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April 4, 2012- - Auburn officially began the back stretch of spring football on Wednesday as they completed their eighth day of practice.
"We're still being very judicious in what we're doing with him with the soreness of his arm, but day by day he's getting better," Chizik said.
Chizik said he was pleased with the team's physical nature and progression of understanding new schemes during practice.
"I felt like today, the really tried to really focus in on the physicality part of the game. It was much better today, which I expected, so I was pleased in that regard," he said.
"Again, there's still a lot of new language, a lot of new concepts that our whole team is trying to grasp. We've got much, much improvement in front of us, as we know, but today, in terms of quality from the physicality part of the game, I was pleased."
Auburn went through game simulations, 11-on-11 work, and redzone situations on Wednesday with game referees, as some action was live as they prepare for Saturday's scrimmage.
"I thought today we made some strides. Today, there was a huge emphasis on running the football and defending the run," Chizik said. "We had some good red zone work and worked some different areas of the field, so that was good. Overall, it was a full-pad day, and I thought that we took a step forward in trying to be physical. I think, overall, where we're at, we're not satisfied by any means, but our guys are working in the right direction, and that's a positive."
Chizik praised the team's ability to move forward and show progression each day. By no means has any player or position arrived, but Chizik is pleased with the attitude and effort.
"I don't think there's been a day recently where we've taken a step back, but I don't feel like there's any comfort level right now with really any phase," Chizik said. "There's bits and pieces, offensively and defensively, that we are making improvements in, but to isolate on and say we feel good about it, I'm not there yet."
Chizik said the team is "digesting" the new language well and is taking the process day-by-day, but has shown improvement on a consistent basis.
Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Greg Robinson returned to practice after missing the previous two days for "family" reasons. Robinson tweeted on Tuesday night that his father wasn't "doing so well".
Sophomore linebacker Jawara White was absent from practice. "He's a little bit beat-up and banged up, but we'll know his status more as we move forward," Chizik said. Linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen offered a more concerning thought on White's absence, saying, "It's just a tragedy. His circumstances just happened recently."
Martinez likes effort, 'T-Bell' returns
New defensive backs coach Willie Martinez hasn't always been happy with the consistency of his bunch of corners and safeties this spring, but he has been happy with their effort.
"They are showing a willingness to learn, guys that are doing a good job," Martinez said. "We've only been there eight practices and you can see the progress being made, especially from the basic calls we've had when we first put it in and then seeing them execute it as time goes on.
"Obviously, it's a lot for them. They're eager to learn, more and more and more. There's inconsistencies which are going on, which we kind of expected that. We're really in a developmental stage of the package, trying to get a feel for what's the right spot for guys. There's really good competition going on out there."
Martinez stresses that communication and being a physical group are the single most important factors among his defensive backs on defense. Martinez said the ability to make calls like a quarterback on defense, particularly the safeties, is crucial.
"They've got to make a lot of calls. Still getting used to that, being vocal, being confident in what they're doing," he said. "They're playing defense, they'd better be physical every play. We want them smart and tough. Hopefully we recruited that."
"Chris really got all the skill sets that you look for in a corner. Changes speed. Feet. Ball skills. Chris has had a lot of success here, so we're kind of leaning on him to be a leader," Martinez said. "(Therezie) had an unbelievable interception in a red zone period we had. That was really good to see. Jermaine is a smart player. We feel very good about his progress. He's a guy that can make calls. That's been very positive. To be able to play nickel and safety in our system is pretty good."
Senior T'Sharvan Bell echoes the same sentiments on Whitehead.
"He's off the charts. He's probably the smartest guy I've been around in football. He knows everything - nickel, safety, corner - he knows it all," he said.
Martinez believes his safeties are a bit gun shy as they learn the new schemes, but after just eight practices, sees plenty of time for adjustment.
"Each day is hearing it over and over again. Whether it's the 20th or 30th or 40th time, a certain call. You've got the summer time where there's a chance to spend time together in the offseason workouts. And then when you come back in the fall camp. You can already see it's processing in a very positive manner. You can see them executing better."
One of Auburn's most experienced corners set to return to full speed this summer is Bell. He suffered a knee injury that cut last season short, but he's already back out in helmets and shoulder pads this spring, and feels there's no doubt he'll be 100 percent in a couple of months.
"It's taken a lot of prayer and take a lot of hard work, but I've definitely surprised myself," Bell said. But I'm not satisfied. I want to keep going. I want to be better than I was when I was healthy. So that's the goal for me."
Chizik is especially proud of Bell's quick return.
"I'm really proud of him. He's really taken to his rehab really well. He's taken it personal, and he's taken his rehab to a new level. He's making huge, huge strides. He feels confident about it. He's working hard to improve every day."
**Freshman linebacker Javiere Mitchell is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Chizik said his status is still uncertain for the spring.
"I can't say for sure. As spring goes on, he might be able to put on the pads and move around some, but he'll definitely not be in full-contact mode."
**Redshirt freshman linebacker Kris Frost says everything has begun to slow down for him on the practice fields.
"I've been hesitant for that reason. Now that I know pretty much the whole scheme of what we're doing and what we're trying to accomplish, I can speed up and run faster and get to the ball quicker. I still have a lot of work to do, but I feel like it's all coming along."
**Bell echoed the thoughts of many defensive backs this spring when asked about Martinez:
"I like him a lot. He relates to us. It's kind of like he's one of us. He can move around and get out there and do things. So it's kind of like he's one of us and it's good."