The qualifier changed from “extremely” to “very,” but the Auburn coach’s take on his program’s near-future hasn’t changed since he called it “bright” after the Tigers’ Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia.
“I think our kids understand that our future here is very bright,” Chizik said during Tuesday’s SEC football coaches teleconference, “and the foundation has been laid.”
Similar sentiments struck curious chord when he said them on New Year’s Eve. Sure, they came in the glow of a bowl victory, but they also came at the conclusion of an 8-5 season that saw Auburn suffer blowouts against the best teams on its schedule.
When Chizik called Auburn’s future “extremely bright,” he was facing searches to replace two coordinators. There were doubts about the future of two-time, thousand-yard rusher Michael Dyer, who was suspended for the bowl and later transferred.
It sure seemed like a mouthful, considering the season that had just concluded and issues were looming when he said it.
Well, nearly five months have passed, and little has changed in Chizik’s outward assessment. The word “very” seems a slight downgrade from “extremely,” but hardly enough of a downgrade to fall off of Chizik’s “all in” scale.
A lot has happened since New Year’s Eve. Chizik is no longer also interim defensive coordinator because Auburn hired Brian Van Gorder, who did quite well in the same job in the same conference while at Georgia.
Auburn also hired offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, a risky hire considering Loeffler’s slight background as a coordinator.
Auburn has also gone through spring practice, which concluded April 16.
Tuesday’s teleconference was the chance for SEC coaches to tout progress made in spring practice, and Chizik tempered his comments enough to remind people that Auburn’s scholarship players are 70 percent freshmen and sophomores.
But he let loose some of his most positive comments about spring practice to date, saying Auburn made “a lot of stides.”
He called the 2011 Tigers and the pending 2012 version “two completely different teams.”
“I feel great about this team,” he said. “Again, I love the kids. I think they all have a great ambition to succeed. They all have a great ambition to lead.”
He said the Tigers showed carryover from their 43-24 victory over Virginia.
“There’s a lot of value in playing in a bowl game and winning it,” he said. “We played a very good Virginia team and took a knee at the 4-yard line three or four times, so we wouldn’t score again and make it 50 points.
“… I think they’ve embraced the new coaching staff in terms of offensive and defensive coordinators and a new secondary coach (Willie Martinez), so it’s been a really productive offseason.”
Most intriguing was Chizik’s take on the progress Auburn’s offense made under Loeffler this spring spring.
It didn’t show so much during A-Day, the one scrimmage that occurred in public view. Auburn scored just two touchdowns.
Coaches typically show very little in public intrasquad games, and the rest of Auburn’s spring practice happened in closed sessions.
We heard all spring that Auburn wanted to be a more physical running team but saw touches of the spread run under former coordinator Gus Malzahn in the A-Day game.
It left one to wonder if the Tigers made any progress toward forming a new offensive identity. Wonder not, Mr. Bright said.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we have really closed the gap on our identity and what it is that we want to be able to do,” Chizik said.
“… Scot’s background is a little bit of pro-style, kind of old-school with Michigan in his background and his days there with Lloyd Carr, then going to the NFL (Detroit) and getting that flavor, and then also being able to do with Florida and (Tim) Tebow some of the same stuff that we did here.
“We’re going to come up with our own package and our own identity, and we’ll try to get good at just a few things, but we certainly look forward in terms of finding out what we can and can’t do this spring.”
The one that was most visible in the A-Day game was sophomore quarterback Kiehl Frazier’s improvement as a passer.
Well, that’s to say that Frazier threw the ball over the line of scrimmage successfully, which he didn’t do during his 12 pass attempts in a change-of-pace role in 2011.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it that he certainly improved in a lot of aspects this spring,” Chizik said. “He had a lot of opportunities.”
Chizik was asked specifically about Frazier but also about Auburn’s quarterback race as a whole.
The Tigers haven’t named a starter between Frazier, junior Clint Moseley and freshman Zeke Pike, after all.
But one got the sense during spring practice that Frazier’s time was emerging, and Moseley’s downtime with shoulder issues played into that. On Tuesday, Chizik talked only about Frazier.
“He’s maturing as a quarterback, but he’s learning a lot,” he said. “He’s still a young 19-year-old kid that has a lot in front of him, but we’re asking a lot of him.
“Again, I thought he handled it very well. I think his best days are certainly ahead of him, but I feel like he made a lot of strides this spring.”
Take it for what it’s worth in late April, but Chizik sure seems to be throwing a lot of “bright” sunshine around these days.
That much hasn’t changed since late December.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.