Daily Archive for February 14th, 2008

LOCKED AND LOADED

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Other than the quarterback position, Auburn’s returns plenty of depth and experience on offense including a large and talented group of running backs.

While AU running backs coach Eddie Gran is expecting a lot of competition among his tailbacks, he’s also looking for much better execution out of the new spread offense.

AP: Rob Carr
Lester had a career-high 98 yards rushing against Bama.

“What we’re trying to get out of the offense this spring is trying to be perfect and really paying attention to the details of this offense,” said Gran. “It’s so detailed and you really have to pay attention to the little things for it to be really, really good.

“We had nine days (to install the offense in bowl practice) and we missed some things coaching, I did, that aren’t going to be missed in the spring. We’re going to demand it.”

Auburn’s top two rushers from last season – senior Brad Lester and junior Ben Tate – are back and will likely compete for the starting position this spring.

“With Brad being here and being the leader of that group and Ben Tate coming along the way he has, I think we’ve got a lot of experience,” said Gran.

“We’ve got great competition and in this new offense they have an opportunity to be in space and catch some more balls and really have an opportunity to get some bigger plays.”

After missing the first six games of the season due to a suspension, Lester returned to start five games, rushing for 530 yards and three touchdowns on 125 carries.

Lester quickly found a home in the new spread offense, rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries and catching three passes for 24 yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The biggest area of improvement Gran wants to see from Lester this spring is his receiving skills.

“For Brad, catching the ball a little more consistently is something we want him to work on,” said Gran. “He dropped two in the bowl game. If we’re going to be great, those running backs can’t drop balls.”

AP: John Bazemore
Tate has rushed for 1,295 career yards in two seasons.

Tate led the team with 903 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 202 carries last season. Gran is looking for even more out of him this year.

“I think what he’s done since his freshman and sophomore year, he’s gotten better each year. When he got here he had just turned 17 years old,” said Gran. “When you look at him right now in our offseason conditioning program, he’s having a great offseason. He really looks good. He’s gotten faster. I see him being a huge part of this offense.

“He’s going to challenge Brad for the No. 1 spot. I think it’s going to be a great competition this spring.”

But the competition for playing time doesn’t begin and end with Lester and Tate. Senior Tristan Davis could make a big move this spring.

“If you’re going to be running 80 snaps a game, neither of them are going to be able to go 60 or 70 snaps. That just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Gran. “What’s going to be exciting is where Tristan falls into this pushing Brad or Ben.”

Davis was pushing for serious playing time during preseason practice last fall before two foot injuries sidelined him for much of the season.

“He really looked good the first week and a half of practice,” said Gran. “I think he has a lot to prove. He’s been a great team guy. He’s moved positions. What his role is on offense will be up to him.”

Gran said Davis is not quite 100 percent yet but should be by the time spring practice gets underway Feb. 28.

AP: Dave Martin
Fannin is a big-play threat on offense.

“He just got a pin pulled and it’s healing,” said Gran. “He ought to be ready to go before the 28th for sure. He’ll be full speed.”

Auburn returns another experienced running back in sophomore Mario Fannin. One of AU’s most versatile and exciting players, Fannin will line up at a number of positions in the spread offense.

“Mario is in a great spot because you can get him more touches both ways,” said Gran. “If coach wants him to have 15 touches then however he can get them, that’s how he’s going to gameplan it. Some are going to be from the backfield, some are going to be split out wide and some are going to be split inside, some are going to be in motion.

“He’s going to have those opportunities. He’s going to be able to touch the ball.”

Fannin was used in that capacity in the bowl game, rushing for 18 yards on three carries and catching a team-high five passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.

“That’s why he got moved to where he was,” said Gran. “He’s one of, if not the most dynamic players we have.”

A fullback is not necessarily a big part of the spread offense but Gran has big plans for freshman John Douglas. When AU uses a two-back set, Douglas will line up at fullback. But he’ll also spend time this spring working with assistant coach Steve Ensminger and the inside receivers.

“He’ll kinda be in that Tommy Trott position but be coached by me when he comes back in the backfield and we go two-backs,” said Gran. “He’s going to be in a dual role.

“John is going to be another versatile player.”

Douglas redshirted last fall and Gran said he’s a solid 235 pounds now.

“Coach Yox has great things to say about him,” said Gran. “He’s ready to start contributing. He’s are only true fullback so he’s going to get those reps.”

Auburn’s annual A-Day game is scheduled for Mar. 29.

