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Notes from the Beat, 4/8

Ladarious Phillips making a football, his jersey numbers, and Neiko Thorpe all look really small.

It’s been busy around the Auburn football program lately, not for the reasons you might think, but because of… Spring Practice.  So while the rest of the world is consumed with players from the past and shadiness at other schools, let’s take a quick look at Auburn’s here and now this Friday (if you don’t mind), through the lenses of Auburn beat writers Andy Bitter, Jay G. Tate, Charles Goldberg, David Morrison, et al. As always, we couldn’t do it without them.

— Believe it or not, Auburn is already on the home stretch of spring drills, having logged 9 of their 15 scheduled practices. The Tigers were off yesterday and are off today off as they prepare for their second full Spring scrimmage on Saturday morning. The countdown to A-Day is in full effect: eight days, four practices.

— Saturday’s scrimmage will go down a lot like the last one, according to Gene Chizik. Also from Chizik: “We’re going to try to keep as close as we can groups together that we feel like is going to create some continuity on both sides of the ball. So we’re going to play as many of the guys that we think are ahead and keep those guys grouped together.”

Take that for what it’s worth, but it sounds to me like the Ones and the Twos are slowly separating.

— There was a lot of commotion mid-week confusion regarding the status of LB Jessel Curry, who is still in school, but who hasn’t been with the team all spring. There were conflicting reports galore, but social networking wizard Andy Bitter revealed the truth, tweeting about Facebooking Curry, confirming that he wants to stay at Auburn. The decision apparently lies with the coaches. When asked, Chizik said that Curry was going through “personal issues,” (as it FS Ryan Smith, another coaches’ doghouse situation).

— It’s hard to believe that Quindarius Carr will be a senior this upcoming year, and even harder to believe that he’ll be the only one — our veteran — in the receiving corps. But it sounds like he knows he’ll have to step into a leadership role. Carr: “My big aspect is basically becoming a better leader and helping pull along the young guys because everyone is saying we’ve got a young team and they always say all our good players are gone, that little same saying, but it’s my responsibility to take care of the young guys right now.”

Carr says he’s working inside at the “2” spot (a.k.a. “The Terrell Zachery”), while Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are outside at the “9” spot (a.k.a. “The Darvin Adams”). It seems like a position change no one wanted more than himself: “It’s been not so lucky sometimes I guess, just being a role guy. But now I feel like I’ve stepped in and made my statement on this team. Coach Malzahn always tells me I’ve got a deep part of my game, like good. I just basically need to work on my short game and blocking. That’s the biggest thing I’m working on right now.”

Here’s a guy that didn’t like just being a “role guy” going after the glorious deep balls all day, and wants to come down and block, wants to come down and catch the short stuff, and wants to take on a leadership role. Well by goodness, Q, nobody wants to see you do it more than me. So all of a sudden, though Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton have been getting most of the (much deserved) media attention this spring, I’m starting to think that a rising senior star is going to be turning a lot of heads this upcoming season. Q-Carr certainly has the ability; with that kind of attitude, the sky is the limit.

— Speaking of big improvements, am I the only one with high expectations for Darren Bates next season? He was one of the team’s top tacklers last year before his injury, and it was his first year at the position after moving down from safety. For one, he’s gaining some weight this offseason, so he won’t go bouncing off of any more ball carriers. His meal plan? Simple: “I go to Smoothie King at least twice a day. Sometimes we go over to coach Roof’s house for steaks. I try to eat at least three.” (He had three bottles of Muscle Milk with him during that interview.)

Focusing more off-the-plate and on-the-field, it seems that Bates has finally made his full transition to the linebacker position. “I feel like a linebacker now,” he said, “going into my second year at linebacker trying to learn what I have to do, what other positions have to do. I’m trying to become a leader on defense. Every day and every time I get out on the field, I’m more of a linebacker.” And he is learning more every day; Wednesday he practiced as an emergency middle linebacker “just in case”.

— Aubrey Phillips has apparently been playing well, as Chizik put it: “I’ve seen a lot of improvement. He still has a ways to go. I’m proud of him in a lot of ways.” Chizik was then asked if Phillips was on his way to earning back his scholarship. “We’ll re-evaluate that.”

Even though I’m not that well-versed in the scholarship numbers game, I believe Phillips may just have to wait his turn as far as earning his scholarship back goes. The AUfficial site has him listed as a redshirt freshman now, and (I believe) giving scholarships to freshmen and sophomores count as scholarships against the 25 spots for the upcoming class and is generally something a coaching staff will avoid like the plague. But in the fall, when the scholarships are awarded and he’s a redshirt sophomore, will he be considered a sophomore or a third-year-player and basically a junior as far as the scholarship numbers go?

One thing I do know is that the attrition and replacement on the Auburn roster is an interesting topic, to say the least, and is something that is going to come up and be discussed again and again the next few months.

— Finally, we’ll take a look at the defensive line, which is starting to take shape the we’ll see it in this fall. The defensive front has gone from one of the most experienced groups on the team to one of the least with the departures of Antoine Carter, Michael Goggans, Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton, and Nick Fairley, not to mention the departure of Tracy Rocker. So it’s been more than interesting to watch the group re-build itself basically from scratch this spring.

It starts, of course, by filling the big gap left by one Nick Fairley. Enter Ken Carter: “It’s exciting. It’s not really nerve-wracking. You’ve got to step up now. You’ve got big shoes to fill because Nick left. We’re going to be young up front, but I think we’re going to do well. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Working behind Carter on the depth chart is Derrick Lykes. Opposite those two, filling the role Zach Clayton left behind, is Jeffrey Whitaker. On one end you have Nosa Eguae starting, with Craig Sanders behind him. Then opposite those guys, on the speed rush end, you have Corey Lemonier as your starter right now, with Dee Ford working behind him (but that’s a battle that could last all the way up through two-a-days). And of course, we’ll see how Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, and company fit in when they get here in the fall.

Dee Ford also mentioned he was gaining weight this off-season, eating up everything in sight. Let’s just hope he and Darren Bates save some room for opposing running backs this fall.

Photo via.

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