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Notes from the Beat, 8/9

Special teams ace Chris Humphries, preparing to recover/force more fumbles that ESPN announcers will fail to give him credit for.

Auburn took Sunday off, but since I decided I would too, we’ve still got some notes to recap and analyze from Saturday’s late-evening practice. Actual reporting-type stuff courtesy, as always, of Andy Bitter, Charles Goldberg, Evan Woodbery, and Andrew Gribble. Enjoy:

— In the absence of harder news in the absence of full access, the beat guys have turned towards topics like “holy hell, is Ladarious Phillips big and intriguing”; see Exhibit A here and Exhibit B here. Not without reason: when both Malzahn and Luper confess that Phillips is some 40 pounds heavier than the heaviest running backs they’ve ever worked with previously, yeah, he’s a big ol’ boy.

And for the record, I’m still skeptical Phillips becomes anything more than a money short-yardage back (or incredible defensive tackle), and maybe not even that in 2010, depending on how much weight he can drop. But it has to be encouraging that Malzahn feels he “probably needs to lose a little bit of weight, but still, he’s very athletic.”

Probably? At 285-290? And even Malzahn admits that he’s still “very athletic” at that weight? What happens if Yoxall gets him down to 270-275? I’m still of the opinion that the overall expectations level for Phillips amongst Auburn fans needs to be dialed down–not that I’m helping here, I guess–but I’m as fascinated to see what happens when the guy hits the field as anyone*. Maybe we’ll start getting a better clue now that the Tigers are in pads, starting tonight.

— Asked to pick a player from the entire offense that’s stood out from the first four practices, Malzahn went with Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Which … whoa.

Lutzenkirchen, or “P-Lutz” as I like to call him starting now, hasn’t exactly been the first choice for “breakout offensive star” over the summer; we’ve got five-star receivers, 290-pound running backs, All-American tackles, and the new-and-improved Jamarcus Russell to worry about. But hearing that P-Lutz has taken a big step forward is very, very good news for the offense. To wit:

1. We didn’t see it a whole lot last year since Trott was a much more effective blocker on the edge, but Malzahn’s offense at Tulsa routinely used a hand-on-the-ground tight end. If Lutzenkirchen’s bulked up enough to handle that role more often, it’s another wrinkle Malzahn can rely on, especially in the running game

2. We already know he has phenomenal hands, route-running, etc.; if he’s big enough to start blocking consistently, we’re talking about a complete, total-package tight end, and he’s only a true sophomore

3. Newton could use a security-blanket type possession guy in the middle of the field, right? Assuming you don’t slot Darvin Adams into this role, is there anyone else who fits the bill?

The short version: P-Lutz’s hands are so good, if he can do the other stuff, we’re talking about having yet another serious weapon on the field for Malzahn to put to use … and he sounds pretty excited about the possibilities already. So I am too.

— Just as a general rule of thumb, I’m not going to care much whether a given practice was “full of energy” or “sluggish” or “kind of insane, Ziemba was tearing chunks of the turf up and throwing them around like King Kong swatting away biplanes.” (Well, I might care in that last instance.) Over the course of a month, Auburn’s going to have some good practices and some bad practices. It’ll happen. That one beat guy (Gribble? Can’t find it at the moment) said Chizik seemed legitimately pleased in their first three efforts was a little encouraging, but this one of the few notes we get that even I can’t seem to get all that interested in.

–Nothing really new on the safety front. Mike McNeil has had his turn to say he’s healthy, and Roof is still saying they’re “being smart” with them, which on the one hand would seem to indicate maybe they’re not totally 100 percent just yet … but on the other, it seems pretty clear at this point that Ikeem Means the wonder walk-on is the No. 4 in the pecking order, so they’re sinking or swimming with the three injury-returnees. I’m guessing they’ll be healthy enough and ready enough once the season starts, or Roof would be even more cagey (or “smart”, if you like) about it.

— No movement in the backup quarterback race, not surprisingly.

— Woodbery provides a useful look at Chizik’s “roster management” and specifically, the contrast between the ’06, ’07, ’09 and ’10 classes vs. the EPIC FAIL of the 2008 class, which–if you don’t count the JUCO and prep guys who re-signed later–has provided all of eight roster members and three–three!–contributors to date. There’s also this breakdown of roster members by signing class:

2005 — 1
2006 — 12
2007 — 13
2008 — 8
2009 — 18
2010 — 30

I know that thanks to attrition those numbers are always going to skew in favor of the more recent classes … but still, more than third of the entire team is either a true freshman or first-year JUCO. That’s less than desirable, I’d say.

*Fascinated, yes, but more excited about Michael Dyer. That a lot of Auburn fans seem more giddy about–and that more of the early press has focused on– Phillips rather than the five-star guy who could very well be the best Auburn back since Ronnie and Cadillac seems … odd. We’re Running Back U, not Third-and-Short Specialist Colossus U, as thrilling as the prospect of that colossus might be.

Photo by Van Emst.

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