AUBURN, Ala. — When the rain stopped and clouds cleared, only half of Auburn’s roster made its way onto the fields behind the athletic complex Wednesday night. The other half moved indoors for an hour of conditioning drills before the two groups switched places.
It was all part of Gene Chizik’s plan to get more hands-on training with his players in what was his first August practice as the Tigers’ head coach.
“We split the squad up so we could basically have two practices,” Chizik said. “We were just trying to be a little bit creative in the ways we can give guys reps, especially to find the young guys that might be able to help us.”
Wearing an orange visor that matched his shorts and a gray, short-sleeved sweatshirt bearing his initials on the back, Chizik moved swiftly from unit to unit, breaking down techniques with certain groups while merely observing others.
He warned not to read anything into the split (“There was no rhyme or reason,” he said), but the first group was comprised of nearly all veterans while the second group was almost all newcomers.
“I think everyone gets a lot more out of it,” junior quarterback Neil Caudle said. “I think that for the older guys, we get more reps, more time with the coaches, get to move at a little faster pace since we’ve already done it before. For the younger guys, it’s even better for them, because they get more one-on-one time with the coaches and actually get reps. Usually at this time during two-a-days, they’d be just having to watch.”
There were several notable exceptions. Four newcomers who are expected to compete for playing time immediately worked with the older group.
Three freshmen — wide receivers DeAngelo Benton and Emory Blake and tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen — and defensive tackle Nick Fairley, a junior college transfer, practiced alongside the veterans.
The split worked especially well for a crowded quarterback competition. Caudle and Kodi Burns, who finished the spring neck-and-neck, worked during the first session, while senior Chris Todd, true freshmen Tyrik Rollison and Clint Moseley worked in the second group. (Redshirt freshman Barrett Trotter, who tore his ACL in the spring, was merely a spectator, while true freshman Robert Cooper, a multi-purpose player who can play quarterback, will start as a tight end).
“There’s no doubt, it really helps us evaluate the guys, gives us a true feel of them in live situations as far as them against the defense,” offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn said.
Malzahn said he hopes to name a starting quarterback as soon as he can, first narrowing the field to two and picking one from there.
“We’re a timing offense,” he said.
“I’ve said that before, and as soon as we can identify a guy that can start working with receivers that are going to be on the field, the better we’ll get.”