AU's 4th Football Practice Gets Mixed Reviews

Comments from players and coaches are featured with news and notes from Auburn's fourth preseason football practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn was back under the lights on Saturday night for its fourth preseason practice. Unlike the previous ones Coach Gene Chizik wasn't excited about what he saw.

"Today I thought was a little sluggish," Chizik said after the workout that lasted two hours and 30 minutes.

"We tried to push through and increase the tempo a little bit toward the end of practice, but we can't have days like that," Chizik said. "We have got to have days where we really push forward and practice with a little bit more excitement and energy."

The Tigers worked in shoulder pads, helmets and shorts at their practice field using their regular lights plus portable lights. Their next practice on Monday will be the first in full pads. On Sunday the Tigers will lift weights, have meetings, watch video and do walk-throughs.

One area of the team where the head coach likes the energy is what he is seeing from the newcomers in the secondary. "I think they have caught on well," said Chizik, who noted their "heads are swimming" as is the case with most freshmen their first week of preseason drills.

"They are giving good effort and their energy is there, but it is a process and it has only been four days. They are eager and really anxious to learn and they all want to contribute, which is really a good thing, and a lot of them are going to have to so it is good see those guys and their attitudes. It has been refreshing to see guys who want to play so bad."

Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said it was good to have the split practices the first three days, but noted it was a positive thing to have all of the players on the field together at the same time on Saturday night.

"We mixed some of the younger guys in with the older guys and got a lot of reps against the defense and that is the best way to evaluate," he said. "It was a good day. We got to see some things."

Malzahn said he likes what he is seeing with the quarterbacks and noted that he has "three or four guys" he wouldn't hesitate to put in a game. However, the No. 1 guy is clearly Cameron Newton. "I can tell a difference in him in the spring," Malzahn said. "He is real hard on himself, which is good. He has high expectations and he is off to a solid start and he has the right attitude. He realizes he hasn't arrived and he continues to work. That is good to see."

Malzahn said the competition to be the backup quarterback featuring Neil Caudle, Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley is still under way. The coach said each of those players got reps with both the first offense and the second offense on Saturday night.

Sophomore Dee Ford, who has grown to 6-4, 240 pounds for his sophomore year, is shown going through a special teams drill.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof, like Malzahn, was more upbeat about the practice than thehead coach. Roof said, "I think each and every day we have gotten better. We have got to continue to do that because we still have a lot of work to do--a lot of work to do."

Roof added, "We have been installing at a pretty good clip so as a result of that there has been a lot on the freshmen, but they have done a good job trying to work through it...So far they have responded well as far as their first few practices in college football."

The defensive coordinator said it has been good to see the competition for spots on the depth chart taking place after last year being short on quality, healthy players at most spots on defense. "It's a competitive environment that makes everybody better," he said.

Freshman offensive lineman Eric Mack (right) is the heaviest player on the team at 6-3, 361 pounds.

Sophomore wide receiver Travante Stallworth is not back to full speed yet as he continues to recover from ACL surgery after being injured vs. Furman. However, Stallworth is running and participating in practice drills.

His position coach, Trooper Taylor, notes that he likes the effort the wide receiver is putting into his rehab and adds he is hoping that Stallworth will regain all of his quickness and cutting ability that makes him a dangerous player with a football in his arms.

Stallworth's father, sergeant major James Stallworth, is stationed at Fort Stewart, but is being deployed to Iraq next week. "Hopefully, he won't be over there long," the wide receiver said. "I just pray every day that he will be alright."

In other news and notes:

*Senior tailback Mario Fannin said he and his teammates have high expectations for the 2010 season. Commenting on his team's preseason ranking in the Top 25 poll released by the coaches this week, Fannin said, "Twenty-three is a good place to start. Hopefully, we can just work out way up to the top."

Fannin, who is making the move from H-back/part-time tailback, will play tailback exclusively except for the possibility of returning kickoffs.

*Freshman running back Ladarious Phillips continues to get the attention of his teammates and coaches. Showing surprising agility and quickness despite weighing in at 6-0, 291 pounds, the former Handley High star from Roanoke was recruited as an athlete who was a possibility to line up as a defensive tackle if fullback didn't work out.

Malzahn said he has never coached a running back that big. The coach said Phillips is showing promise in practice although the freshman needs to drop some weight.

When he was signed by the Tigers there was plenty of speculation about where the Handley High star would play in college. However, Phillips pointed out he hasn't heard any talk from the coaches about moving to defense. Asked what he is working on in practice this week with running backs coach Curtis Luper, Phillips said, "Getting my blocking assignments down and everything."

*Freshman receiver Shaun Kitchens, who is learning the assignments to play H-back, said that time management has been a big adjustment for him coming to campus. "The tempo of the offense, and the tempo of college football, period, is faster," he said. "If everybody is not just as strong as you everybody is stronger than you are."

Kitchens, who is 6-3, 217, is a player who has plenty to learn, according to Taylor, but the coach said he likes the freshman's potential to catch passes in traffic and around the goal line.

Kitchens and his high school teammate, Demetruce McNeal, both signed with the Tigers in February. McNeal is working out with safeties coach Tommy Thigpen and also getting a look as a punter returner from assistant coach Taylor.

Demetruce McNeal earned All-State honors last season at Banneker High in College Park, Ga. He is shown during his first week of college practice.

*Walk-on wide safety Ikeem Means, a sophomore from Wetumpka, is off to a good start this preseason. The former high school wide receiver is making good progress as he continues to learn the finer points of playing in the secondary, according to safeties coach Tommy Thigpen. "Ikeem is doing a really good job for us," he said.

*Malzahn had praise for sophomore tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen. "You can tell he has had a great summer and he has worked extremely hard," Malzahn said. "He is the guy who has kind of stood out in my mind."

*Junior safety Mike McNeil said he is full speed again after missing the entire 2009 season with an injury. Asked if he is having any problems with his leg, something that was the case in the spring, he answered, "No, I am good." McNeil said during summer workouts with Kevin Yoxall he got back to full speed.

Auburn coaches said that they are encouraged that McNeil, who missed the entire 2009 season after suffering a broken fibula, has looked much more like his old self in preseason practices than he did in spring drills earlier this year. McNeil, who redshirted last fall, will be a junior in eligibility for the 2010 season.

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