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April 2, 2011Auburn's first full scrimmage was meant to serve as a way for coaches to gauge the progress of their young team.
Head coach Gene Chizik believes it did.
"There were a lot of good things that happened in there today on both sides of the ball," Chizik said. "We'll know more obviously from watching film, but the main thing was the effort was good and I thought the energy level was good, which is what you look for on the first (scrimmage).
"Obviously, we worked a lot on our pace and how fast we practiced the game from both sides of the ball. That was a big emphasis today. So, I saw a lot of things that were good and obviously a lot of things that need improvement and we'll continue on this track and try to get better next week."
One of the big focal points of the day was special teams, particularly the return game.
Auburn was ranked 90th in the country in punt returns last year, averaging 6.18 yards apiece.
"We're trying to find a punt returner right now that we think will give us a chance to be better," Chizik said. "That's been like one of our Achilles heels since we've been here. We haven't had a guy who can return punts and get some of those hidden yards that people forget about but play such a big part in terms of field position. So we went live today on our punt returners which we will try to do every day we're in pads from here on out."
Chizik was pleased with the punt coverage unit.
"A lot of the same guys returning from last year with the exception of the punter (Ryan Shoemaker)," Chizik said. "Obviously, Steven (Clark) punted some last year as well. We're trying to get the rhythm between the snappers and the punters. We feel good about the coverage element and the protection element of that. Where we're not good and where we've got to make up a lot of ground from the year before is our punt return unit. Those guys are getting worked."
Now that the practice schedule has hit its midpoint, Chizik said the offense and defense are "fairly close in how far away both of them are."
"We're just a long way away both sides of the ball," Chizik said. "We're just a long way away. That's why these long scrimmages and these day are invaluable."
A positive is that even though most of the players are inexperienced, the system isn't new to them.
"This is not completely foreign to them," Chizik said. "Any phase of our game. So that's where it's a little bit different. Just a lot of fresh faces."
The punt returner job is up for grabs between redshirt freshman receiver Trovon Reed, sophomore safety Demetruce McNeal, redshirt freshman cornerback Jonathan Mincy and senior receiver Quindarius Carr.
Carr is the only player with experience returning punts at Auburn as he manned the duty for most of the 2010 season.
According to receivers coach Trooper Taylor, who is also responsible for returners, said Reed and Carr are doing the best job so far.
"But Mincy's really pushing," Taylor said. "He had one bobbled ball, but the drill was kind of messed up the way it was set up. Because he didn't know this side was going and that side was going. I told him, 'It doesn't matter. You've got to make the play regardless.' They actually did a good job. We're way ahead of where we were last year at this time."
Taylor added that the punt returners need to improve on decision making.
"We went live today, we had the officials and all that," Taylor said. "It was good to see those guys make plays. It's still difficult because they've got on different color jerseys, who's blocking for you, who's not. But you want to strain them as much as you can in practice. Just the decision making, catching the football, not letting it hit the ground, not letting it roll 18 to 20 yards was big for us."
As for the receivers, Carr, Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen all had touchdown catches today. It is not known which quarterback threw the passes.
"We had some guys we were counting on to make plays make some," Taylor said. "D-Lo (DeAngelo Benton) did a great job today going over the top and making some plays. Lutz caught a lot of balls today, and so did Emory Blake. Quindarius Carr made a play over the top of the DB on a jump ball. That was good to see happen. He needed that kind of success today.
"But I think the thing I was most impressed with was their blocking. We hit a couple of bubble screens and they really did a solid job. There's a young kid (Cameron) Groce that has really stepped up. To be honest, I know his name now. Because coming into camp, I just thought he was going to be another guy on the line. But he's really stepped up."
Taylor added that Benton is having the best spring of his college career.
"Not just his playmaking, but his leadership," Taylor said. "And it's really time. It was tough for him because he was behind Darvin (Adams). It's hard to work everyday when you know no matter what you do, it's going to be hard to pass that guy in front of you. But that experience he got from the bowl game and the times he was able to go in some games that we were ahead, that has all paid off for him. Just being there with Darvin, he's taking that same type of leadership role."
According to Taylor, tight end Lutzenkirchen is now working more with his group as a receiver
"Lutz really had an outstanding day," Taylor said. "Lutz has moved down to my room now, he's like an inside receiver for us. Where Kodi Burns played - he's taken that spot."
*** Reed suffered a knee injury in August that hindered his speed and ability to make cuts throughout the season. Now that the bruised kneecap has healed, Taylor is thrilled to see Reed perform.
"Now he's physically getting out there and doing really well," Taylor said. "If he can stay healthy, he's going to be a phenomenal player for us."
*** According to Neiko Thorpe, freshman cornerback Jonathan Rose and junior nickelback T'Sharvan Bell made interceptions.
"We recovered a fumble, T-Bell recovered a fumble," Thorpe said. "We had big hits. We had a lot of guys stepping up. We made those big third-down stops to get off the field."
*** Both Moseley and Trotter said to reporters that neither threw a pick. Walk-on Logan Paul was not available for interview. Neither Trotter or Moseley took credit for the touchdown passes.
*** Bell said the turnover was caused by defensive back-turned-running back Anthony Morgan bobbling the handoff.
"He was just trying to give us a present because he was a defensive guy," Bell said. "I understood it."
*** Thorpe, who is playing safety after spending most of his college career as a cornerback, gave himself a C- for his performance today.
"You always got to be the best coach for yourself," Bell said. "If he gave himself a C-minus, he obviously feels like he can improve greatly. That's what we expect him to do."
*** Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said he saw some positives in today's scrimmage, but there's plenty of work to be done.
"A lot of details and a lot of things are not where they need to be," Roof said. "The details are very important because we don't have a large margin for error. When you don't have a large margin for error, you go to be detailed in what you're doing and you got to tackle well. We missed too many tackles today."
*** Defensive line coach Mike Pelton said he saw good things out of his young players today, but mistakes were made up front. He wants to see the inexperienced players step up.
"I think they know how to play in the SEC, but I don't think they understand how you come out and be a starter in the SEC," Pelton said. "Some of them have played, but they've sat back and watched the guys set the tempo and all they had to do was come out and follow the tempo. They've got to understand that it's on their shoulders to set the tempo. We're just trying to get those guys to understand that they've got to come out strong."
*** According to defensive end Nosa Eguae, the lone returning starter on the defensive line, the offensive line is improving.
"They're working," Eguae said. "They're maulin' up front. They're really trying to get their nasty streak and that's what I see about a lot of them. That's what was so profound about our offensive line last year - they had a nasty streak about them. Our young guys are starting to get it. We'll just keep working. I love going against those guys. They push me and I try to push them back."
*** Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said mistakes were made up front on his side of the ball, but that doesn't surprise him.
"Right now, it's a little ugly at times, but we're trying to rotate young guys in there to give them a chance to figure out who our top five are," Malzahn said. "There were a few missed assignments, but that's to be expected with inexperience. We're moving some people around to have to learn two positions, which is extremely hard in our offense. Our goal will be, hopefully after our scrimmage, we'd like to identify who are top five are. I don't know if that's going to happen or not, but that's our goal."
*** According to Trotter, junior running back Onterio McCalebb had some nice runs today.
*** The Tigers next practice will be Monday at 9 a.m.