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The Five I'm Watching: Part VI (BONUS)

Hey everyone. So I couldn't whittle down the list to just five players without cutting Lee Ziemba, so he becomes the BONUS sixth player to watch.

Please enjoy your weekend ... and this fine piece of prose.

Left tackle
  • Age: 21
  • Class: Senior (one season of eligibility remaining)
  • Size: 6-8, approximately 320 pounds
  • Previous roles: Starting left tackle
  • Theme song: ``Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," Eric Clapton (many people have performed it)
  • Relevant lyric: "When you finally get back up on your feet again, everybody wants to be your old long-lost friend."

THE GOOD: Ziemba is exactly what an NFL scout seeks in a left tackle. He's tall. He's big without being fat. He has relatively quick feet. Years of repetition have given him a strong base of fundamentals. Coaches always have praised his awareness. Ziemba has missed a total of zero games during his three-year career, which demonstrates an ability to play through injury. He is an outstanding run blocker. Ziemba often is overpowering in running situations. He was raised in an Auburn home -- his father is a graduate -- and I've always gotten the sense that he really is playing for the school. It's a difficult thing to quantify, sure, but I can sense it nonetheless.

THE BAD: He is penalized too often for someone of his experience and aptitude. Though his problem isn't as bad as some say, Ziemba has been flagged more more than his fair share of drive-stalling holds and false starts. He said in April that it's a concentration thing -- and something that has become a point of emphasis this offseason. Ziemba used to lean when guarding against the outside pass rush, which led to a rash of missed blocks in 2008, though he seemed to trust his lateral quickness more in 2009. He's probably a little above average as a pass blocker right now. That's a big improvement. It's rare that you see Auburn ask him to pull on a sweep or screen pass.

THE REALITY: He is Auburn's most reliable offensive player and one that cannot be replaced. The Tigers don't have anyone who can step in and play at Ziemba's level. I expect penalty prevalence to fall within the normal range this season. I also expect his pass-block skills to sharpen because of experience, which will make him a first- or second-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He's an undervalued part of the Tigers' enterprise right now.

What do you think? Speak your mind!

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University

Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at

The Five I'm Watching: Part V

Hey everyone. So we're at No. 5 on the list, but that's not enough for me.

In these hard times, I want to provide more value for your $0 investment here. One guy who is immensely intriguing fell into the sixth slot and he deserves a moment in the HABOTN sun.

So you'll get a BONUS player on Saturday. Consider it a summer miracle.

And now ... on with the countdown. Number Five.

  • Age: 20
  • Class: Sophomore (three seasons of eligibility remaining)
  • Size: 5-10, approximately 175 pounds
  • Previous roles: Second-choice tailback and kickoff return man. Then he became an injured tailback and return man.
  • Theme song: ``Break," Three Days Grace
  • Relevant lyric: "If you can't stand the way this place is ... take yourself to higher places."

THE GOOD: Our own Sensi asked me one day last year why I liked McCalebb so much. My response: He's fast as hell. That's why many people here refer to McCalebb simply as FAH. And he is quite fast. He's fast side to side. He's fast in a straight line. Despite a smallish frame, McCalebb runs like he's Brandon Jacobs. He has no problem challenging larger guys in one-on-one situations. McCalebb is like Carnell Williams in that sense. Both guys are fearless. McCalebb has some receiving instincts. He doesn't seem prone to fumbles. He made several critical assignment problems early last season, but seemed to be making progress before suffering his ankle injury became a deal-breaker in October. He grew up under remarkably difficult circumstances, which could have condemned him to a life of poverty. McCalebb instead used the situation as motivation to seek a better life. That element cannot be understated. McCalebb is running from his past and he knows it.

THE BAD: He doesn't look like a football player. He's rail thin. Though McCalebb seems completely rehabilitated from the high-ankle sprain that undermined him in October and November, there is concern that his lack of size puts him at increased risk for injury. He works hard in the weight room to add bulk. Still, he may never crack the 190-pound barrier. McCalebb missed too many pass-block assignments last season, which prevented offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn from using the freshman in one-back sets for the most part. He'll never be the rah-rah kind of player who prompts improvements in his teammates. McCalebb keeps to himself and rarely criticizes anyone -- even privately.

