The 2011 edition of the defending BCS National Champions completed their third practice of the spring inside Jordan Hare Stadium on Saturday, and the coaches and players both seem pleased with the early results.
Here are some of the highlights coming out of the spring camp:
- The theme coming from the head coaches is "all the good players are gone." Using what seems to be the common thread of media articles, the coaches are using this to motivate the young, but extremely talented Tigers. In his initial season Chizik used the theme "Do What We Do" and followed that up with "Good to Great" last year. Maybe not as obnoxious as Terry Bowden's AUdacity and AUsome slogans, but the themes have seemed to set the tone for Chizik's initial two seasons on the Plains.
- Several coaches and players have commented on the fact that this is like a second spring practice. With the long layoff from the SEC Championship game until the BCS Title Game, it appears that the Auburn coach staff used that time wisely to not only prepare for the showdown with the Oregon Ducks but to use that time to get a jump start on the 2011 season by working with the younger players. This coaching staff does not seem content on resting on its laurels but moving on to this season.
- Mike Pelton appears to fit right in with the coaching staff and players. Tracy Rocker seemed to get the most out of his players and was a big loss when he became the first assistant to leave Gene Chizik for his dream NFL job with the Tennessee Titans. However, Pelton, who also followed Rocker at Troy, knows Auburn and has been enthusiastic and energetic on the practice field. We have seen in the past where a divided coaching staff can tear apart a team and early indications are that Chizik has made another great choice. Let's hope that Pelton can turn a couple of these young Tigers into Demarcus Ware and Osi Umenyiora like he did at Troy.
- Eric Mack is running at first team guard along with John Sullen. Mack was a very highly recruited guard out of South Carolina and redshirted last season after he reported to school overweight but has his weight "down" to 330 pounds and looks ready to compete for the starting job. Blake Burgess is running first team at center and returning starters Brandon Mosely and A.J. Greene at tackles. Look for true freshman Reese Dismukes to battle Burgess for the starting center position and Chad Slade and Jared Cooper to battle Mack and Sullen for starting guard positions.
- Ladarious Phillips is running with the offense. Checking in at 291 pounds, coaches have put him on offense to see what he can do. Although they would like to get him down to 270 pounds, coaches say he moves well at his current weight. It will be interesting to see how Mahlzahn will work him into the offense as a bruising blocker and short yardage runner. It also must mean that coaches are confident that signees Gabe Wright, Deangelo Blackson, and Jabrian Niles will be able to play immediately as true freshman on the thin defensive line next year. Also, at six feet even, Phillips does not fit the mold of the taller defensive tackles that this staff seems to like.
- Jonathan Evans is running first team at outside linebacker. In the mold of his older brother Chris, who played for the Tigers, the younger Evans just seems to be a solid player. Fighting off higher profile recruits Eltoro Freeman and LaDarious Owens, Evans is a solid if not spectacular option at outside linebacker. Jake Holland and Daren Bates are the other first teamers at linebacker with Harris Gaston and Freeman also getting reps. Jessel Curry is still in the doghouse and Jawara White is being held out of contact as he recovers from neck surgery.
- Walk-on Chris Humphries has moved from linebacker to fullback. Auburn fans will most likely remember Humphries for the bone-jarring tackle he made on the opening kickoff that jarred the ball loose against Ole Miss in 2009. With Eric Smith being dismissed from the team, the coaches are looking for a solid blocker and don't be surprised to see Humphries in that role next year.
- T'Sharvan Bell and Ikeem Means were working as the nickelback. With the spread offense, the nickel defense is utilized more and more and Bell is an ideal nickel back with his coverage skills and physical play. Bell is also an effective blitzer out of the nickel package as Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy will attest. Means seemed intent to get more playing time but look for talented signees Erique Florence, Robenson Therezie, and Jermaine Whitehead to challenge in the fall.
- Redshirt freshman Trovon Reed is getting a look at punt returner. For the past two years, the Tigers have struggled in returning punts and Reed has the kind of talent to turn this from a hold your breath and hope he just catches the ball into a scoring threat every time.