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April 6, 2011

Team polishing technique; Chizik addresses rumors

Wednesday's practice focused on teaching and correcting technique. Head coach Gene Chizik was pleased with the day's work.

"Practice was more halfway geared to cleaning some things up, really working on a lot of technique issues that are out there that I don't feel like we're quite where we need to be yet," Chizik said. "And then we turned around and basically had a half-scrimmage.'

The Tigers will have the rest of the week off from practice before Saturday's scrimmage in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The upcoming scrimmage, the second of the spring, will have the same focus as the first.

"Name of the game is consistency for the day," Chizik said.

"We're going to try to keep, as close as we can, groups together that we feel like are going to create some continuity on both sides of the ball," Chizik said. "We're going to play as many of the guys that we think are ahead and keep those guys grouped together. So, again, tailbacks can get a feel for the offensive line that's blocking in front of them and protections; the linebackers get a feel for the secondary and who's making the calls and things of that nature."

After the ninth practice of the spring, Chizik said the team is in good health.

"We've got the normal beat up, bumped and bruised that everyone has at that point in spring," Chizik said. "Overall, pretty pleased with where we are health-wise because it's been physical. We've done a lot of contact. But I think they've held out real well."

Off the top of his head, Chizik only named offensive lineman Ed Christian as a player who has been hindered by injury.

"Ed's struggling a little bit health-wise, as we know," Chizik said. "Other than that, almost everybody is intact."

As for a player who is coming off a health issue that is now going through spring practice, Chizik noted the improvement of offensive lineman Aubrey Phillips. Phillips joined the team in summer 2009, but transferred that fall because of an undisclosed medical condition that was said to be life-threatening.

"Obviously he's got a ways to go," Chizik said. "But really proud of him in a lot of ways right now. He's really trying academically in the classroom to really step it up. I feel like on the field it's moving fast, there's a lot of moving parts, but I think he's done some things to indicate that he wants to be better. He's really trying to move in that direction - that's been a positive thing. But again, him, like all others, he's got a long way to go. But have seen some bright spots."

Phillips is currently not on scholarship. Chizik said potential scholarships for Phillips and other walk-ons won't be addressed until the end of of spring ball.



Curry, Smith still on team




Sophomore linebacker Jessel Curry and sophomore safety Ryan Smith are listed on the Auburn football roster, but neither have been participating in spring practice.

When asked point-blank if Curry is still on the team, Chizik confirmed that he is.

"As I addressed earlier in the spring, Jessel is working through some personal issues at this time," Chizik said. "He's enrolled in school. He's not going through spring practice, but if any status of any of our players change, I'll definitely let you know."

Regarding Smith, Chizik said he is conceptually in the same situation as Curry.

"Same thing, going through some personal issues at this time," Chizik said. "Again, if their status changes, I'll let you know."

Curry, a Buford, Ga., native, saw playing time in six games in 2010 as a backup linebacker and special teamer. However, he had not been on the field since the Oct. 30 Ole Miss game. Curry also did not make the trip to Arizona for the BCS National Championship game.

Smith hails from Cordova, Ala. He saw action in all 14 games last season on special teams and earned occasional backup safety experience.

Both Curry and Smith were part of the 2010 signing class and were considered three-star recruits by Rivals. Curry graduated high school a semester and enrolled in classes in January 2010 to go through spring practice.



Carr stepping up




Quindarius Carr is the lone senior of the receivers this season. Coincidentally, he's replacing last year's senior at the "2" spot, Terrell Zachery.

Carr played in every game in 2010 and was named a starter for the Iron Bowl. Carr accounted for 103 yards off three catches with two touchdowns. One of his scores was a 48-yard touchdown catch in the season opener against Arkansas State. It was the longest catch of his career.

In his final spring as a Tiger, Carr is focused on becoming a leader.

"Because everyone is saying we've got a young team and they always say all our good players are gone, that little same saying," Carr said. "But it's my responsibility to take care of the young guys right now. Show them the way."

Carr also wants to prove to coaches that he can be relied upon like Zachery was last year.

"Every down wideout, that's the exact goal," Carr said.

In seasons past, Carr was more of a role receiver that was counted on for deep balls. Carr is working toward expanding his range this season.

"Coach (Gus) Malzahn always tells me I've got a deep part of my game, like good," Carr said. "I just basically need to work on my short game and blocking. That's the biggest thing I'm working on right now."

Carr is also working on improving as a punt returner this spring. He manned the starting duties for the majority of last year until he dropped a punt against Alabama. Carr was later stripped of the job and was replaced by then-starting receiver Darvin Adams for the rest of the season.

Carr said he likes being the punt returner and wants to improve in that area.