THE REALITY: He would have been the primary breakout guy last season (supplanting Darvin Adams) had he not injured his left ankle against Ball State. McCalebb was among league leaders in total yards at the time. Can he be a No. 1 tailback? That's still unknown, but the point is moot this year. McCalebb will be sharing the ball with Mario Fannin. McCalebb could emerge as an option at the Wildcat position, too, which adds plenty of touchdown opportunities. I'm forecasting 175 carries, 900 yards, 12 rushing touchdowns.

What do you think? Speak your mind!

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University

Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at

The Five I'm Watching: Part IV

Hey everyone. Let's continue.

  • Age: 22
  • Class: Senior (one season of eligibility remaining)
  • Size: 6 feet, approximately 210 pounds pounds
  • Previous roles: Starting safety until ... injured safety
  • Theme song: ``Testify," Rage Against The Machine
  • Relevant lyric: "Who controls the past now controls the future; who controls the present now controls the past."

THE GOOD: Etheridge is a leader, a challenger, a guy who isn't afraid to speak his mind. Auburn hasn't exactly had an excess of those personalities in recent years. The 2008 season comes to mind there. On the field, Etheridge is a remarkably enthusiastic player. He suffered a serious neck injury last season because he was desperate to finish someone else's tackle. He's been fearless since the day he started as a true freshman for Will Muschamp. As for football skills, Etheridge is a little confounding. Safeties are supposed to cover ground quickly, defend mid-level and deep routes intelligently and provide some run support. Etheridge is a hitter; he's very useful against the run. His range is average. His cover skills are average. Roof feels comfortable with Etheridge at strong safety -- where the senior's cover skills are less vital -- and plans to play him extensively this fall.

THE BAD: Etheridge's neck injury wasn't fixed with gauze and some aspirin. Though he avoided surgery, Etheridge spent three months wearing an invasive head restraint every hour of every day. He told reporters earlier this year that luck played a role in his recovery; the injury easily could have been catastrophic. He'll be examined by a specialist next week. A decision will be made then about Etheridge's orthopedic fitness, if he'll play this fall. I expect him to gain clearance. The next question is: Will memories of that injury affect how Etheridge plays? Nobody can answer that question right now. From a football perspective, Etheridge is not particularly fast, quick or tall. Instincts, guts and cardiovascular fitness make him what he is.

THE REALITY: I'm so intrigued by Etheridge right now because there was a time last fall when he wasn't sure he'd walk again. Or play again. Now he's on the verge of medical clearance. His specialist won't play around with his assessment, though, because nobody wants to be the guy who cleared a kid who suffers a second episode. If Etheridge plays, my expectations won't change much from 2009. He's a solid player who provides enthusiasm and some significant administrative contributions between snaps. Auburn needs that.

What do you think? Speak your mind!

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University

Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at

Auburn Arena video

Not much to it, but you may get a better sense of the arena's size with this.

Please enjoy.

Auburn Arena: Photo Gallery

Hey everyone. So I spent about an hour touring Auburn's new basketball hub/arena and, honestly, they seemed to get a lot out of $85+ million.

Now you can make the call.


Click to enlarge

From the floor with Beard-Eaves at my back.

The baseline.

Here's the view from the high-roller scholarship area.

This is facing Beard-Eaves from the highest (third) deck.

I'm trying to convey how steep these third-level seats are. It feels like it's straight down to the floor.

This is the bar in the high-roller Scholarship Donor area.

This is Suite 12 in the high-roller Scholarship Donor area. Each suite has its own patio that faces Jordan-Hare.

This is the men's locker room.

Fixtures from the women's locker room.

Players put their (used) practice gear in here after practice ... and can pick up clean gear before practice.

Those little lockers, I guess you'd call them, open to the laundry area.

That's a serious dryer. Luke Brietzke of the Anniston Star, pictured, is 6-foot-2.

Visitor's locker room. Hilarious.

This the hallway where players, both men and women, funnel into the arena.

This is where the weightlifting will occur. It's adjacent to the practice courts. That window faces Jordan-Hare.

This is the door from weightlifting to the practice courts. I was struck by how tall the doors were. Luke Brietzke again illustrating.

This is the main entry into the arena. It's opposite Beard-Eaves. If you're not a donor (or media), you're coming in this door.

No idea.

Shakeup at Vanderbilt

Hey everyone. As some of the techno-savvy HOTTIES have been discussing, Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson has resigned.

The Tennesseean, a Gannett newspaper that apparently uses unnamed sources, is crediting the information to unnamed sources.

Press conference at 1 p.m. CDT.

I will be inside Auburn Arena at that time. Please feel free to update in the comments section until I return.

