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Notes from the beat: Uh-oh

"And the people all said 'Sit down..."
"And the people all said 'Sit down..."

Sit down, you’re rocking the boat. There’s as many ways this 2009 Auburn team is different from the 2008 team as there are stars in the sky, fish in the sea, shots downed this weekend by Georgia fans, etc. But we all know that one of–if not the–most significant one was how united Gene Chizik and the Auburn players had seemed to become. Instead of the back-biting and boos over the QB situation, we had Kodi’s speech. Instead of Tubby’s occasional aloofness and the general lack of emotion of any kind on the sideline, we’ve got Trooper’s festival of jump-bumps and Chizik slapping every defender’s shoulder he can get a hand on after a 3-and-out. And while Kodi’s speech was a watershed moment, the building of this team started in the offseason, when Gene Chizik met (separately) with Eltoro Freeman and Antonio Coleman and convinced both of them that they needed to be a part of this 2009 season.

So it’s more than a little disappointing that even with Auburn at 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, those two players have become the first two small fissures in the team’s unified foundation. Freeman, you’ll recall, was benched for Adam Herring during the Tennessee game and didn’t seem to take it well; this weekend he did not travel with the team after what Chizik termed “personal issues” and did not practice Sunday. Obviously we’re going to have to wait for more facts to know exactly what’s going on (if we ever will) or what’s going to happen next for The Toro, but it’s awfully hard to look at this chain of events and not think “personal issues” is code for “deeply unhappy about his playing time,” isn’t it? Here’s to hoping it’s something completely different, but in either case, unless freeman returns Auburn is down to–count ’em–four healthy scholarship linebackers.

As for Coleman

“I’m a fifth-year senior and I came back to have fun and help this team win,” he said. “I just have to go sit down with coach Chizik about how I feel about what’s going on.”
Asked to elaborate, Coleman said the discussion would center on “how I feel about how this defense is playing and just a couple of things that I may see we need to work on.”

(More in a Jay G. Tate story here and a blog post here.) Maybe it’s just me, but is there some other way to read phrases like “what’s going on” or “a couple of things that I may see we need to work on” other than What the coaches and my teammates are doing isn’t working?

I understand that Coleman is frustrated, I understand that improvements do need to be made, I understand that he skipped out on an awful lot of money to play for this season and that watching the defense that carried this team throughout his outstanding career take a clearcut backseat to the offensive circus isn’t what he had in mind … but going straight to the press and declaring publicly that you’re going over your teammates’, position coach’s, and coordinator’s head to talk to Chizik about how frustrated he is? I don’t see how that’s in the best interests of the team. I don’t see how that’s helpful for Coleman’s defensive teammates, who as far as I could tell played just as hard last Saturday as he did and nearly all of whom happened to collect more tackles. (Though Coleman’s “Haley Center” point about the stat sheet not telling the whole truth is perfectly apt, it has to be said, because we can see his teammates mumbling it under their breath, can’t we?)

Coleman sacrificed a ton to play for Auburn this season, and he has every right to feel hurt that his defense is giving up yards left and right and, occasionally, points by the bushelful. He’s playing hurt–which doesn’t help matters–and if he wants to talk to Chizik about his role and his frustration, fine by me. But why tell the press? There’s nothing positive that comes from random Auburn fan jerk-offs like me knowing you’re unhappy, and there’s probably even less good to come from teammates who are toeing the line and being ever-so-subtly called out.

I’m not worried about his response to Auburn’s play on the field–this is a good week for Kentucky to come in, or it had better be, anyway–but sealing these fissures looks to me like the first real challenge of Gene Chizik’s Auburn tenure.

Elsewhere on the beat …

— Chizik doesn’t think Walt McFadden’s injury “is anything catastrophic,” and for Chizik that’s pretty revealing. It might be nice to rest McFadden Saturday if we can, but I bet he’ll play.

— Malzahn sounded a midweek warning sign that Auburn’s practices hadn’t been as focused as they had before, and now Todd echoes that sentiment. Guess we’ll have to pay a little better attention to that little canary in the coal mine from now on. More on that here.

— Love this quote from Ziemba:

“The older guys are going to have to be leaders to these freshmen who haven’t lost yet and use it as a positive. Come back and learn from it. USC gets a freebie every year. We just have to get back to work. The season ain’t over by a longshot.”

That they do, Lee, that they do.

— Interesting: Roof says he’d blitz more often if he felt he had enough depth to do so:

Roof said once Auburn gets up to a full complement of linebackers and defensive linemen, presumably in the future, that he will be able to be more aggressive in terms of blitzing because the players will be more fresh. “That’s what I’ve been in the past and that’s what I’m going to continue to be,” he said. “But at the same time, I think as a coach you just can’t say ‘This is what we do’ and if that doesn’t fit your personnel…you’ve got to have some flexibility within your package to be able to pick and choose based on what your personnel is.”

Good to know that Roof is at least thinking about being more aggressive, because to this point his arrival hasn’t quite had the same kind of impact on our rush defense and pass rush–even adjusting for playing opposite Malzahn and the lack of depth–I’d hoped for.

— Not that it’s a surprise to anyone, but Auburn dropped out of the mainstream polls. Auburn does still rank 24th in the Harris. They have been replaced by, amongst other teams, a Utah team with one fewer win and victories over mighty Utah St., San Jose St., Louisville, and Colorado St., and Missouri, who just lost by 16 points at home, also has one fewer win, and has beaten Illinois, Furman, Bowling Green, and Nevada.

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