"Just getting underneath the ball more than I did last year," Carr said. "Me and Trovon (Reed) were looking at film with coach (Jay) Boulware the other day and I saw a lot of opportunities I had to return some balls and some... Like the placement - I wasn't underneath the ball sometimes."

According to receivers and punt returners coach Trooper Taylor, Carr and Reed are doing the best among the candidates for the starting punt returner job. Also competing are redshirt freshman corner back Jonathan Mincy and sophomore safety Demetruce McNeal.



Quick-hitters




*** Junior running back Onterio McCalebb said it's "weird" having players look up to him and ask him questions, but he's enjoying the leadership role. Health-wise, McCalebb said he feels good and is able to be a 20-carry back this year.

"It feels much better," McCalebb said. "I notice it every time I get in and run the ball. And in the blocking drills, because that's what I need to work the most on, my blocking. I feel really good about it. Still running strong, and having no injuries and all that."

*** McCalebb, who is known for his jets, said he worked on getting his speed under control last season.

"I worked on it every practice and every chance I got," McCalebb said. "I worked on keeping my feet and everything. Sometimes it feels like I'm moving too fast. Coach (Curtis) Luper told me what to do and I fixed it.

"I kind of slowed down, and once I got back on the curve, I picked my speed back up."

*** On the college level, McCalebb said it's "amazing" to see that there are players who are just as fast or even faster than him.

"In high school and prep school, I'm faster than everybody," McCalebb said. "But on this level, there's a lot of people that's fast. You've got to work to get faster. That's what I've been doing, working to get even faster than I was last year."

*** Junior linebacker Daren Bates is mainly working on the outside, but is learning all three positions.

"Having me like third mike, just in case," Bates said. "I just look at as expanding my role, expanding my horizons."

Jake Holland and Eltoro Freeman are also working at middle linebacker with Holland being the first-teamer.

*** Bates, a former All-SEC Freshman safety, said he feels like a linebacker now.

"I'm trying to become a leader on defense," Bates said. "Every day and every time I get out on the field, I'm more of a linebacker."

*** Bates said he weighs 210 pounds and is trying to reach 220 pounds. Although it's fun to put on weight, it hasn't been easy for him. Bates said he drinks three Muscle Milks a day in addition to meals.

"Trying to eat four times a day, and when I drink these (Muscle Milk) I try to eat a Gatorade bar," Bates said. "I go to Smoothie King at least twice a day.

"Sometimes we go over to coach (Ted) Roof's house for steaks. I try to eat at least three."

*** Senior Neiko Thorpe made the move from corner to safety this spring. According to Chizik, he's coming along.

"I think it's a work in progress, but the more he accumulates reps, I think the better he's going to get at that position," Chizik said. "I think he feels comfortable that far off the ball where he can see. It's going to be a work in progress just because he's got to get used to different calls and things maybe he didn't have when he was a corner that he had to worry about when he was a corner. That being said, I think the move is definitely progressing in the right direction. I think he's starting to feel a little more comfortable as the days go by.

*** Sophomore defensive tackle Kenneth Carter said the line has big shoes to fill this year, but he has confidence in the players this spring.

"We're going to be young up front, but I think we're going to do well," Carter said. "I'm pretty excited about it."

Watching Nick Fairley last year, Carter said, was helpful.

"Just the details, like when Nick got his feet on the ground," Carter said. "When Nick got his feet on the ground, it was 'go.' I'm just trying to do the same thing."

Carter said being physical has been a big focus this spring.

"You just get your first step on the ground and shoot your hands," Carter said. "We're trying to get hands on them and get penetration."

*** Defensive end Dee Ford is working at the quick end of the line this year behind sophomore Corey Lemonier. Like Carter, he's confident in this year's players.

"I think we're getting better," Ford said. "There's not going to be the excuse that we're a young team. We've got some soldiers. We're going to go out and fight in the fall. As far as for me, it's my technique and fundamentals that are improving. I'll know how to use my technique and my talent."

*** Although he is currently working with the second team, Ford won't stop fighting for a starting spot.

"I wouldn't say it's a selfish thing, but once you're in there you want that starting role," Ford said. "You get greedy. It takes your motivation to another level. It's exciting to know that I'm out here playing for Auburn in the rotation, but I want more."

*** Ford came to Auburn in 2009 as an undersized linebacker at 190 pounds. He's since packed on about 40 pounds.

"I'm definitely amazed," Ford said. "I'm still eating. I see myself 30, 40 pounds bigger and still just as fast, it's amazing to see myself on film. It's motivation. I know the hard work I put in for two years is about to pay off."

*** The Tigers' next practice will their Saturday 10 a.m. scrimmage.


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