Tigers Open Practice Under the Lights

News, notes and quotes from Auburn's first practice of the 2010 football preseason are featured in this report on the Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Gene Chizik's second preseason as head football coach of the Auburn football Tigers began under the lights on Wednesday night with the focus on players who were on the roster in spring drills.

Chizik said the expectation of the players and coaches is to put a better team on the field than the 2009 squad that finished 8-5 including an Outback Bowl victory over Northwestern.

Gene Chizik directs a drill on Wednesday night as Aairon Savage (2) listens. Savage is back after a two-year absence due to injuries.

"The energy level was really high," Chizik said in describing the first practice, which ended around 10:30 p.m. "We have to take it day by day and we can't have any dropoffs. They have got to continue to do that for a sustained period of time."

Chizik said it was good to see his three veteran safeties working together on Wednesday night. Zac Etheridge, Aairon Savage and Mike McNeil are all coming off of injuries.

The coach said it was "really great" to see that trio in action. "It is just an experience thing, a leadership thing, it is all the things they bring to the table," he said. "All of those guys did some nice things tonight."

Commenting on the newcomers, who practiced separately from the returning players, Chizik said, "I was really proud of our freshmen guys. Their heads were spinning and they were trying to figure out what is going on. There are just a lot of moving parts for them right now, but they really tried hard, they practiced hard.

"I think it is going to be an extremely talented class," Chizik added. "Hopefully, a lot of them will be able to help us because we need them to. Today was the first step in that direction, but?I am really proud of their effort more than anything."

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said it was exciting to go into the linebacker meeting room before practice today and not be looking at a lot of empty chairs like he did week after week in 2009. Roof said his four freshman linebackers have a lot to learn, but he could see their athleticism tonight in the practice. The group includes Jessel Curry, Jawara White, Jake Holland and LaDarius Owens.

Roof noted that senior safety Zac Etheridge showed no signs of being off his game after his injury layoff. The defensive coordinator said he believes Etheridge can be better this year than he was last season because he has made a strong recovery physically and because he is a dedicated student of the game.

Antoine Carter finished the 2010 as a starter and defensive end and is expected to be a key pass rusher this fall as a senior.

Overall defensively Roof said the defense is ahead of where it was after its first practice last year. However, he added. "Overall we have eight million miles to go and a lot of things we have got to get better at, but it (practice) was a step in the right direction."

In other news and notes:

*Chizik said that everybody was present and accounted for as the Tigers opened practice under the lights. The workout was scheduled for the late afternoon, but was pushed back until 7:30 p.m. to avoid summer session final exams. Chizik said that nobody has any injury issues or academic issues that are preventing them from practicing.

*The head coach said the Tigers are going to be "very smart" in dealing with the weather with the Auburn area under a heat advisory.

*Asked about the possibility that the Football Writers Association will name Auburn the 2004 national championship in a re-vote with Southern Cal on probation and having to forfeit games that season, Chizik said that season was a special time for a special team when he was serving as the secondary coach and defensive coordinator. "Whatever they decide to do we will certainly be keeping up with it," he said.

Dee Ford (left), a defensive end, and Philip Lutzenkirchen (right) a tight end, are both sophomores this season as they began preseason drills on Wednesday night.

*Chizik said that the freshmen will work out separately for part of the practices in the first couple of days. He point out that strategy worked out well last year and likes the concept.

In the past freshmen had workouts before the varsity reported and got all of the attention from the coaches, but Chizik said he likes the new format that allows freshmen to have their summer schooling paid for because it allows them to participate in strength and conditioning workouts as well as orientation.

Josh Bynes, last year's leading tackler, is shown at Wednesday night's practice.

Zac Etheridge said he felt good after practice on Wednesday night, his first since being injured in the Ole Miss game. The senior said he believes the secondary should be a team strength for the Tigers.

*QB Cameron Newton said he is trying to take a leadership role, but said right now he is focusing on pleasing Gus Malzahn and doing what the offensive coordinator wants. The quarterback said he was a little rusty on his first day of practice, but noted that is not all of that unexpected.

*Newton said that he has been impressed with freshman wide receiver Trovon Reed, who the quarterback calls a "workaholic." Newton said that freshman tailback Dyer has a chance to be an immediate impact player.

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