August 29, 2012

NOTEBOOK: Martinez fond of Clemson's Venables

AUBURN -- Willie Martinez spent the past two seasons coaching Oklahoma's secondary under defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

The two coaches will be on different sidelines this weekend.
Venables left the Sooners for Clemson during the winter and will be making his debut inside the Georgia Dome. Martinez, in his first season at Auburn, said he hasn't shared any trade secrets with the Tigers' offensive coaches.

"In our profession, you keep it professional," Martinez said. "He's an extremely hard worker. Smart. He'll have that defense going, now. I know that about him. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he's done through the years. And we're really good friends."

Will the situation create an awkward feeling?

Martinez said these kinds of encounters are simply a by-product of coaching for more than two decades. Friends are made at various professional stops and those bonds often last longer than jobs.

"There's friends on this staff and you're going against each other every day. You want to do the best you can," Martinez said. "It makes it a little bit better when you know the person, the quality of the person."

BLAKELY RISES: Assistant coach Curtis Luper seemed skeptical earlier this month when asked about tailback Mike Blakely, whom he described as an inconsistent element.

Now? Not so much.

Blakely officially is bracketed with Tre Mason as the Tigers' second choice at tailback heading into the Clemson game. The redshirt freshman has soothed his position coach's nerves.

"He's been what we expected of him, which is he can make the first defender miss just about every time," Luper said. "He's a conscientious player. He works hard. He's eager to play."

Luper said he expects Blakely, who transferred from Florida in May 2011, to make his Auburn debut this weekend.

GRANT QUESTIONABLE: Another transfer tailback, Corey Grant, may be limited this weekend due to an injury.

"He's doing better, practiced a little bit tonight," Chizik said. "We'll watch him the next day and a half, two days, and see where he ends up. I think he's made a lot of progress as compared to the … weekend."

Grant is the Tigers' third-team tailback and a reserve on the kickoff-return team.

FRESHMAN IMPRESSES: Jonathan Jones remains in the picture at cornerback despite not being listed on the depth chart, but his spot on special teams is solid.

Assistant coach Jay Boulware, who handles special teams, said he's been extremely impressed with the freshman from Georgia. The intensity Jones showed in high school has only improved since earning trial runs on punt and kickoff coverage teams.

"He is one a few guys … when you see them on a highlight film in high school, that's exactly what he is," Boulware said. "I call him 'The Flea,' because he's not much bigger than a flea. He is extremely, extremely aggressive and he's extremely fast, too. He's one of those types of guys who is not afraid to do anything. I like those guys. They're football players. I enjoy coaching them."

PRELUDE TO AN INSIDE ZONE: Onterio McCalebb will enter the season as Auburn's top choice at tailback.

And he'll actually handle that position as described.

Coaches have been careful during past season about how they delopy McCalebb. At 175 pounds, McCalebb doesn't exactly pose a threat to 220-pound linebackers.

Still, Luper said offensive coordinator Scot Loeffer has big plans for McCalebb this season. Those plans apparently will include some tough runs up the middle.

"We're going to ask a little bit more of him this year," Luper said. "I'm exciting to see (McCalebb) play a new role. He'll still do the perimeter stuff -- and we have a lot of new perimeter things that Loeffler brought in, so that role is even expanded for him. But he's also going to run the inside zone and get in between the tackles."

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