Following Auburn's second preseason practice the head coach made it clear that he is expecting a lot of help from the newcomers--26 freshmen and four junior college transfers.
The Tigers worked out in shorts and helmets for more than three hours in a split squad session so there would be smaller groups for the coaches to work with to give players more individual attention.
On Friday night the Tigers will put on shoulder pads for the first time this preseason. "It will be a fun day for everybody, especially the young guys we are counting to help us," Chizik said. "We are seeing some good things out of them, too, with this split practice plan we are using and I think it has really helped us evaluate those guys."
Chizik said that this is an important time for the newcomers to step up and prove to the coaches they are ready to contribute this season. "It's huge," the coach pointed out. "The way we are practicing right now gives us great film. It gives us great evaluation tools on these guys."
The entire squad came in for some praise from the head coach. "I still kind of feel like I did last night," he said. "I feel like there was a lot of energy out there today. Guys tried to push through."
The Tigers had their first injury of the preseason with wide receiver DeAngelo Benton having to watch from the sidelines with a finger injury. Chizik said he is not sure how long the sophomore will be sidelined. He was hit in the hand by a bullet pass thrown by Cameron Newton, according to wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor.
One of the most interesting players at Thursday's practice was 6-0, 291 freshman running back Ladarious Phillips from Handley High in Roanoke. He didn't get a scholarship offer from the Tigers until the night before signing day. Chizik made it clear he is glad the Tigers offered.
"He is just a great kid," the coach said. "He works really, really hard and he is an extremely gifted athlete. At 290 pounds he can do a lot of different things, but we knew that. He was a tailback in high school. He was one of those guys who kind of flew under the radar. We are just really, really excited he is here. We think he is going to be a very good football player here.
Ladarious Phillips is shown in Thursday's practice.
Another newcomer, Ryan White from Lincoln High in Tallahassee, was expected to play cornerback in college, but is getting a look at quarterback, his main position last season.
Ryan White is shown at Thursday's practice.
"He played quarterback in high school and he is a very good athlete so we started him off at quarterback," Chizik said. "He knows if we feel like that is not something we feel like is going to be able to help our team right now there is always a possibility, because he is a great athlete, of him doing something different. We are on the same page with that."
White said that when he chose Auburn he knew he would get a chance on offense. "Me and Coach Chizik discussed it before I actually committed up in his office," White said. "We went over basically what I could do which is start out at quarterback and play receiver or corner. It doesn't matter to me. I'm just trying to come in and get a feel for the team any way I can."
Commenting on playing QB, White said, "It's where my heart is at. I've been playing it my whole life. Trying to change over from something I had been doing my whole life would have been hard, but if I had to I would have done it for the team."
When asked about what he will do if quarterback doesn't work out for him in college, he said, "Right now I do everything, kick return and kickoff and quarterback. I still talk to Coach (Phillip) Lolley with the cornerbacks. Wherever I can fit in."
In other news and notes:
*Freshman wide receiver Trovon Reed showed he is really quick in Thursday's practice. He was particularly impressive in one-on-one drills teaching the receivers how to get away from press-man coverage. Wide receivers coach Taylor said he likes what he has seen from the newcomer.
*Taylor said he is encouraged by the recovery from knee surgeries being made by Philip Pierre-Louis and Travante Stallworth. Both are expected to see action this fall although Stallworth is still wearing a knee brace.
Sophomore running back Onterio McCalebb works out on Thursday.
*Quarterback Barrett Trotter said he feels better than he has in a long time because he has more strength and flexibility in his leg as he continues to progress from knee surgery. He noted that he had improved enough to compete in spring drills, but he definitely feels better now.
Asked to name a freshman who has caught his eye this summer, Trotter mentioned Reed because of his quickness. "He is really fast," the quarterback said.
Freshman safety Ryan Smith is trying to impress the Auburn coaches this week.
*Craig Sanders, the early high school graduate at defensive end from Ariton, earned praise in workouts on Thursday from Coach Tracy Rocker. Sanders is 6-4 and 248 pounds and shows good quickness in the individual drills. In addition to quickness, he showed good straight-ahead speed in kickoff coverage drills.
*John Sullen said a change in eating habits has allowed him to start practice at 305 pounds compared to the 357 pounds he weighed last summer. Switching from fried foods to grilled foods and eating more vegetables has been his game plan. Sullen, who played guard last year, says he isn't certain where he will play this year. He is getting some looks at tackle, the position he played at Auburn High.
"I think that is awesome," Chizik said about Sullen's weight loss. "That does say a lot about John's commitment to what he wants to do here." Chizik noted that with the sophomore's improved quickness he will be versatile enough to get a look at tackle in addition to playing guard.
*Antonio Goodwin, a freshman wide receiver, still has a lot to learn, but Taylor said he is impressed with the newcomer from Atlanta. Taylor said the speedy wideout is the kind of guy who can make the receivers coach look good.
*Freshman receiver Shaun Kitchens, who is 6-3, 217 out of Banneker High in College Park, Ga., is a guy the Tigers will look to use on fade routes near the goal line because of his size and leaping ability. Taylor said Kitchens is physical with "no fear." Because he has limited experience as a receiver he has work to do, but the coach said he is excited about seeing how Kitchens develops.
*Safeties coach Tommy Thigpen said that Aairon Savage has more of a burst and more confidence than he did in the spring. Savage has missed the last two seasons with injuries.
*Another safety, Drew Cole, is off to a good start in preseason drills, Thigpen said.
*Walk-on safety Ikeem Means has gotten the attention of head coach Gene Chizik, Thigpen said. Cole was battling for a starting spot in preseason last year and was injured. He returned to play in the bowl victory over Northwestern.
*The Tigers were scheduled to practice on Friday afternoon, but have decided to push it back until 7 p.m. and go under the lights.