AUBURN - Daren Bates, Auburn's only senior linebacker on the field for spring practice, is acting like it. So says Tommy Thigpen, back to coaching the position he played after three years coaching safeties.
Auburn linebacker Daren Bates
Thigpen and Bates are together for the second time. Bates started 13 games at safety as a freshman in 2009.
"I'm pretty pleased with where he is right now. He is a big picture guy. We have to get guys with really good football IQ's that take pride in knowing where everybody is supposed to be.
"... He played on the back end, so he gets the passing part of it," Thigpen said. "Now he plays in the box. He's real comfortable. If he makes a mistake, he knows exactly what he did wrong. That's what you want to do. You shouldn't have to go to the sideline to get it fixed."
With senior Jonathan Evans sidelined with an injury, Thigpen says Bates and junior middle linebacker Jake Holland are running in front of the rest of the linebackers as they all work to learn new coordinator Brian VanGorder's schemes.
"Jake has played, as well as Bates," Thigpen said. We have struggled in some areas, but today I thought we were a lot better in some of our alignments. It's got to be a lot of reps, a million reps, and actually working on this stuff when you're not on the field or in the meeting room."
Wide receiver DeAngelo Benton signed with Auburn with great fanfare in February 2009. Once rated the nation' top wide receiver prospect, he'd signed previously with LSU and was expected to sign with LSU again.
In his three seasons at Auburn, he has struggled to earn playing time, often fighting injuries. He played behind Darvin Adams for two seasons and behind Emory Blake last season. He has one season to show what he can do at Auburn and potentially in the NFL.
"I'm always confident," Benton said. "Sometimes things don't go the way you plan. I just put that behind me and come work hard every day to get better and come out my senior season and show up to help my team win, hopefully win a national championship."
Grant's key role next season could be on special teams.
Blake says he has been impressed by how the wide receivers have performed as a group in spring practice.
"I feel like they've all stepped up," Blake said. "They've all been doing a great job. It's kind of tough to perform and learn at the same time, but we've been doing a lot of extra meeting time as a team and as a wide receiver group. We are just trying to take one day at a time and get this offense down so we can go out and perform. We are all getting better on the field so far this spring. I can tell you that."
After taking a day off from throwing in Monday's practice, quarterback Clint Moseley was throwing again Wednesday.
"We're still being very judicious in what we're doing with him with the soreness in his arm," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said, "but day by day he's getting better."
"He's an animal," Florence said. "He told us from Day 1 'You have to have swag, you have to be this and be that to play for me.' He's a guy we can relate to. He brings stuff to the table we never thought of. He kind or relates football to other stuff. We believe in him and we're going to do what he tells us."
Wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor says a goal for next season is "80 for 80," meaning 80 catches for Blake, who wears No. 80. Blake says that sounds good to him.
"Love it," Blake said. "Me and Trooper were talking about it the other day."
Asked if he thought it could happen, Blake said "If I'm blessed enough. With guys catching balls the way they are today, if you want to be recognized on a national scale you have to catch a lot of balls."