AUBURN, Ala. — Any praise Auburn’s coaching staff has doled out during the first week of spring practice has come with a disclaimer: do it once we go live.
The Tigers will have a chance to make an impression Saturday in a full scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium lasting 90 to 110 plays, according to head coach Gene Chizik.
“What we plan on doing right now is playing it as much like a game-like situation as we can,” Chizik said. “We’ve been doing so much situational in practice right now — putting them in different situations that they’re going to run into on Saturday — so now we’d like to see them without coaches on the field.”
The scrimmage comes on the heels of a mostly instructional practice Thursday, when Auburn spent half of its time outdoors and half in the John H. Watson Fieldhouse after rains moved through the area. The Tigers worked in shells — shorts, helmets and shoulder pads — during the two-hour practice, their sixth of the spring.
“It was productive,” Chizik said. “We made it work.”
Still, the coaches have looked forward to a full 11-on-11 scrimmage and the contact it promises. The NCAA limits schools to three designated scrimmages in the spring, defined as when tackling takes place in more than 50 percent of the practice.
“I hope to see consistency,” defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said. “Two, is great effort and guys that are trying to fight and take a stand. ... You know you’re going to have missed assignments. You’re going to have some things maybe break down. But the substitute of that is effort.”
Running back rotation
With Mario Fannin working in an H-back role and Onterio McCalebb still learning the ropes as a prep school transfer, senior Ben Tate and sophomore Eric Smith have been rotating at tailback with the first team.
“Ben are Eric are what I thought they were,” running backs coach Curtis Luper said. “They’re physical runners. They can make the first guy miss, which every good running back has to have.”
Luper has been especially impressed with Smith, a bruiser who weighs in at 234 pounds and had 21 carries for 84 yards last year.
“He’s a load,” Luper said. “He’s not easy to tackle. Ask (safety) Mike McNeil. He hasn’t tackled him all spring.”
Five players have been working at returning kicks this spring — cornerbacks Neiko Thorpe and Walt McFadden, Fannin, Tate and McCalebb.
Fannin and Tate are the only two who handled kickoffs last year. Fannin had a 22.5-yard average on 11 returns. Tate had one return for 11 yards.
McFadden is also returning punts, something he did with the second team last year but never in games because of the team’s lack of depth at cornerback.
“I like the idea,” said McFadden, one of the fastest players on the team. “It’s another aspect I can add to my resume of being an athlete for Auburn.”
It’s a snap
Sophomore walk-on Josh Harris is the leading candidate at long snapper early in the spring, ahead of Bailey Woods and the only scholarship long snapper on the team, redshirt freshman Dax Dellenbach.
“That competition is not over with but it looks like Harris is hands-down better,” special teams coach Jay Boulware said.
Boulware expects another walk-on to join the competition before the start of the season but could not give a specific name.