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Notes from the Beat: Smith, Newton, etc.

No doubt Auburn's coaches would have preferred I'd gone with the Newton-in-glasses pic, but I think I like Newton-with-a-nonthrowing-bicep-the-size-of-my-head better.
No doubt Auburn's coaches would have preferred I'd gone with the Newton-in-glasses pic, but I think I like Newton-with-a-nonthrowing-bicep-the-size-of-my-head better.

Lots to discuss after the weekend, starting with …

Smith ineligible. Guess the time off from practice was too little, too late: Eric Smith is missing the Outback Bowl, and can probably count himself fortunate that he’s still in good enough standing that he can come back in January.

Malzahn and Chizik are being predictably tight-lipped about who’ll take up Smith’s slack, but I’m assuming we’ll see John Douglas when blocking’s called for, Fannin slide over when receiving’s called for, and more true tight end action from Trott and maybe Lutzenkirchen than we’d normally see. Smith’s not the most indispensable cog in the machine. But still: having someone around who can both block and catch and keep the formation as spread as Malzahn would like was a heck of luxury. He’ll be missed.

Newtonmania. Ex-Gator and five-star JUCO megastud Cameron Newton made his scheduled visit to Auburn over the weekend and apparently came away impressed:

Premier junior college quarterback Cameron Newton (Atlanta, Ga.) told ESPN affiliate Web site AuburnUndercover.com following his official visit, “Everything was excellent. I’m on Cloud 9 right now as far as Auburn.”

Newton has also already made visit to Oklahoma and Mississippi State, plans to make his decision in the next 10 days and enroll early.

Newton allegedly hadn’t received an offer from Auburn before the weekend; if he did in fact “hear what he wanted to hear and see what he wanted to see,” I’m assuming that’s no longer the case and that the Chizik and Co. full-court press is on. Beaver’s feeling confident and has a few more interesting details–that Fannin was Newton’s player host, for instance. Assuming this was Newton’s final visit, Auburn really could be in good shape … and has maybe even been in good shape for a while, if Newton was the player Curtis Luper was referring to back when he predicted Auburn would have a major signing before Christmas.

However, a couple of things to consider before breaking out the kazoos and conical hats:

1. Newton has made similar noises after his previous visits. There’s still plenty of reason to think he could choose either Oklahoma (which is Oklahoma) or Mississippi St. (because yes, Dan Mullen would sure as hell know what to do with him).

2. As I discussed last Friday, Newton’s carrying some pretty serious baggage with him. Model citizen since the laptop incident or not, he’s a roll of the dice for Chizik and Co.’s image and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

But I’ll admit that I’ve given up a lot of the ambivalence I greeted the Newton news with, because … I mean … (you’ll want to turn the volume down for this):

I think Neil Caudle could do the job with maximum efficiency and would be like a better version of Todd. I think Tyrik Rollison has a world of potential. I think Clint Moseley and Barrett Trotter could both be ready as soon as next year. I seriously think all of that. I’m not going to be disappointed in an ysense of the word if Newton goes elsewhere.

But for Malzahn’s offense to reach its full potential, it’s going to take someone at quarterback who’s more than just a Todd-like manager … it’s going to take a weapon, and I think it’s entirely possible Newton can be that weapon in a way Caudle and the other Auburn quarterbacks just can’t. Time is of the essence for the Tigers: 2011 means a wholesale rebuilding of the offensive line and of course it’s anyone’s guess how long past 2010 Malzahn’s actually going to stick around. If Newton is going to keep his nose clean and can offer Auburn  something the other QBs don’t, it’d be silly not to pursue him.

Plus, I’m sorry, but thinking about a monster like Newton flanked by some combination of McCalebb, Fannin, Smith, and Dyer in the backfield with Adams, Zachery, Reed, etc. out wide and the nation’s most experienced offensive line in front of them, all directed by Malzahn, with everyone but Newton in the second year of the system … ye gods. You’ll have to excuse me while I find something to wipe up this drool with.

Senior Bowlin’. Tate and Coleman are both going to Mobile for the Senior Bowl, a nice honor for the two of them and a huge opportunity to improve what I’m positive is some seriously undervalued draft stock. Tate, in particular, was a much stronger runner than I think a lot of people who aren’t Auburn fans realized; here’s to betting he makes a big impression down at Ladd-Peebles.

Fine? After a Twitter-induced scare regarding his patellar tendon, apparently Byron Isom just has a strain and it sounds like he’ll be fine. Still something to keep an eye on. In other injury news, The Toro will be full speed and it sounds like McCalebb may finally be back to 100 percent. That would be nice–Northwestern’s not going to have anyone who can keep up with him in the open field if Auburn can find a way to spring him.

And lastly, Nose Eguae has been practicing again, and here comes the predictable rave, this time with Ted Roof doing the honors:

We think he’s got a very bright future,” Roof said. “He’s very talented and he’s a relentless worker. He’s a great young man that’s has a very bright future here at Auburn.”

As much as the coaches have talked about him, it seems borderline impossible that Eguae won’t be a terrific player one day.

Profilin’. Darvin Adams and Andrew McCain both get well-deserved write-ups from the B’ham News. The McCain piece is particularly I’ve been a little harsh on McCain from time to time this year, because by the standards of the other four guys on the offensive line he was kind of the weak link. But by the standards of “fifth-year senior who’s never gotten regular time and has played three different positions,” McCain was outstanding–and, truthfully, better than any of us had any right to expect.

Awesome. Congrats go out to the 23 Auburn student-athletes (current and former) who received their degrees last week. Among the 23 were eight football players–John Cubelic, Clayton Crofoot, Zac Etheridge, Tim Hawthorne, Jeno James (!), Montae Pitts, Craig Stevens and Darrell Roseman–several other names you’ll recognize, including Rasheem Barrett and Tez Robertson, and several from swimming and tennis you probably should.

But the best part about this graduation story is this:

Pitts had his ups and downs on the Plains. He briefly left the team during his redshirt year in 2002 to pursue a career as a rap artist. He was suspended for the 2004 season opener but played a key role during the Tigers’ undefeated season. He eventually left the program in the summer of 2006 after being arrested for drunk-driving. He transferred to Jacksonville State but got his degree at Auburn, with a little prodding from Chizik, who coached him back when he was defensive coordinator. “I called Montae last summer when I got here and told him, ‘No excuses, no anything, get back into school and graduate,’” he said. “And I’m just really, really excited to hear that he did that today. Just proud of him.

We have a head coach who’s not only focused on his current players graduating, but who’s connected enough and cares enough to make sure his former players are graduating. Montae Pitts getting his degree doesn’t do anything for Auburn’s APR, won’t do anything for Auburn’s win-loss record, won’t do anything for Auburn at all. But it will do a world of good for Montae Pitts, and because (in part) Gene Chizik cares about Montae Pitts in addition to his football program, Pitts has that degree.

Folks, I can’t tell you how happy and proud I am that Gene Chizik is Auburn’s football coach.

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