Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football Tigers drilled for two hours on Wednesday evening correcting mistakes from the West Virginia game, worked on the game plan for Ball State and they are giving senior Gabe McKenzie another look as a defensive player.
Last year, when injuries hit the defensive front, the Tigers moved McKenzie from tight end to defensive end. He made six solo tackles with five assists and scored a defensive touchdown on a 24-yard interception return vs. LSU. McKenzie moved back to tight end late in the season and caught three passes for 33 yards.
“We actually put him over there some to kind of look and see if there is a possibility of him being able to help us on some third down situations,” Chizik said. “Obviously, he has played defense before.”
Chizik said the Tigers are always looking to “build up” their depth on the defensive front and get better in third down situations. Opponents are converting 46.5 percent of their third downs against the Tigers.
“We have got to be better on third down,” Chizik said. “I am not saying that (McKenzie to defensive end) is the answer, but obviously we are just looking at some different things that are possibilities.”
Commenting on McKenzie, Chizik noted, “He has played it before so he has a little bit of experience to bring in the mix, but I don’t know that we have done it enough to really have a great evaluation. We are just tinkering with it some.”
Chizik said that during practice this week the Tigers have made progress in the past two days. “Hopefully, we got a lot of things corrected from last week--everywhere,” he said. “Tomorrow will be kind of a run-through day. Preparation-wise, I think that we got accomplished this week what we needed to.
Defensive line coach Tracy Rocker said there is a chance that McKenzie could play on defense vs. Ball State after getting very little action at tight end so far this season. “We are going to keep coaching and see where he can help us at in certain situations,” Rocker said. “My philosophy is you never know. We are going to try him out.”
Rocker asked Chizik for an opportunity to try McKenzie on defense. “I need some more people,” the defensive line coach said, noting that his front-line guys are playing more than 60 snaps per game.
Help is on the way for Rocker with junior Antoine Carter being cleared to play for the first time this season. Carter has been recovering from a knee injury that also limited his playing time last year.
“He understands what we are doing defensively,” Rocker said. “The biggest concern is going out there and getting those nerves out of you...We just have to make sure he is in the right frame of mind. I made it clear to him, just do what you are supposed to do. We are not asking him to come out there and try to make some great impact. Just do what you need to do to get well, feel good, feel comfortable and get adjusted back into the game and then let’s go.”
Carter has the potential to improve Auburn's pass rush.
Rocker said getting Carter back will help the defensive front. The Tigers are also expected to have walk-on Chris Humphries available this week, too. He was helped off the field vs. West Virginia while covering a kickoff. He saw action at end in the opener. “He practiced today,” Rocker said.
Junior linebacker Craig Stevens said that from watching video of Ball State that the Cardinals have a talented running back. “They look alright,” he said of the Cardinals, who were unbeaten during the 2008 regular season but are off to an 0-3 start this year. “They still have that running back (MiQuale Lewis) and he was pretty good last year. I think that is the key. I think if we can stop him we will be okay.”
Lewis is a 5-6, 193 senior who rushed for a school record 1,736 yards on 322 carries last season and caught 35 passes for 325 yards. This year he is off to a slow start with 141 yards and one touchdown on 43 carries. He has caught 11 passes for 34 yards.
For a second straight day the Tigers practiced in shorts. Commenting on the area of focus for his team, Chizik said, “A lot of fundamentals. A lot of tackling angles, a lot of landmarks with red zone offense--just some things we have got to get cleaned up.”
The coach also noted the Tigers continued to work with their punt return team on which freshman Anthony Gulley is expected to be featured as the return man again this week.
In other news and notes:
*Tickets are available for the game that will kick off at 6 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is being carried by Fox Sports Net South and will be available live on Fox Sports Southwest, Fox Sports Midwest, Fox Sports Houston and Sun Sports.
*This week’s game could be an opportunity for backups to see more action. At linebacker, walk-on Ashton Richardson could see his first playing time on defense. He has been a regular on special teams. Stevens said he believes that Richardson is ready to play. “He knows all of the linebacker stuff,” this week’s SEC Defensive Player of the Week said. “It is just a matter of getting in and doing it.”
*Running backs coach Curtis Luper had praise for walk-on fullback Jason King, who saw action last week vs. West Virginia. King, who also plays on special teams, may get a chance to carry the football this week, Luper said.
*The Tigers will try to improve their record to 19-3 in home game going back to the 2009 season when they play under the lights this week vs. Ball State.
*Chizik has praise for the ground crew’s work at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The coach said the field was in amazing condition considering the amount of rain that fell during the hour-long rain delay. The coach notes that the field should be in excellent shape for this week’s game.
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