Just listen to players talk. When they venture outside of the coaching staff’s well-worn line of “saw some good/saw some bad,” they point right to the line of scrimmage.
Based on what was heard after Saturday’s nearly 100-play scrimmage — the first this spring in Jordan-Hare Stadium — a coaching staff with two new coordinators was true to this spring’s theme of physical football.
It has been and remains about running the football and stopping the run, and those who play in the trenches are getting the message.
“Tough! Tough!,” defensive tackle Jeffery Whitaker said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “Coming off! It’s almost to the point now where, if you come off high, you don’t have a chance. If you come off low, you still have to fight.
“I can recall about three times when they got me on those double teams. They can overtake you. You get back up and you’re like, ‘This is it! This is what you want! This is the competition right here!”’
Auburn devoted much of its scrimmage to running the ball Saturday, often doing it against eight-man fronts, Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said.
It was also no holds barred on blitzes as the defense shifted from playing mostly base defense in the scrimmage a week ago to a more wide-open approach Saturday.
The result was a scrimmage that, by all accounts, was won by the defense.
But the real winner was the new physical mentality under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
The offensive line “did good at times, and at times it was kind of hard because there were a few overloads here and there,” said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Greg Robinson, who saw his first scrimmage action Saturday after sitting out a week ago. “Just recognizing them and thinking about technique, trying to stay focused, it was kind of hard.
“It was just that we just started picking up blitz. Being that we had (blitzes) start so early, the blitzes were coming kind of fast and we had to pick them up. It was just like staying aware and being focused.”
It wasn’t just linemen having to do the work. Chizik said Auburn’s running backs have an added load under the new system, not only picking up blitzes but also “chipping” defensive ends.
It’s all part of a mentality that says Auburn wants to run and, when it passes, protect the passer against defenses that expect the play call.
Chizik said the Tigers gave up some sacks. There were also reports of interceptions, but Loeffler said he saw progress.
“At times, we did a good job handling the pressure up front with our offensive line and backs,” Loeffler said. “The quarterbacks, at times, went through progressions and found the open guys, and, at times, we need to get a
little bit better at all of it.
“That’s something we need to improve on.”
The big picture?
“We need to continue on running the football, and keeping ourselves out of third-and-longs,” Loeffler said. “That was a huge emphasis and staying on schedule.
“If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
Of course, it’s not just Auburn’s offense that wants to get more physical. It’s also the defense, which got pushed around badly by the most physical offenses on Auburn’s schedule in 2011.
Along those lines, VanGorder has turned his defensive linemen loose to attack and make plays. He has also given linebackers and safeties more communication responsibilities to handle what gets through the line.
VanGorder said the defense showed improvement, especially in the area of not giving up explosive plays --- a problem in the first scrimmage.
A reported three interceptions and an untold number of sacks seem to back that up.
As usual, Auburn did not release statistics from the scrimmage. Details were hard to come by, even more so this week from players. Apparently, they’ve gotten the message to treat scrimmages like Las Vegas --- what goes on in there stays in there.
Among things that trickled out, running back Corey Grant once against followed a block from fullback Jay Prosch on an A-gap play for good results. The play went for a reported 40-yard run a week ago, and it went for a touchdown of “15-20 yards” Saturday, Grant said.
Neither Loeffler nor presumed quarterback front-runner Kiehl Frazier spoke in details about Frazier’s performance.
“There really wasn’t anything that stood out for me,” Frazier said. “It was a learning process. It was the first time we’ve been in the stadium this year, so it was mostly getting acclimated to it.”
Clint Moseley, one of Frazier’s competitors and Auburn’s starter for the last half of the 2011 season, reportedly threw a touchdown pass but said he “missed another.”
Moseley hasn’t thrown much since spring practice started on March 23 because of an inflamed rotator cuff. Loeffler said Moseley was “back in full” go Saturday, but Moseley pulled back.
“Yes sir, no sir,” he said when asked if he was limited. “I don’t really think on my reps. Next question.”
Freshman quarterback Zeke Pike also reportedly threw a touchdown pass. In other news:
(bullet) Running back Mike Blakely, who transferred from Florida, was absent Saturday for personal reasons. Chizik said he expects Blakely will be back this week.
(bullet) Junior safety Demetruce McNeal did not play.
“He’s beat up,” Chizik said. “It’s nothing that’s going to be a long-term problem that we foresee. But whether he gets back for spring practice or not? We’re not there yet.”
(bullet) Auburn practices Monday, and the A-Day game is set for Saturday
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow Twitter @jmedley_star.