AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn coach Gene Chizik did not confirm Friday that four players wouldn’t be back with the team next year, but hinted that it was likely.
Chizik said he has not spoken with linebacker Tray Blackmon, wide receiver Chris Slaughter, defensive end Raven Gray or cornerback Ryan Williams, who are not currently enrolled in classes at Auburn.
“The bottom line is, I want guys who want to be at Auburn,” Chizik said. “I’m not spending time on guys that aren’t here. I’m spending time on guys that are here. And that’s how I’ll be from here until they put me in my grave.”
Reports surfaced Thursday that Blackmon is expected to sign with a Canadian Football League team and Slaughter has withdrawn from the school. Gray, who missed last year with a knee injury, is also not expected to come back.
Williams, who did not play last year for academic reasons, is already enrolled at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Miss, according to coach Glenn Davis.
Asked if they were officially off the team, Chizik said, “Without shutting the door complete on all of the issues, I’d say that’s where you could lean and be pretty correct.”
Chizik also has not spoken to offensive lineman Chaz Ramsey, who underwent back surgery and missed all of last year. Ramsey made the SEC all-freshman team in 2007 after starting nine games but had a falling out with Tommy Tuberville’s staff.
He was given a partial release from his scholarship in the fall that allowed him to transfer to any non-SEC school, plus Ole Miss and Mississippi State. He is still enrolled at Auburn. Springing forward
With a full recruiting calendar and coaching positions still vacant, Chizik plans to start spring practice later than usual this year.
“We’ve got a lot on the plate right now,” he said.
The Tigers began spring practice Feb. 24 last year, earlier than most teams in the country. Chizik did not mention a specific starting date, but it could be in March.
“I’ve always been of the mindset anyway of starting spring practice later because I don’t think you can do a very thorough evaluation of the previous year if you don’t,” Chizik said.
“You come out of the year and you want to really have time to evaluate what you did good, bad and ugly before you decide what you’re going to do for that spring.”
Team first, NFL later
Chizik said he was “pumped” by defensive end Antonio Coleman’s decision to return for his senior season.
“I think it’s huge for Auburn and our team first,” said Chizik, who said he had several heart-to-heart discussions with Coleman about his future. “We talked about that. Put the team first. Let’s worry about the team, and then all the individual things come after that.”
Coleman, a first-team All-SEC pick last year, was projected to go in the second or third round of the NFL draft. Two of his teammates, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks and cornerback Jerraud Powers, elected to forgo their senior season and go pro.
Chizik compared Coleman to Quentin Groves, another All-SEC defensive end who chose to return for his senior season in 2007 before being a second-round draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars last spring.
“I’m pretty proud of him to be mature enough to understand that his best days are ahead of him,” Chizik said of Coleman. “This was a huge, huge decision in the right direction for him career-wise.”