AUBURN, Ala. — Under NCAA rules, Auburn could have practiced in full pads Sunday. But the Tigers didn’t, pushing it back one more day to keep everybody fresh.
“Conventional wisdom would say today’s the first day you’re allowed to go in full pads,” head coach Gene Chizik said. “That doesn’t mean you have to. We’re going to do what’s right for our team and practice smart and play it by ear. Certainly, our situation is probably different than a lot because of depth.”
The Tigers were especially low at linebacker Sunday. Spencer Pybus, Adam Herring and Harris Gaston, three of Auburn’s seven scholarship linebackers, did not participate in practice for various reasons. Other new spectators included safety T’Sharvan Bell, who had a wrap on his right knee, defensive end Dee Ford and offensive lineman Rudy Odom.
Monitoring depth will be an ongoing situation for Auburn, which is low on scholarship players but still has 29 practices this preseason to get ready for the Sept. 5 opener against Louisiana Tech.
Although the team practiced in shells Sunday, Chizik said that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a physical session.
“You don’t tackle to the ground and things of that nature,” Chizik said, “but for all intents and purposes, to the players, it’s like full pads.”
“The only difference is you have to be smarter when it comes to the contact aspect because you’re not protected really,” running back Mario Fannin said. “You still have to go out there and play hard and execute well and know your blocking and get a hand on it. It’s more of just working with your hands and feet rather than going in for a big collision.”
Auburn has two practices today, with a morning and evening session. One will be in full pads. The team scrimmages for the first time Tuesday.
The waiting game
Wide receiver Montez Billings has been able to practice with the team but is still trying to clear up an academic issue that prevented him from participating last spring.
The senior, who caught 24 passes last year, tops among returning receivers, provided little clarity to the situation in his first meeting with reporters since the 2008 season, simply saying, “It’s still ongoing.”
Chizik said last month Billings would play but added that there was still an ongoing academic issue at hand. Complicating matters is the fact that Billings graduated last spring.
Freshman Robert Cooper was told he would be able to compete at quarterback when he was awarded a full scholarship this summer. He’s a tight end now and will be in the foreseeable future.
“I guess I was kind of more just gravitating toward it,” Cooper said. “I have a chance to play there earlier.”
The Mobile, Ala., product practiced at quarterback and tight end after arriving for summer workouts, but offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn approached him early and asked him to move to tight end. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Cooper played wide receiver and safety as a junior at Daphne High and quarterback his senior season. “Tight end is more of a physical game,” he said. “It’s been fun. I like the physicality of it. I also like to go out and catch a pass every now and then.”
Attention to detail
Auburn’s coaches have repeatedly said they leave no gray area in their instructions. Apparently, they weren’t kidding.
While the team stretched Sunday, normally mild-mannered offensive line coach Jeff Grimes got into freshman Andre Harris’ face because the lineman didn’t have his helmet properly placed in front of him.
“Put your helmet where the other helmets are!” Grimes barked.
Grimes then made mention of the fact that this was the second time in as many days he had to tell Harris that.
Chizik said junior Zach Clayton, who has worked at all positions on the defensive line, had an especially good practice Sunday. “Every time I looked up today he was somewhere around the ball,” Chizik said. “Great effort guy. Really, really good effort.” … PK Wes Byrum went a perfect 7-for-7 during a live field goal drill to start the practice, drilling the last from 45 yards with teammates yelling loudly in his ear. … WR DeAngelo Benton was back on the field after missing Saturday’s practice with a right hand injury. He did not have his hand in a brace Sunday. … Freshman OL Aubrey Phillips, who had a non-football medical episode late last week, did not practice. He did appear on the sideline during a closed portion of practice, Chizik said.