Photo credit: The Tennesseean

Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at

The Five I'm Watching: Part III

Hey everyone. Let's continue.

Defensive tackle
  • Age: 22
  • Class: Senior (two seasons of eligibility remaining)
  • Size: 6-foot-5, approximately 300 pounds
  • Previous role: Third guy in a two-tackle system, 2009
  • Theme song: ``Stand," R.E.M.
  • Relevant lyric: "Think about direction. Wonder why you haven't before."

THE GOOD: Nick Fairley is, to me, a totally untapped resource. I watch him play and am reminded of Pat Sims. What does that mean? Big dude, quick feet, light feet, awesome short-range acceleration, tackles that express rage. It's odd considering that both players are generally quiet people. Sims has a more biting wit. Though Fairley managed only a somewhat involved role last season -- he started two games -- the Mobile native was playing with more purpose during the season's final half. He has the capability to be more than a run-stopper; Fairley has the speed and instincts to be a pass-rush asset as well. Nothing in his past suggests that he's an injury liability. Fairley appears to be a rugged guy who can handle the rigors of 40 snaps per game.

THE BAD: If he's so talented, why didn't he shine last season? In his defense, junior college defense can be a pretty chaotic enterprise. Still, it's not like Mike Blanc and Jake Ricks are sure-fire NFL guys. Fairley had a few games -- LSU in particular -- where he was a non-factor. A guy with that kind of talent playing in his 18th college game shouldn't disappear. Though I never heard anyone say conditioning was a problem per se, it was clear that Fairley could be in better condition. More time with Kevin Yoxall, the Tigers' strength and conditioning czar, generally cures those kind of ills. His laid-back nature off the field could be a concern. Will he bring the fire on the field? Perhaps that played a role in Fairley's so-so season in 2009.

THE REALITY: He's my No. 1 breakout candidate ... on either side of the ball. Sure, Cameron Newton has a chance to be a big star. You already know that. So does everyone else in the SEC. Fairley still is under the radar for the most part. I kept seeing shades of Pat Sims last season. I consider that a great development for Auburn's defense, which needs all the good news it can get. I project 40 tackles, 5 sacks, hype building through the fall. Of course, I predicted Tommy Trott would flourish under Tony Franklin's leadership. You might want to take that into account.

What do you think? Speak your mind!

Photo credit: Todd Van Emst/Auburn University

Questions? Comments? Post directly to the blog below or email me at

The Five I'm Watching: Part II

Defensive coordinator
  • Age: 46
  • College: Georgia Tech '85
  • Previous role: Defensive coordinator, Minnesota (1998)
  • Theme song: ``Down in It," Nine Inch Nails
  • Relevant lyric: "All the world's weight is on my back and I don't even know why."

THE GOOD: Ted Roof has the experience and knowledge you'd expect from someone whose career is rooted in coaching college defenses. Fellow coaches were impressed by the things Roof did during his season at Minnesota. He took a terrible defense and made it average during a period of six months. He did it with a series of odd formations, blitzes, schemes. So you know he's competent. Roof doesn't struggle with confidence, which means the memories of Auburn's terrible 2009 season -- the team set a record for points allowed -- likely won't affect his approach in a negative way this fall. He'll have more talent and more bodies at his disposal this time around; Roof was limited last season by a defense that featured few reliable reserves. Two FBS assistant coaches have told me they'll be surprised if the Tigers' defense isn't significantly better in 2010. They believe in Roof.

THE BAD: The numbers. Auburn's defense wasn't very good last season. What happened? We know Roof was compromised by a lack of depth on defense, which forced him to consider conserving his linebackers after halftime. He said that wasn't a thought, that Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens were fit enough to handle 90 snaps, but I don't believe him. The Tigers were more base than they should have been during the season's second half. Talk all you want about Jessel Curry, but he's a freshman. Eltoro Freeman remains an unknown. The same goes for Jonathan Evans. Is the linebacker corps going to be that much better? I sense that coach Gene Chizik will feel pressure to make a change at coordinator if the team doesn't make significant defensive progress this season. I still project the team's defense to be below average, though it's impossible to assess any of Roof's strategic adjustments at this stage. Maybe he's developed something innovative during the past six months.

THE REALITY: Auburn will be better on defense. That's the key to the team's overall success because we know (with some degree of certainty) that the Tigers will average at least 23 points per game. That creates a reasonable margin for error. Still, I expect defense to be a weakness.

What do you think? Speak your mind!

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