Florida State puts itself on probation after academic scandal

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State’s sports teams will be on self-imposed probation for two years and some will lose scholarships because of an academic cheating scandal, the university said in a report released Thursday. About 60 student-athletes have lost or will suffer some loss of eligibility. Two staffers, a tutor and learning specialist, already had been fired. No additional dismissals were listed in the investigatory report. The cheating occurred mainly through online testing for a single course in fall 2006 and the spring and summer semesters last year. Florida State officials conducted the investigation with assistance from the NCAA, Atlantic Coast Conference and a consulting firm. The report has been sent to the NCAA, which can still conduct its own investigation and impose additional penalties. Among the corrective actions listed in the report is a requirement for all athletics staff members to attend a four-hour training program titled, “Decision-Making in the NCAA Compliance Environment.” “We believe that our investigation has been thorough and exhaustive,” said Florida State provost Larry Abele, who chaired the investigating committee. “This university and its athletics department have accepted responsibility, made changes in the process and systems and imposed penalties as warranted.” A school spokesman was not immediately able to explain how the probation, effective Wednesday, would affect the teams. The NCAA’s Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff, though, has agreed to a 30 percent across-the-board loss of eligibility for students who came forward and admitted they received improper help with the test. Some of the penalties already have gone into effect. About two dozen of the football team’s top players were suspended for the Music City Bowl on Dec. 31 in Nashville, Tenn., where the Seminoles lost to Kentucky. Many of those players will remain suspended for the first three games of the 2008 season. The school also is making changes at five senior staff levels in the athletic department, though the report did not include details on the changes. Former athletic director Dave Hart Jr. departed late last year with a year still left on his contract, but he denied it had anything to do with the cheating scandal. Last week, the school hired former Utah State athletic director Randy Spetman.

Tuberville defends Tigers’ 2008 class

AUBURN — Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville passionately defended his incoming recruiting class during a call-in appearance on a local radio show Wednesday.

“I know we get ridiculed when we come up supposedly short on anything. We didn’t come up short on recruiting. This group is going to be a heck of a class,” he said during an interview with WANI-AM 1400 in Auburn. “I know that Alabama had a good recruiting class in-state this year. We’ve dominated pretty much the last six or seven years.”

Auburn’s class was ranked in the top 20 nationally by most major recruiting services, but the Tigers missed out on several high-profile prospects in Alabama and a handful of players who announced their decisions on signing day.

“We’re going to have those years where kids grow up Alabama fans, but last year we had four or five that grew up Auburn fans,” Tuberville said. “That’s what you go through when you have two teams in the state.”

Tuberville also defended his staff’s recruiting philosophy.

“The best thing our coaches have done in the 10 years they’ve been at Auburn is not recruiting, but evaluation,” he said. “There’s a lot of these four- or five-star (players) that we won’t even touch, because No. 1, we can’t get them in school, and No. 2, they don’t fit what we want to do in terms of attitude and personality and academics. If we just went after only the athletic ability, we’d end up with 10 guys on scholarship at the end of four years.”

Tuberville also confirmed that two players could have new homes in Auburn’s 2008 defense. Junior Aairon Savage is being moved from safety to cornerback to help the Tigers shore up depth in the secondary.

Defensive lineman Sen’Derrick Marks, who moved outside last season, could move back to tackle in 2008. Marks, a Prichard native and former Vigor High standout, had a huge freshman year while working almost exclusively as a tackle in 2006.

Tuberville said the secondary switch will help Savage avoid injuries.

“The problem Aairon was having was that he was taking on guys like (Auburn running back) Ben Tate from the safety position, and he’s not built to play that physical type of safety position,” Tuberville said. “He gets beat up. I told him we’re going to move him to corner so we can keep him healthy for an entire season.”

Savage would likely be bracketed with Jerraud Powers at cornerback, while Mobile native Mike McNeil could have a chance to join Zac Etheridge as a starting safety.

“We’ve got enough safeties,” Tuberville said. “I think (Savage) will give us that extra guy at corner to help us when we have to play nickel and dime defenses.”

In other news, Tuberville said:

– Former Auburn defensive tackle Pat Sims wasn’t ready for the NFL. Sims left after the 2007 season with one year of college eligibility remaining.

“He had a good season this year,” Tuberville said. “He needed to come back. He feels like he can make the NFL, and he probably can. It’s just going to take him a while.”

– Prep school standout Jermaine Johnson will start working at right tackle, where sophomore Ryan Pugh is currently No. 1 on the depth chart. Sophomore Lee Ziemba will move to left tackle now that Auburn has right-handed quarterbacks.

Pugh will also be the team’s backup center, and he’s considered the heir apparent to senior center Jason Bosley.

“We’ve got a lot of possibilities,” Tuberville said. “(Offensive line coach) Hugh Nall’s got a big smile on his face as he walks around the office.”

– SEC coaches will meet with commissioner Mike Slive in Birmingham today.

It will be an interesting reunion for Tuberville and new Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, who was nearly hired at Auburn during a failed attempt to fire Tuberville after the 2003 season.

“Of course, I know Bobby,” Tuberville said. “I’ve talked to him since our debacle five or six years ago, so there’s no problem there.”

So what will coaches discuss?

