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Notes from Ain’t Happiness Camp, 8/17

Zach Clayton: don't call it a comeback.

Greetings and apologies from the Gonzo Inn in Moab, Utah, where the Mrs. WBE and I are getting one last big road trip in this summer before, you know, football. The plan was (and is) to keep service mostly uninterrupted here at WBE, but you know, the best-laid plans of mice and bloggers, etc. Sorry, and please do excuse any brief, unfortunate periods of radio silence the remainder of the week; they’ll be made up for down the stretch.

The lack of an update yesterday means we’ve got a metric ton to cover today, though, including both the weekend scrimmage and yesterday’s practice session. Keeping us up to date as always are beat hacks Andy Bitter, Jay Tate, Charles Goldberg, and Andrew Gribble; the info is theirs, the analysis, such as it is, is mine.

And here we go:

— I wish I could be encouraged by A.J. Greene making a serious charge into the right tackle battle royale, I really do. And of course I’m plenty encouraged for Greene’s sake, if nothing else; for him to come out of the nowhere he’s unfortunately been stuck in for his entire Auburn career, and now turn himself into a legitimate candidate for the lone open starting position on the offensive line, is a tremendous achievement.

But I can’t say it forecasts great things out of the position. Auburn’s coaches have been auditioning the same group of players for the same spot since the start of spring camp, and not only has the job not been won, but with only a little more than two weeks to go the field of candidates is widening: first John Sullen got added to the mix along with the two JUCOS when fall practice started, and now Greene is apparently a serious player. If anyone was really going to seize the job by the throat, make it his own, and proceed to steamroll fools all season long a la his more experienced compatriots on the line, you have to think they would have done it by now … and that Greene’s emergence has to be a sign that the coaches are willign to throw their net a little wider to see if they can find someone who can.

I’ll say this: with four serious candidates available, the odds that Auburn can’t find someone competent to take over for the certainly-competent Andrew McCain have fallen to about zero, I think. If there’s four guys who the coaches think might be able to do the job, one of them will be. The floor for the production out of the spot has risen. But at the same time, for the reasons listed above, I think its ceiling has been lowered. It seems unlikely, at this stage, that a star is going to be born at right tackle.

— Staying with the offensive line, if the de facto depth chart that Auburn’s offensive line seemed to be operating by in a drill yesterday is any indication, it’s the JUCOs who are now running third and fourth in the right tackle horse race, with Sullen first and Greene second. Can’t be what either guy imagined when they’d signed on, or what the Auburn coaches had in mind when they signed them on, either; could this be a very long-winded message for Mosley and Gayden to simply get their act together? We’ll see. (Also, not that we should be too surprised given that it’s the offensive line we’re talking about, but the immediate impact of the incoming class may have been overstated, even aside from the JUCOs; if the drill’s lineups are accurate, Eric Mack and Ed Christian are both running behind Jared Cooper at right guard.)

— Still no contact for Zac Etheridge. Apparently, the “medical clearance” he received was to begin practice, and re-start the actual playing of the game of football at some later date? Obviously this is what’s best for him in this situation–if it was safe for him to start hitting, I have to think he would be–but time is beginning to run very thin for him to make a bid for the opening day starting lineup. Savage and McNeil now have to be the favorites for the Arkansas St. game, right?

— Trovon Reed returns from injury, immediately gets tossed into the punt return mix. I doubt we have a firm idea of who winds up winning that job until the week of the opener, and maybe not even until kickoff. (Or the first Red Wolves punt, I should say.) Mincy, Carr, and Morgan are still the other candidates. Kick return looks much more settled: Washington, McCalebb, Zachery, and Fannin, four of the top five returners in that area, with Frenchy the other.

— Suppose I should be encouraged that Reed made the kind of impact he made in the scrimmage, and I am; I love Kodi, you love Kodi, we all love Kodi, but the Wildcat wasn’t as effective as it could have been last season and I’d like to see someone else get at least a crack at it, if only on a temporary basis. Plus, dude, for Chizik his own self to say Reed was the player that stood out both live and on tape, that’s something.

But that said, it sounds like this MCL injury he suffered in high school hasn’t completely gone away if it took only a week or two of fall camp to “tweak” it, and for a guy who relies so much on his speed and agility, a nagging knee injury could be quite the bummer. I’ll take his word on it for now that it’s not a big deal, but it’s worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

— Here’s something truly important: the helmet logos will officially be staying the same size, i.e., not switching to the ludicrous oversize models we saw at A-Day. And there was, as the saying goes, much rejoicing.

— We’ve wondered a bit about the lack of bluster surrounding Michael Dyer, but you’d have to think that with 1. today’s scrimmage partially focusing on “Michael Dyer learning to block” 2. Malzahn calling him “solid” after the weekend scrimmage and noting he didn’t put the ball on the turf 3. Malzahn saying “obviously now, he can carry the football. We know that,” he’s coming along fine. Honestly, as much as coaches talk about the importance of blocking and pass protection and knowing the schemes, the guy who ultimately gets the carries is the guy who carries the ball best. If Dyer’s fine on that account, he’s going to see plenty of time regardless. (Passing downs, now, maybe not so much, but the rest of the time …)

— “A lot of those positions” on special teams, per Chizik, will be filled by “young guys.” This is a dramatic improvement on last year, when they were filled by young guys who happened to also be “walk-ons.”

— We’ll toss Josh Bynes’s appreciation for Ladarious Phillips’s potential on the pile with the rest of them. More intriguing is that Malzahn took the time to “stress him.” He’s in Dr. Gustav’s immediate plans, or at least could be, I think it’s safe to say. It ain’t Happiness Camp.

— No change in the injury status of Deangelo Benton or The Toro. A shame, for both guys.

— The Ryan White-at-quarterback free trial period is over. He’ll now register at cornerback. Some sentiment out there that White wasted his time and the coaches let him waste it, but from where I sit, it’s no harm no foul all the way around. White gets to run through drills with the quarterbacks long enough to see he’s not in their league at that position, the coaches get a happier player, and all it costs is 10 or so days of development for a player who’s not likely to be called on this year regardless. This situation was worked out exactly the way it should have been.

— For some reason, I can’t read Gribble’s photo caption here without laughing.

Photo by Van Emst.

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