of I expect all of you to play. If you prove to me that you can't then we'll proceed from there."

The linebacker position may be the most important one for newcomers to make an impact as the Tigers return Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens as starters but only two players other than them that played significant minutes (Eltoro Freeman, Jonathan Evans). Because of that some moves were made such as bringing up Daren Bates from the secondary and moving Craig Stevens to the other side in order to help the position. Chizik said they're looking to solidify things as quickly as possible but it could be a challenge once again this season.

"Obviously we want to set our three guys in there and these are the three guys that are going to play," Chizik said. "Last year it was getting real challenging to find a two-deep. It was a semi-revolving door. We hope we can eliminate some of that. We've moved Daren Bates down to linebacker that we hope is more of a nickel thing. We hope he can sometimes play inside and play in the box. That was an attempt to build depth and build speed up closer to the line of scrimmage. We've done some things we hope help us at that position.

But you don't know how it unfolds in this league," he added. "In October in this league things can change. I hope it's not like that but we're not out of the woods in terms of depth. We've got young guys. We'll see how it unfolds."

The move of Bates has been softened some with the news that senior safety Zac Etheridge was cleared for play this fall after suffering a season-ending neck injury last year against Ole Miss. Chizik said having Etheridge back is big from a leadership standpoint and they're going to take their time to make sure he's ready to go both physically and mentally.

"I'm just really, really excited for him as a great person," Chizik said. "He's just really blessed. It has been a journey with a lot of ups and downs for himself and his family. We're going to take this one step at a time. We're going to be very prudent on how we proceed with him. We're excited because he brings a leadership element and an experience element to our football team that is hard to get."

Much of the talk this week at SEC Media Days has been about agents and that problem in college football after Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina have all been in the news because of incidents. Chizik said it's not something new in the college football world and it's something that has to be handled first and foremost by the players and nobody else.

"We have a great compliance staff and they do a great job of agent education," Chizik said of how Auburn handles those situations. "We've taken some other measures in terms of that with outside sources coming in and talking with our guys. It's constant with us. I don't think we're any different than anybody else, I really don't. The way I see it is a lot of this has to go back on the young guy. He's got to have an allegiance to his school. He's got to have an allegiance to his teammates. He's got to have an allegiance to his football team and to his university."

Auburn was predicted to finish third in the SEC West by the writers with 10 first-place votes in the division. While Alabama was the clear leader, both Auburn and Arkansas figure to have a fighting chance if things go right this season. Chizik said the difference in a championship season can sometimes be the small things and that's what Auburn is hoping to improve on this season in year number two on the Plains.

"The health of your football team is obviously a key depending on how much depth you have," Chizik said. "For us to be a better football team the consistency of what we're trying to do is big. You go back and look at teams last year that could have been better football teams, look at all the teams penalty-wise starting with us. If you have half of the penalties we had at critical times in games then we win more games. It's that simple. It's the consistency of your team all the way around whether it's penalty issues or health issues. I have been on championship teams and undefeated teams. It's kind of like the perfect storm. It's team chemistry. It's how well the team comes together."

Auburn opens fall practice on August 4 and will begin two a day practices several days later.


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