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April 2, 2012

Notebook: Chizik discusses the QB race


Following Saturday's scrimmage, Auburn was back on the practice fields on Monday looking to correct mistakes from the Tigers' first simulated action of the spring.

Scrimmages are often tough to evaluate because if one side is successful, then the other side of the ball is obviously not having the same success. Gene Chizik noted the difficulty of that dynamic.

"An offense can look really bad when 10 guys are doing well and one guy's not, and the same thing holds true with the defense. You don't necessarily measure it when you're trying to build a foundation for an offense and a defense," said Chizik. "You've got to take the big picture in mind; the big picture is, we know all 11 have to be working together. They've got to be clicking together.

"The reality is an offense or a defense can look really bad if one guy's out of place. We've got to keep everything in context. Every individual's got to execute the details of everything we're asking them to do, and that's how you've really got to measure it. That and their effort. We don't want to coach effort. Those guys ought to be competing for a job."

Quarterback Kiehl Frazier earned praise from coaches and players following Saturday's performance, producing big pass plays to the likes of Emory Blake, Travante Stallworth, and Sammie Coates.

After watching the film, Chizik sees steps being taken in the right direction by Frazier.

"Kiehl's making strides every day. I don't think there's any question about that," Chizik said. "He's gaining confidence. I think he's feeling like he's getting a better grasp of the offense. I think he's at times productive. He's certainly got a long way to go in terms of the whole big picture, but I think he's making strides daily."

With junior Clint Moseley sidelined at times this spring due to a sore shoulder and turf toe, Frazier appears to be taking the early reigns of the quarterback race. Chizik said the timing of Moseley's injury was unfortunate in the midst of a tight battle.

"The reality of it is you either take reps and you improve or you watch and you're not getting the same opportunity to improve," Chizik said. "I think it's a big factor."

So when will Auburn make a decision at the quarterback position?

"With this quarterback race, we'll decide who the starter is when we feel comfortable with that. There's no time frame on it," said Chizik. "There's no time limit on it. They've just all got to keep working."

In other news, Chizik confirmed that fullback Ladarious Phillips has left the team. Chizik said Phillips "elected not to play football", and will grant him an unconditional release. Phillips did not record a carry in his Auburn career.

Auburn is still waiting on word from the NCAA on fullback transfer Jay Prosch and a waiver that would grant Prosch immediate eligibility in 2012.

"I really feel like he's a guy that can contribute to us. I think he fits in really, really well with the personnel grouping that uses a fullback," Chizik said. "I think that he brings a lot to us in that regard. I like that he brings a physical toughness and a physical mentality to us. And I think he's going to fit in well."

'Below average' scrimmage for backs

While transfer running back Corey Grant seemed to stand out during Saturday's scrimmage, running backs coach Curtis Luper is quick to clarify why Grant stood out compared to the other backs in his stable.

"That was probably because if everybody else was below average," Luper said. "Probably why because he had an average day. Probably why you heard what you heard."

Expectations are high at Auburn for the running back position, and Luper said his group didn't meet those expectations on Saturday. "Expectations here are high. I suspect that these guys will meet them, but they didn't on Saturday," he said.

Luper mentioned that the running backs will continue to be an instrumental part of Auburn's passing game catching passes from the backfield, and will not be counted on to block as much, with two tight-ends getting more action in pass protection situations.

With only seven practices left in the spring after Monday, Luper said his group will focus on becoming a physical unit like Auburn has known in the past.

"We pride ourselves on being physical and not turning the football over at all. The backs that we've had here have been really physical the last three years, Ben Tate, (Mike) Dyer, Cam -- Cam was a running back essentially at times that year," Luper said. "Really physical, and this is a physical league. Our intent is to lead this league in rushing. If you can lead the league in rushing and lead in rush defense, you'll probably be pretty good."

One player that Luper doesn't have to worry about being physical is Prosch, who was already banging heads on Saturday.

"Jay brings his lunch pail. He's a worker. He goes to work every week. He's physical and he loves it. He enjoys it," Luper said. "We haven't had a lot of that at that position in the past, so I think our guys our guys are really excited about the prospects of him helping the football team."

Freshman impresses Grimes

With redshirt freshman Greg Robinson missing Auburn's first scrimmage due to what Chizik called, "family issues", it provided an opportunity for freshman Patrick Miller to step in his place at left tackle. Miller has only been on Auburn's campus for a few months, but impressed Grimes with his knowledge of the offense and his effort on Saturday.

"He did a good job for a true freshman," said Grimes. "Typically true freshman take a lot of reps and you notice them on every play, but it wasn't that way. We were able to run our offense with him in there taking a ton of reps.

"He's got a long way to go in terms of understanding how to play the game, but he's got a great amount of want to. His eagerness to learn and mental toughness will give him a chance to be a great player."

Overall, Grimes said the unit was "not near" where it needed to be, saying the group lost their fundamentals during the live action. Days leading up to the scrimmage, Grimes felt like there was improvement, but not on Saturday.

"I felt like we regressed two or three days on our fundamentals. Improper hat placement, improper pulling angles, all the fundamental pieces of the game," Grimes said. "The other thing that happened is we had to go two and three reps in a row, and guys got fatigued. Fatigue makes cowards of us all, and that was evident on Saturday. They have to understand you have to play with fundamentals regardless of the situation.

Right now, the offensive line is still in a learning phase. Grimes is keeping his players in one position as they understand concepts as too much movement can be counter-productive. But when Auburn welcomes in five freshman offensive linemen this summer, Grimes is excited about the future.

"When we get our guys in this fall, we'll have by far the most competition since I've been here," said Grimes. "We're very short right now because we have a couple of guys out, but when fall camp rolls around, it will be a lot better.

"It's a good thing for Auburn when guys have to earn the right to get on the field rather than just being one of the best five on the field."

Quick Hitters

**Chizik said the quarterback's learning of the new offense is a day-by-day progression.

"If you're a quarterback and you've got the 'it' factor, which we hope all of our quarterbacks do, and you understand football, whatever the offense is, you ought to be able to run it and do the things we're asking you to do within that offense. They've all picked it up, and they're all in a good place, I think, mentally. It's just a matter of getting out there and actually taking the live reps."

**Chizik said tight-ends Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah are still thinking a lot on the field and are learning to be physical, but believes both are making strides.

**Luper said despite being a senior, Onterio McCalebb is still learning the new offense like everyone else:

"Onterio needs to learn the offense as well. He's got to get in and get his comfort level because it's new for him. If everything stayed the same, he probably would have gotten less carries because I know what he can do in certain instances. We still need to know where he's going to fit in this offense."

**Rising sophomore defensive back Jermaine Whitehead is still progressing in the new defense, learning both the nickel and safety positions this spring:

"It's a progression, trying to learn a couple different positions. I think I'm doing pretty well. Studying my playbook, getting in here and watching a little film. I'm just trying to make Auburn a better team. It's a different view. You know, you help out with the run a whole lot more. Just being able to make that transition during spring, I think, will help me a lot, help me fit in well."

**Taylor said Coates and Blake both impressed him on Saturday, making plays when called upon, and also credited rising sophomore Jaylon Denson and senior Deangelo Benton for stepping up their game. Taylor said Denson has a knack for catching the football away from his body in traffic:

"The best thing Jaylon can do, is he can catch the ball away from the framework of his body. If it's out on the perimeter, he does a really good job of tying his eyes and hands together and making a play over top of somebody. When he's matched up with somebody, he's not necessarily covered. He's physically better and more talented than most."

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