Culture shock. There’s no better way to sum it up. That’s what Auburn’s still young football team has encountered during its first weekend of spring practice. If Cam Newton or Nick Fairley walked into the joint today, they’d hardly recognize the place.
The offense has changed. So has the defense. Even the players look different from last season. The only thing left from the national championship season is the banner hanging behind the goal post on the practice field. I guess season-ending blowout losses to Georgia and Alabama cause these things.
While the names of the new coaches have grabbed the headlines, it’s the physical appearance of the new look Tigers that will have the most impact come September. Some players are bigger and some significantly smaller.
It’s apparent that strength coach Kevin Yoxall’s little slice of hell has been open 24/7 this off-season. Junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker has gone from 325 pounds in January, to a svelte 303 pounds on Friday morning.
Whitaker says he feels the difference on the field.
“It’s a lot different,” Whitaker said. “I smile when I sprint now. I didn’t ever used to smile when I sprinted. The second wind is the most important thing. A great shout out to Coach Yox and the great job he does with us. It’s going to help me play a lot better, be more explosive later in games and not be as tired. It’s going to be great.”
The transformation is not just on defense. Quarterback Kiehl Frazier has put on 15 pounds and looks even more toned and muscular than a year ago. Freshman receiver Sammie Coates has put on 25 pounds and swears he’s faster.
“I ran a 4.29 the last time we ran it here,” Coates said. “Before I came out of high school I ran a 4.3.”
Real practice starts this morning when the team puts on the pads for the first time. Just because both sides of the ball will be learning new philosophies, it doesn’t mean practice will be any easier.
“We always plan on having very physical practice and always have,” Chizik said. Our plan is for this to be a very physical spring practice. Our plan is to start Monday.”
Whitaker says the team is excited.
“There is a lot of energy, a lot of talk amongst teammates,” he said. “I think everybody is enthused for Monday to come. It’s going to be early in the morning. I think everybody is ready to fly around and hit people and at the same time take care of your teammates.”