Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Auburn Tigers Tidbits 8.7.12: Football Goes to Full Pads; Defense is Getting Nasty

Kiehl Frazier Fall Camp 2012
AP Photo

The pads were popping on the Plains on Monday as the Tigers did four full sessions of contact work. The Tigers donned full pads for the first time and the excitement was impossible to contain.

The Tigers are steadily progressing toward the new season with two new coordinators leading the charge and both are receiving rave reviews. Both the offense and defensive units will have very different looks and strategies this fall, with the changes being welcomed with open arms.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding the Tigers program right now--every bit of it is warranted. So what did the first day and pads look like for the Tigers? What concerns are there on offense and defense? Who is making a splash in fall camp?

I am glad you asked--answers to follow.

Intensity Makes Defense--Just ask VanGorder

Brian VanGorder is bringing back an intensity to the Plains that hasn't been witnessed since current Florida head coach Will Muschamp was roaming the sidelines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. VanGorder is intense and believes in correcting his defenders mistakes with loud instructions and bulging neck veins.

It is a welcomed change to the laid back style of Ted Roof.

VanGorder is a nice guy, but he is football tough and is looking for the same passion and attacking mentality in his players. He told Phillip Marshall with Auburn Undercover this past spring that "All those great things that are involved in the ruggedness of a man and the toughness, the ability to handle stress and pressure, exist today just like they did back when I began the game." He believes in tough play--he will get it this fall.

On the practice field you can't miss VanGorder. He is loud and in-charge of his defense. If they make a mistake, everyone from the receivers to the equipment guys know what was done wrong and how to fix it. His passion is unmatched, and it will make this Tigers defense intense, aggressive and good.

Auburn has been playing "safe" defense for three years--save the bowl game where Gene Chizik led the squad. Chizik knew that he had to get someone in the DC position that was able to bring the edginess back to the Plains. VanGorder is a perfect fit.

The Tigers will have a complex scheme this fall. VanGorder brought a NFL style defense to Auburn and is still implementing its intricacies. By September 1st, this Auburn defense will be completely different than in years past.

It is going to be fun to watch--hang on and wait for the snot bubbles to fly from the noses of the opposing offenses this fall. VanGorder wouldn't have it any other way.

Updates from First Day in Pads

There is still no separation in the quarterback race according to coaches, but it is more apparent than ever that Kiehl Frazier is "the guy" as the Tigers prep for Clemson. As I have said before, after the first scrimmage is played, expect a starter to be named.

Auburn has a great problem on its hands in the offensive backfield. Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason are the listed starters, but behind them the third position is up for grabs and Corey Grant, Mike Blakely and Jovon Robinson are battling for the spot.

Expect Grant and Blakely to both see consistent carries and playing time this fall as they are too good not to see the field. Robinson--a true freshman--will likely see carries as well, but they will come as the season progresses.

Look for a lot of formations that have multiple backs on the field. Think 2004 when Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were unstoppable as a tandem from the backfield.

At receiver the Tigers have seen a lot of progression from Trovon Reed, Jaylon Denson and Sammie Coates. Those three have been expected to add a lot to the offense this coming season and likely will.

Coates fell to an injury last season before he could hit the field as a true freshman and Reed has been hampered by injuries in the past two seasons.

Denson earned a lot of time last year, but mainly as a blocker on the perimeter. With the Scot Loeffler offense looking to utilize 6-7 guys in the passing game, these three will see a lot of increased field time this fall.

Along the offensive line the Tigers have a wealth of options, but the lineup is looking set with the exception of two positions. Right guard is still up in the air but Christian Westerman appears to be the front runner. He was battling Eric Mack this fall, but to this point Mack has not been at practice.

Mack was a victim in the summer shootings at the University Heights complex. Mack is still dealing with the emotional stress that comes with such life altering events. Whether he returns in a playing capacity is uncertain.

The left guard position could also see a shake up with veteran John Sullen--the only senior on the line--sitting out a lot of practice to rehab an undisclosed injury. He is the shoe-in for the job, but unless he gets back on the field soon the younger, very talented Tigers will take his place.

To this point, I still stand by the starting lineup that was listed on Friday.

Defensively there is a battle in the linebacker corps as the Tigers look for solid options in the middle. The starting lineup right now looks like Kris Frost, Jake Holland and Daren Bates. Bates is solid on the outside, but Holland and Frost are battling for their jobs. On Monday, Jake Holland and Cassanova McKinzy split time in the middle.

DC Brian VanGorder told reports that "Right now we have a group of linebackers that their numbers in the mental error category are not good. If you have that, then you really have to make a decision based who is at least going to be productive."

The battle will continue for snaps as fall pushes on. Linebacker requires a lot mentality in the VanGorder defense and they receive no leeway from VanGorder. He is a perfectionist and it shows. Look for the Tigers linebackers to be very productive this fall as they follow the lead of their coordinator.

Names to watch in the secondary are Jermaine Whitehead and Robenson Therezie. Therezie is a stud corner and will bring a high level of intensity to the cornerback position this fall. Whitehead is looking to play safety. Don't be surprised if Whitehead earns the start at safety this fall.

Tray Mathews Has Tough Decision Before His Senior Season

Tray Mathews--4-star safety and current Georgia commit--visited Auburn this past weekend with his family. Mathews left still committed to the Bulldogs, but said he has a lot to think about.

His best friend Reuben Foster is an Auburn commit and both have mentioned playing together in the future. Will it happen? Who knows, but I would put the Tigers coaching staff against any in the country in a recruiting battle.

If Mathews does flip, it will come in the next few weeks before his season begins. It appears to be 50/50 right now, but the hat is tipped in Georgia's favor as he is already on-board with the Bulldogs. I will keep you guys up to speed as the situation finishes.

Toomer's Trees to be Pruned--Again

According to the folks at the War Eagle Reader, the Toomer's trees are scheduled for another round of severe pruning this Wednesday. The trees are already trimmed back to the point where the canopy is virtually non-existent.

The next round is suppose to be more extreme. Auburn fans are expected to still be able to roll the trees this fall, but the future does not look good for the life of the current oaks at Toomer's corner.

Again, as updates come I will provide them. I will also be on-site Wednesday to bring photos of the changes.

Until next time, happy Tuesday and War Eagle!