AUBURN - There's a lot of talk about the NFL at Auburn these day. And Auburn players love it.
Wide receiver Emory Blake says Auburn's new schemes are exciting
Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler spent a year with the Detroit Lions and works with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder spent the past five seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
From schemes to terminology, Auburn players are learning to play football the NFL way
Senior wide receiver Emory Blake, who hopes to be experiencing the real thing at this time next season, says it is an exciting time.
"It's great for me," Blake said. "Even the terminology is a lot of the same stuff they use in the league. I'm very excited for myself and even or the younger guys. It's going to be very beneficial to them to learn this offense and for our defense to learn the defense they are learning."
Senior outside linebacker Daren Bates talked recently with friend and former teammate Neiko Thorpe, who is in training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs.
"He says he is learning the same thing we are right now," Bates said. "It's nice (VanGorder) is bringing it to us before."
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said physical football was the order of the day in the first full-pad practice of preseason camp Monday.
"I thought the first day in pads there was energy out there, which was good to see," Chizik said. "Everything we are trying to do is trying to build on the concept of physicality and being physical. We are working in that direction. I thought today was a good start.
"There is so much to learn by so many people at so many different positions, but overall I was pleased."
Junior defensive end Dee Ford was the defensive star of spring practice. VanGorder said he has not yet reached that level in preseason camp, but he said it was no cause for alarm.
"I think he is still kind of greasing up his game," VanGorder said. "He hasn't quite as sharp as he did at the end of spring ball. There have been obvious flashes of the same thing here in the first five days."
Junior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, VanGorder said, has shown he has what it takes to play winning football.
"Jeff is one of those consistent players," VanGorder said. "There is never any doubt to his commitment to improving and getting better. You get a high-character player like him, and he has a solid role for us."
Auburn's defense, VanGorder said, will still be a work in progress when he Tigers play Clemson on Sept. 1 at the Georgia Dome.
"The picture that I have, the process that we are going through, I would expect that we would improve though the season," VanGorder said. "The first game, there are going to be some issues. How our guys hold up and play through the ebbs and flows of that game is going to be really critical to establishing that ability to keep improving through the year.
"I think that first game will be a lot of establishing our effort, our focus and the things that are going to equal winning it in terms of the musts we carry into it."
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Sammie Coates, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken foot in preseason practice, said he is eager to play for the first time since his senior year at Leroy High School.
"I've come a long way," Coates said. "In spring, I really wasn't getting the offense. Now I'm catching on fast and moving like I'm supposed to, getting lined up faster. From the spring until now, I've gotten a whole lot better."
Coates had issues with dropped passes in the spring, but he said he has made dramatic improvement.
"A whole lot better," Coates said. "I've got my mind back on playing football. At first I was too worried about getting hurt again."
Senior offensive guard John Sullen, who missed the first four days of practice, was on the field Monday as the Tigers put on full gear for the first time. Chizik said Sullen did more but not everything.
"John did not do everything today," Chizik said. "He is working back in. I think he's feeling better, but he didn't go the whole day."
Chizik said Sullen did not participate in any full-contact work.
At the beginning of preseason camp, VanGorder welcomed back three defensive linemen who missed all or most of spring practice. Defensive end Nosa Eguae missed it all after shoulder surgery. Defensive tackles Kenneth Carter and Gabe Wright missed most of it.
"They are a little bit behind," VanGorder said. "I really like Nosa's attitude. Early on he had a bad practice and came right back. I think he'll be a player of high character, which means good consistency for us. Kenny has done a good job. He's a bigger player up inside and should help us. Those guys are behind, but they are good workers and should help us on our defense."