“There’ll be some talk and some arguments about recruiting and what happened and how it happened — but that’s the reason we have these meetings. We get all together and hash it out.”

– PLAYERS DEPART: Four reserves will not return to the team in 2008, Inside the Auburn Tigers reported Wednesday. Offensive tackle Antwoin Daniels, safety Lorenzo Ferguson, defensive lineman Bryant Miller and safety Blake Shrader played sparingly in 2007 and were not expected to compete for starting jobs this spring.

Vols dismiss backup LB Davis, DB Wardlow

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer dismissed defensive back Antonio Wardlow and reserve linebacker Dorian Davis for violations of team rules.

Wardlow, a sophomore from Winston-Salem, N.C., saved the Vols’ win over Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl with an interception on the 1-yard line with less than a minute left.

It was not immediately known why Wardlow was dismissed. He was one of three Vols arrested after a fight outside a Knoxville nightclub in November 2006.

Davis, a sophomore who played in 16 games at Tennessee, mostly on special teams, was cited for fighting in his Iowa hometown in October.

According to Iowa City police, Davis got into a verbal altercation with the friend of an acquaintance and then pushed him and struck him. Davis was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct but released without going to jail.

Committee proposes penalizing horse-collar tackles among rule changes

INDIANAPOLIS — Horse-collar tackles, already banned by the NFL, may be outlawed in college football, too.

That rule change is among those proposed by the NCAA Football Rules Committee. Other suggestions include making chop-block enforcement less complicated and ignoring incidental face-mask contact.

The proposals put forth by the committee during meetings this week now go to the NCAA membership for comment. They must be reviewed and approved by an oversight panel before they can go into effect.

“The committee is giving our game officials more tools to penalize potentially dangerous contact,” Rogers Redding, Southeastern Conference coordinator of officials, said Wednesday.

The proposed horse-collar rule would be similar to the NFL’s, penalizing a tackle in which a runner is pulled down from the inside collar of the shoulder pads or jersey.

The often-complex rules on chop blocks, or tackling at or below the knees, would be clarified for players and officials, said Redding, who will become rules committee secretary-editor next month.

“It’s going to be clearer to everyone what the foul is,” he said.

Committee chairman Mike Clark, the coach at Division III Bridgewater, said the rule would lead to more consistent officiating.

“There was a movement to take out below-the waist blocking. I don’t think that’s applicable to our game,” Clark said. “It’s too varied and too diverse. But I think we’ve given the officials the resources to take out a dangerous element of our game, which is the chop block.”

The NCAA gave no timetable for adoption of the changes.

Another proposal would eliminate the 5-yard penalty for incidental face-mask contact. Redding said coaches and officials felt no penalty should be assessed if a player grabs and releases the face mask as long as it has no impact on the runner’s safety.

“It was a nonentity,” he said. “So we felt like the real issue is the grasping, pulling, turning, twisting of the face mask, and that will be retained and still carry a 15-yard penalty. But we felt the incidental contact was nothing, so we just decided to get rid of it.”

The committee also proposed starting the game clock on a signal from the referee rather than on the snap of the ball after a runner has gone out of bounds, except in the last two minutes of each half. Another change would adopt a standardized play clock system giving the offensive team 40 seconds to snap the ball, unless play has been stopped by officials for such reasons as change of possession or injury.

“The concern was that from one conference to the next there was enough variation in the length of time a referee took to declare the ball ready for play,” Redding said. “So this will hopefully eliminate that and allow for a more consistent time for the ball to be ready to be snapped.”

Josh Booty booked on suspicion of drunken driving, tased by deputies

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Former NFL quarterback/LSU QB Josh Booty was subdued by sheriff’s deputies with a Taser gun and ended up with a black eye Wednesday after being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving.

Booty, the older brother of USC Trojans quarterback John David Booty, was arrested by the California Highway Patrol after being pulled over on the 55 Freeway in Santa Ana, Orange County Sheriff’s Lt. Hal Brotheim said. During the booking process, Booty — currently working as a television and radio sportscaster — became belligerent, and deputies used the Taser, Brotheim said.

“After being Tased, he was fully compliant,” Brotheim said.

Brotheim said Booty, who is 6-2 and 221 pounds, “fell to the ground, struck his head on the table on the way to the ground and sustained a black eye.”

Booty, 32, was released several hours later with a citation advising him of a date to appear in court, Brotheim said.

In 2001, Booty was drafted with the 177th pick out of LSU by the Seattle Seahawks and later traded to the Cleveland Browns, spending three years with them as a backup. He signed a two-year contract with the Oakland Raiders last March, but was cut four months later.

Booty also played baseball for five years in the Florida Marlins‘ organization after he was the No. 5 overall pick in the 1994 draft. He played in 13 major league games from 1996 to 1998 and hit .269 (7-for-26) with four RBIs.