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April 9, 2012

Notebook: Tigers dealing with inconsistency

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Following Auburn's second scrimmage of the spring last Saturday, head coach Gene Chizik had the opportunity to review the film and assess what the Tigers did good and bad.

In a word, Chizik said Saturday was 'inconsistent'.

"The grand overview is that there's inconsistencies everywhere. That's definitely what we have to clean up. That's both sides of the football," Chizik said. "Offensively, we had too many turnovers. Defensively, we were too inconsistent, especially when we got down in the red area which is extremely important down there. Overall, just a lot of things glaring in terms of inconsistencies. We've got one week to try to go back and address those issues, which we did today."

Chizik praised the Tigers' work ethic and enthusiasm during Monday's practice. "I thought practice was really, really good today. I thought they came out with a really, really good attitude," said Chizik.

"We practiced hard, had some energy. I thought there was some urgency after watching the film from Saturday and understanding a lot of the things we've got to get cleaned up. Today was a really, really good day."

Chizik was reluctant to single out too many players for their performance last Saturday, but did like the play of his defensive ends Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier. Ford is returning from a herniated disc in his back that forced him to redshirt last season. With the absence of Nosa Eguae this spring, Ford and Lemonier have teamed up to provide a fast duo of rush ends.

That speed has been something Chizik has been waiting to see.

"I really feel like we're making strides on our pass rush. I felt like we pushed the pocket up inside a little bit better Saturday," Chizik said.

"(Dee) and Corey Lemonier at the ends right now can give you some speed on the edge that's really, really challenging for our tackles, which is good to see. Those two pressured the passer Saturday, when they were expected to."

Offensively, Chizik was not as kind, failing to name any one player that deserved to be singled out for their play on Saturday.

"The overall deal was that everybody was inconsistent. There's not one guy that I can point out and say that he was very consistent and very productive," Chizik said. "That doesn't mean that nobody played well. When there's two or three guys out of position, obviously that can cause disaster on a play. There was too much of that. There's nobody I would say just stood out, after watching the film, offensively."

Auburn only has two practices left before Saturday's A-Day game at Jordan-Hare Stadium at 2 p.m. Chizik and his staff are still discussing the format for the game.

Grimes, 'we're a long way off'

Don't tell offensive line coach Jeff Grimes about learning a new offensive system this spring. Grimes is busy replacing both tackles and installing a more pro-style scheme, but despite that, feels his unit should be further along than it currently is.

"We're a long way off. That's what jumps out at you right now, which I expect to some extent with some young guys. But I don't think we're where we should be either. As a coach, I'm not pleased with our progress to this point in spring," Grimes said. "I think we need to be a little bit further along in a lot of areas - technically, knowledge of the game. Which we're doing some new things on offense, but there's still a lot of things that we should get right that we haven't gotten right consistently to this point."

That sentiment was shared by the entire offensive staff on Monday, as each assistant shared their thoughts of inconsistency and wanting more from their respective unit. But in order for the offense to ultimately be successful, it starts up front, and Grimes knows it.

"We're just not, from a consistency standpoint, where we need to be. And on offense, all it takes is one out of the 11 to screw the whole thing up really bad. And with my guys in particular, one of the five misses a block and the whole play is going is going the wrong direction," said Grimes.

"So we're just not consistent enough yet, but we'll get there though. But we really need to make a lot of progress this week."

Freshman Patrick Miller earned major reps for the second straight scrimmage on Saturday, this time working at right tackle opposite redshirt freshman Greg Robinson. Junior Chad Slade worked at right guard. Given Miller's youth, Grimes has been impressed with Miller's tenacity and desire.

"For a guy that just got here, not bad. He's a kid that really, really tries hard. It means a lot to him. He's got a great amount of desire and passion for the game," Grimes said. "I really believe he's going to be a really good player for us. I'm just not sure when, yet."

Ford returning strong

Ford was quickly developing into one of Auburn's most productive players in 2011, before a back injury cost him the rest of the season. Ford is now back participating in spring drills and feeling no lasting impact from last season's setback.

"I think Dee Ford is coming back to playing form, which is really good to see, coming off that injury," Chizik said on Monday. Ford felt like he had a good day on Saturday, but he's looking for great, and great is in the details.

"I've got to get on the small things, the little things, which is a good thing," Ford said. "That means I've always got something to work on, something to get better. Makes my day interesting."

Ford and Lemonier teamed up on Saturday to form a formidable pass rush duo against Auburn's new offensive tackles. The two fastest ends on the team finally paired up on the first team had Ford living out a fantasy.

"It was a fantasy at first. Now it's here," Ford said. "I can't even explain it. I'm ready to get in front of 90,000."

Most would have expressed concern after suffering a herniated disc, but not Ford. The biggest post-surgery hurdle would simply be staying in shape and keeping his body in top physical condition. For Ford, who carries a jug of water around on a daily basis, that wouldn't be a problem.

"I knew the biggest thing for me was going to be keeping tight in my core and everything would be tight and in place. Nothing would come back out. That's easy for me. I'm a workaholic," Ford said. "Now I'm experiencing and learning new things I can do for my body if I hadn't had the surgery."

Ford has even gotten into Yoga, something not every 21-year old college kid would have the interest, or patience to dive into.

"You'll be shocked. It will increase your athleticism almost instantly if you do just one," Ford said. "A lot of yoga, a lot of core work, which I hated. I'd never have done that on my own. Now I will. That was my treatment. That was my rehab, core. "

Quick Hitters

**Chizik says the process of finding a backup middle linebacker is a work in progress, saying redshirt freshman Chris Landrum is working behind junior Jake Holland. Chizik said there likely wouldn't be any additional players working at that position this spring.

**Chizik was very pleased with the play of Daren Bates on Saturday. Bates has earned praise all spring for his understanding of the game:

"I thought Daren Bates had a really good scrimmage Saturday. I thought he was coming around. He's really understanding where he fits within the defense. That was a bright spot in terms of him having a better day. That was a good thing.

I think that he's trying to lead. There's been so much learning going on. There's a lot of moving parts out there, he's got his own issues trying to learn his position and learn our sub packages. Him being in there on our substitution packages, which is different than our base stuff. There's a lot of things that he's learning but in the meantime I think he's trying to lead. The best example of leading is him showing up at the scrimmage and playing better, and I think he did that."

**Chizik reiterated that redshirt freshman Kris Frost has all the tools to be a successful linebacker, but is still lacking consistency after missing last season:

"Kris's challenge is he's got to learn the defense and he's got to be consistent in alignments and he's got to be consistent in executing the defense. The great thing is he's a young guy, it's the first time he's really, really played.

"He's been healthy all spring, which has been a good thing. He's taken a lot of reps. There's some improvement that you're going to see, but he's still a long way away in terms of just knowledge of the game and knowledge of the defense. He's got the tools to be a good player. I don't think there's any question about that. Confidence will come when he feels a degree of comfort with what we're doing. But he's showed flashes out there of being able to be a good contributor here."

**Ford has been impressed with the skill-set he's seen from redshirt freshman Robinson:

"He's quick to be a big guy like that. He's very quick, very explosive. He can move. I'm just trying to get him better and get me better at the same time. He's doing a great job."



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