AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday’s half practice, half scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium belonged to Auburn’s youngsters, one of the final auditions for the members of the freshman class to prove they deserve a spot on the field this season.
“We’re just trying to make some final decisions on who we think will help and who can’t,” head coach Gene Chizik said.
Time is running out for anyone to make an impression. Auburn opens the season in less than two weeks, hosting Arkansas State on Sept. 4.
As a result, the veterans ceded center stage during the team’s fourth scrimmage in 11 days, allowing the youngsters to test their mettle.
“Nobody wants to get redshirted,” freshman safety Demetruce McNeal said. “Everybody just wants to show what they can do.”
The coaches minimized what they wanted to see out of the freshmen, wanting them to be fast and physical above all else.
“We did a lot of the dirty work,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said. “It wasn’t a lot of glamor.”
“There was more contact speed than the last time we did it,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “That’s what we were looking for — not worrying about this, that and the other. They just went out and played football. They hit people and hit them at full speed.”
Chizik praised several players, including McNeal, redshirt freshman Harris Gaston and freshman fullback Ladarious Phillips.
McNeal, who sits far down the pecking order at a crowded safety position, said he had a pass breakup, a big hit near the sideline and a tackle for a loss on a bubble screen to wide receiver Philip Pierre-Louis.
“I only got out there for like two series, but I made the best of it,” McNeal said.
The 290-pound Phillips took advantage of his extended look as a ballcarrier. Malzahn said the freshman got so many carries he was “dead tired” by the end.
Malzahn sounded eager to see whether Phillips can help the Tigers as a short-distance back this year.
“He’s different,” Malzahn said. “He doesn’t look like a running back. He looks like a pulling guard.”
“You definitely have to get low on him or he’ll embarrass you,” freshman linebacker Jake Holland said.
With a big senior class and few positions up for grabs, playing time in the base offense or defense could be hard to come by for the newcomers. But the coaches expect many of them to boost Auburn’s special teams, which lacked depth last year.
“That’s where we’ve got to fill a bunch of holes,” Chizik said.
The youngsters know what standing out on special teams can mean for playing time.
“Coach said special teams is going to determine who gets on the field on defense or offense,” McNeal said. “Show them what we can do on special teams because then you’ll have a chance in coach Chizik’s mind about getting on the field.”
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said he doesn’t think many of the freshmen will redshirt.
“With this recruiting class, our selling point was you’re going to have to come here and play,” he said. “Don’t come here thinking you’re going to sit and redshirt.”