Auburn opens football practice with open mind, clean slate

abitter@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 25, 2009 

AUBURN, Ala. — Gene Chizik entered his first official practice as Auburn’s head coach with an open mind Tuesday, stressing that everybody on the roster has a clean slate and an opportunity to impress during the next three and a half weeks.

“What we want the players to know is that everything is starting over,” Chizik said. “And what we talked about in the last six weeks is that nobody inherits a position. That’s just not happening here.”

Chizik and his newly assembled staff have plenty to do in the 15 spring practices allowed by the NCAA, needing to install Gus Malzahn’s up-tempo offense, establish a pecking order at each position and simply teach the group of players how they want things done.

“We want to get the organizational aspect,” Chizik said. “We want to get how we practice down, what our expectations are out of practice.”

In terms of personnel, Chizik and his staff are trying to avoid going into practice with any preconceived notions from months of reviewing film of last year’s team.

This is particularly true at the quarterback position, the biggest question mark the team faces this spring. Four players — senior Chris Todd, junior Kodi Burns, junior Neil Caudle and sophomore Barrett Trotter — will all get their shot to run Malzahn’s high-powered offense, with no timetable set to name a starter.

“We’re hoping to go in and say this is our guy,” Chizik said. “You’d like to be able to say that a week from now. But that’s a perfect world and I think that might be a little ambitious.

“We have to watch our quarterbacks in this new system try to grow and not necessarily look at where they are today but look at where they are four months from now.”

A number of players who underwent offseason surgery are at different stages of their recovery, most notably wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis (knee), tight end Tommy Trott (knee), offensive tackle Lee Ziemba (knee), safety Aairon Savage (knee) and Todd (shoulder). Chizik declined to say anything too specific about their situations.

“We’re planning on practicing them and (having) them do as much as their physical limitations will let them do,” he said. “Basically, everybody we’re planning on practicing in some way, shape or form.”

Unlike past years, Auburn fans won’t be able to watch any action until the spring game April 18 at Jordan-Hare Stadium. All of the Tigers’ practices are closed to the public, something Chizik did during his two years as Iowa State’s head coach.

Even the media are limited to three 25-minute viewing periods, two of which are before the team is allowed to do any contact drills, meaning little, if any, significant action will be taking place.

“I think there’s enough pressure on these guys already to deliver,” Chizik said. “We just feel like this is a deal where we don’t want any outside or any extra pressure on these guys. We just want them to go out and practice and not worry about what anybody thinks or writes or hears.”

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