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Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010

Auburn football: Newton increasingly looks like starting quarterback

- abitter@ledger-enquirer.com
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AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s quarterback depth chart remains undefined, but Cam Newton continued to make a push for the starting job Wednesday.

Newton, who is one of four quarterbacks sharing reps, threw two touchdowns in the Tigers’ closed half-scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. One came on a deep pass to DeAngelo Benton.

“The ball placement was unbelievable,” wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “If he had missed it, it would have gone out of bounds. That’s what you’re looking for.”

Newton also zipped a pass between two defenders to Kodi Burns for a touchdown.

“It was a frozen rope,” Taylor said.

Despite the coaches’ reluctance to name a starter, Newton is the presumed frontrunner. Teammates have spoken glowingly about his ability.

“He’s everything they talked him up to be,” linebacker Craig Stevens said.

Newton also has made strides in winning over his teammates in the locker room.

“He’s earned a lot of people’s respect,” Stevens said. “He didn’t come in too arrogant or anything. He just came in, got to know everyone, and that’s crucial at that position — get to know everyone and just get comfortable with everyone. That’s what he did. I bet he earned a lot of people’s respect just by doing that.”

Despite Newton’s big day, Auburn’s defense came out on top in the scrimmage. The Tigers got interceptions from Drew Cole and Ikeem Means and forced three fumbles.

“We had some guys who had some opportunities to make plays — and made them,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That’s a step in the right direction.”

Bates banter

Sophomore Daren Bates will play linebacker or safety next year, but doing both seems unlikely.

“That’s tough,” Roof said. “It’s different. It’s so different to play deep zones than it is to play underneath zones. You want a lot of built up reps so you really understand your trait and hone in on your trait. (Playing both is) tough to do. I hope we’re not forced to.”

Bates, who is not participating in drills after offseason shoulder surgery, has been in linebacker meetings all spring, learning the position to help Auburn’s movement on defense.

The question is whether he will stay there. Auburn’s safety rotation has plenty of question marks, with Zac Etheridge (neck), Aairon Savage (Achilles’, knee) and Mike McNeil (leg) returning from injuries.

Roof didn’t rule out a return to safety for Bates.

“It depends who else is healthy,” he said. “Really, to pinpoint an area right now, I don’t know if I’m ready to do that.”

Split ’em up

Taylor said Auburn will split into two teams for Saturday’s A-Day scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can,” Taylor said.

The Tigers went offense vs. defense last year, with few, if any, members of the regular defense getting playing time. It resulted in plenty of points.

Just how Auburn will determine the teams this year has not been decided, although Taylor promised different looks.

“It’s not just going to be 1’s on 1’s or 1’s on 2’s,” he said. “We’re going to mix it up.”

Auburn doesn’t intend to water down its playbook for the scrimmage either.

“I think you’ll see a lot of it this weekend,” Taylor said. “We’re going to polish on Friday, but we’re not going to put the vanilla stuff in. We’re going to go play football and find who the play-makers are.”

Quick hits

Neil Caudle has worked as Wes Byrum’s holder on field goals. … Byrum cut back his work load last week because of a minor knee issue. Chandler Brooks kicked during Auburn’s live drills in his place. … Wide receiver Ralph Spry had a touchdown catch Wednesday but also fumbled.

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