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Notes from the Beat, 8/18

First ticket to the gun show's free, ladies. Subsequent viewings, though, those are gonna cost you.

Three scrimmages in six days now for Auburn, and so today’s a day off. But before the calm there was the storm of last night’s scrimmage, in which we are told the offense did well and the defense needs work, except for the parts that the defense did well and the offense will need work.

Reporter roll call: Andy Bitter, Andrew Gribble, Jay Tate, Charles Goldberg, and with a bonus freebie report, Phillip Marshall. Straight info is thattaway. The WBE’s knee-jerk responses to said info, that’s below:

— There’s hasn’t been much discussion in this space about the way Cam Newton’s progressed because we don’t really have any idea how he’s progressed; every shred of info we get comes filtered through Malzahn and Chizik and Newton himself, where “he did all right … he improved” could mean anything from “he’s going to make Dennis Dixon’s scorched-earth dual-threat run at Oregon look like kiddie stuff” to “at least he wasn’t the hot flaming pile of garbage he was two nights ago.” There’s not really any way to know.

But I think we can say with some degree of certainty that, yeah, Newton wasn’t bad last night. In his own words:

“It was just being consistent and getting into a rhythm early. That’s very important in playing quarterback, especially with the type of offense that we run with the bubbles, the slants, the hitches, everything. For me to get very comfortable and settled at my position, that made everything go very smoothly.”

So … he’s feeling comfortable with the bubbles, and slants, and hitches? (Fannin did score on one.) And even Malzahn was forced to admit Newton’s improved over the previous scrimmage and is “starting to understand the expectations” of playing quarterback in this offense? Oh man, excuse me while I daydream about averaging 54 points a game for a minute. Just a few seconds more. OK, done.

The change is tone from Newton and Malzahn is subtle, to be sure. But I think we’re getting some signals that our new quarterback is going to be plenty ready by the time the season hits.

— Hey, it’s about time we got some bona fide Michael Dyer hype, right? A couple of long runs against the first-team D, a couple of glowing quotes from Craig Stevens, and we’re good to go. Chizik can talk about protection all he wants, but what I want to know is if he’s ready to carry the proverbial rock … and in his first extended chance to do that against a real (well, sorta-real) defense, he did.

— I’m not worried about both Chizik and Malzahn essentially calling out the four seniors on the offensive line for not getting a better push. Maybe they just needed a kick in the pants. If there’s one area of the team (aside from that right tackle spot) I’m really, really not concerned about, it’s those guys. In fact, frankly, that the defensive line stood up that well to those guys is maybe more encouraging than one lackluster scrimmage for the o-line is discouraging.

— Speaking of the right tackle vacancy, both Malzahn and Mike Berry spoke to the need to start building chemistry with whoever winds up with the job. Just a reminder that, yeah, this thing needs to be resolved sooner rather than later. (Oh, and if you missed it, Marshall reported that Sullen and Greene got the majority of the snaps there, re-affirming their status as the top two guys from Tuesday’s practice.)

— Kodi Burns, doin’ Kodi Burns things. Here’s to hoping the hype he’s getting at wideout isn’t just pumped sunshine. Hard as he works and as terrific an athlete as he’s always been, I’d be surprised if it was.

— Thigpen says he’s not worried that Etheridge hasn’t seen any time in the scrimmages, and mentions that he took on a 300-pound guard in practice the other day, without any reservations. So that’s all good news. But it still doesn’t explain why he can hit a 300-pound guard in practice but not take the field for the scrimmage. Does it?

— Sounds like Trovon Reed didn’t field any punt returns, leaving the work to the usual foursome of Carr, Morgan, Mincy, and security blanket Darvin Adams.

— Three walk-ons got their scholarships: Josh Harris (our long-snapper, who it’s worth noting didn’t have a bad snap in 2009, that I recall), Woody Parramore, and Wade Christopher. Congratulations go out to them on a well-deserved honor. A little bit surprised to see Ikeem Means passed over, but he’s a sophomore and the other three are upperclassmen. His time’ll come.

— T’Sharvan Bell used one of his rare meetings with the media to express his enjoyment of special teams, which is nice. Between third- and fourth-year players like him and Burns still lining up on those units, and the wave of freshmen arriving to cover for the walk-ons of yesteryear, man, I feel so much better about Auburn’s kick coverage.

— Away from the field, congrats go out to Bynes and Stevens for making the Butkus shortlist. And in a different sport entirely, good heavens, what on earth must Auburn basketball do to exorcise whatever demonic curse is hovering over this program? We all knew that karma probably wasn’t going to reward hiring a Calipari disciple, but this is just completely out of hand.

— Lastly, a commenter yesterday said the previous edition of NFTB was “pessimistic,” and reading back over it, he’s kind of right. So I’ll just take this opportunity to say: with all three scrimmages and “fall camp” essentially behind us as classes start, we can say there’s absolutely nothing that’s happened during camp that should make any Auburn fan dial down their expectations for this season. There were no major injuries, not one. Cam Newton appears to be as on schedule as we could expect him to be, the rest of the offense sounds like it’s humming along as planned, and Burns’ ascension to actual wide receiver now lets Malzahn switch back and forth between the normal offense and the Wildcat without pausing for subs. (It also gives Malzahn another quality wideout, of course.) The defense still has some issues, but the biggest one in 2009–the depth–has taken a big step forward as the freshmen have held their own and guys like Eltoro, Jon Evans, Zach Clayton, and Nosa Eguae are all dotting the second string. Sure, Ted Roof is grumpy, but he’s less grumpy than he was at this time last year, and comparatively speaking ,the quotes coming from Gene Chizik are outright giddy. There’s still question marks at right tackle and at safety (though no-news-is-good-news on the Savage front, I’m guessing), but those of you thinking 10 wins or better this year, hey, no reason in the world to quit thinking that just yet.

Photo by Van Emst.

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