Auburn, Ala.--Auburn worked out for more than two hours on Wednesday evening in a full pads practice that the head coach said he liked as his team prepares for its opening football game vs. Clemson.
“I was really pleased with practice tonight,” Gene Chizik said of the session that was mostly indoors on a rainy evening. “I really thought the energy level was up. They were focused and ready to come to work. I felt like it was a physical practice again and that was really, really good to see--very focused.
“It was the last full tilt practice before we touch things up tomorrow,” he added.
A crowd of approximately 73,000 fans is expected at the Georgia Dome, which is a sellout for the Auburn vs. Clemson contest that will start shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Chizik opens his fourth season as head coach of the Tigers with a 30-10 mark at Auburn and is 35-29 overall including two seasons as head coach at Iowa State.
The Tigers will have a light workout on Thursday and a walk-through on campus Friday before taking the short bus ride to Atlanta that evening.
One of the players expected to play a key role on defense for Auburn in the opener is junior Chris Davis, a returning starter at cornerback. He will move over to the nickel slot when the Tigers put five defensive backs on the field with either T’Sharvan Bell or Jonathan Mincy expected to come in to play cornerback.
Davis said that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder told him that the nickel will have an opportunity to make big plays in Auburn’s scheme. “That is exciting to me,” said Davis, who notes that he has been spending extra time in the video room preparing for his dual role. “We should be playing nickel a whole lot this week.”
Asked how 2012 the secondary compares to last year’s group, he said, “We have improved a lot, especially with the new defensive coordinator teaching us what to do. Ryan Smith and Jermaine Whitehead are the two smartest safeties we have back there and I think they are going show on Saturday what they can do.
“I think VanGorder is a good addition to our team,” added Davis, who was named the Defensive Most Valuable Player of Auburn’s victory over Virginia to close the 2011 season in the Chick-fil-A Bowl at the Georgia Dome. “He has especially helped us in the secondary.”
Chris Davis is a second-year starter for the Tigers from Birmingham.
Chizik said he wants to see big things from Davis this season and talked to the junior about that on Wednesday. “I expect him to be a leader out there,” the coach said. “He loves the game of football and I expect him to be very productive while doing his job.”
Chizik noted that he is seeing signs that Davis is trying to step up as a leader and wants to see that carry over to the field on Saturday night.
In other news and notes:
*Tailback Corey Grant, who has been bothered by an ankle problem, practiced on Wednesday night. Chizik said the sophomore will be monitored closely in the coming days. “We will see where he ends up,” the coach said. “I think he has made a lot of progress as compared to where he was last weekend.”
*Chizik said the Tigers will not wear a patch or anything else on the uniform to honor former players LaDarius Phillips and Ed Christian, who were killed in an off-campus shooting in June. Instead, the Tigers will honor the pair at one of the home games. “It is still kind of in the works,” he said of the planning.
*Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes noted that sophomore Tunde Fariyike is having a good week of practice as he prepares for his first start at center in place of suspended sophomore Reese Dismukes. Fariyike played in all 13 games last year on special teams, but only saw action at center in a reserve role one time vs. Ole Miss.
*On Wednesday night Chizik had praise for free safety Trent Fisher, who he called a “football gym rat.” Fisher, who is running second team behind Jermaine Whitehead, is a former walk-on who was put on scholarship at the start of fall semester classes.
“He is a fantastic kid,” the head coach said. “Always gives you the maximum effort he can give.”
Secondary coach Willie Martinez also had praise for Fisher after practice on Wednesday night as well as Whitehead, who Martinez noted was originally reluctant to make the move from cornerback to safety in the spring, but has embraced it and prospered at the position.
*Chizik said the coaching staff has not finalized its travel squad for the opener. There is no limit on the number of players who can travel to a non-conference game.
*The Auburn Radio Network coverage of Saturday’s opener begins at 4 p.m. CDT. Television coverage on ESPN is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. from the Georgia Dome.
*Auburn’s all-time record in road openers is 78-35-6.
*With Auburn not playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium until game three, this season will be the first since 1984 when Auburn played its opening two games on the road.
*Clemson is one of eight teams on Auburn’s schedule that played in a bowl game last year. Auburn leads the series vs. the ACC team 34-12-2. All but two of those meetings, both Auburn victories in bowl games played in the Georgia Dome, were regular season contests.
*Clemson will be playing in the Georgia Dome for the eighth time on Saturday night and has a 2-5 record in previous visits. Auburn is 5-3 in games played at the facility in downtown Atlanta.
*One of the keys to success for the Auburn defense will be to contain running back Andre Ellington, who is one of just a dozen seniors on the 2012 Clemson roster. He is the leading active player in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing yards (2,355), rushing touchdowns (25) and 100-yard rushing games (nine).
*Junior defensive end Dee Ford said Auburn fans can expect to see a lot of different faces in the lineup on the front four Saturday night. He pointed out that the coaches want the ends and tackles to go as hard as they can on every play with the knowledge they will get frequent breaks with fresh bodies rotating into the game.
*Auburn has 30 players who have started at least one college game. Linebacker Daren Bates has the most with 35 followed by Nosa Eguae at 24, Philip Lutzenkirchen with 17, Emory Blake with 15 and Corey Lemonier and Onterio McCalebb with 14 apiece.
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