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Spring newsbits, 4/8

Ever wondered what Gus Malzahn's tether for improving quarterback ball control looked like? Well, thanks to Jay G. Tate, wonder no more.

A little bit late on this today, but hopefully the heapin’ help of information will make up for it. Reporting arrives via Andy Bitter (one two three four), Charles Goldberg (one two), Jay G. Tate (one two three), Bryan Matthews (one two), and Luke Brietzke (one).

And now, your humble Auburn Blogger’s take:

— We’ll get the obligatory quarterback discussion out of the way, where things proceeded yesterday as they have for the last several days: beat writers report what appears to be de facto separation (Moseley not working through a drill with the other three, Newton working alongside the rest of the starting backfield); Malzahn comes back at the end of practice and tells us there’s nothing to see here, it’s the same as it ever was. Stories get written about how the apparent separation means nothing.

I don’t blame Malzahn for trying to keep a lid on things or anyone who wants to take him at face value, but for me, it’s Occam’s Razor time: the simplest explanation for why we keep seeing separation is that there’s separation. The consensus wisdom that Newton is out in front with Caudle and Trotter battling to be the backup and Moseley fighting to stay in the mix is probably consensus wisdom for a reason.

— Man, I do not blame Lee Ziemba one bit for getting testy about his reputation as Flagulus, the Walking Avatar of the False Start. Granted: he has committed a goodly number of false starts (though his 2009 campaign was far better than his injury-hampered ’08 one). But when you consider that Ziemba…

1. plays the most difficult position on the line
2. has played it through piles of injuries for three years running without missing a single start
3. has played it exceptionally well at times
4. has played it with the barest minimum of non-false start penalties (’08, again, sort of excepted)

… he’s absolutely right that if the first thing you think of when you think of Lee Ziemba is “false start” rather than “one of the best Auburn offensive linemen to come through the program in the past decade,” you frankly need to think better. (Acid Reign also gets his Ziemba-defend on here.)

— Via Bitter, Ted Roof on the linebacking situation, where Eltoro Freeman took some reps yesterday as the middle ‘backer on the second team:

“We’re rolling a lot of guys through there as well. Once again, to provide different guys different opportunities with certain groups because the qualities of reps that you should get when you run with the first team is different than the quality of reps you get when you’re running with other units. So to try to roll a bunch of guys through there and have our system interchange enough where we can put the next best guy in there and not get bogged down by just pigeonholing guys at this position, but to be able to put the best linebacker in there. But as far as anybody jumping out at this point, the answer is no.”

If Freeman is spending a practice or two at the MLB slot so they can get Evans (or whoever) better prepared to come in at SLB while Freeman slides to the middle, hey, sounds good to me. As Roof says: in the event of injury (and what are the odds both Bynes and Stevens get through another marathon 11 weeks without picking up something minor?), finding a way to get your three best linebackers on the field is much, much preferable to leaving one on the bench just because he doesn’t know how to play in the one open spot.

But if it’s more than just cross-training–if Roof’s genuinely looking for a third starter, and it sounds like he is–then you have to think Freeman just hasn’t done as well as we would have liked this spring. Stay tuned.

— So Phillip Lutzenkirchen is back and practicing again, in the H-Back/TE spot with Eric Smith and Robert Cooper. If you wanted a single example of exactly how mad Gus Malzahn’s offensive mind is, you could do worse than pointing out that the gangly 6-4 catch-first tight end is battling the 5-10, 240-pound bowling ball running back for playing time at the same position.

What’s interesting about making Smith/Lutz an either-or proposition is what it means for the rest of the offense … namely, good news for the slot receiver (Emory Blake?) or Onterrio McCalebb. You’ve got five linemen, a QB, a tailback, and two outside WRs. Getting only one H-back or TE on the field means there’s going to be an extra running back or receiver somewhere. This would be a change (I think) from the base set last year, when both Fannin and Trott shared the field most (if certainly not all) of the time.

Just a random guess as to how it works out here: Lutzenkirchen sees time when Malzahn wants an extra blocker on the line or when he’s thinking about sending the HB/TE deep, Smith does when lead blocking or short routes are called for, they wind up splitting it right around 50/50 … and we see a lot more action this year for the true slot receivers (Blake, Stallworth, Trovon Reed, etc.)

— Malzahn “would like” Mario Fannin to emerge as the No. 1 tailback, which he seems to be in the process of doing after getting the lion’s share of carries in yesterday’s mini-scrimmage. That’s what I’d like, too.

— Ikeem Means finally got a chance to talk the press yesterday, so here come your feature stories one two with no doubt more on the way. The best part of his story? (Besides, of course, that Auburn’s walk-on program happened to uncover a potential quality contributor at arguably the thinnest position on the roster.) That Means turned down scholarship money at other schools and planned to work his way through school … only now he seems poised to pull down a scholly anyway, potentially as soon as this fall, and do it at the school he wanted to be at all along. Sweet.

Photo via Jay G. Tate.

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