Do the Hustle!
The face of the latest round of garbage leveled at Auburn.
War Eagle, everybody. We’re nearly midway through spring drills, but the Auburn news being reported nationally isn’t about this year’s football team. Instead, much-discredited “journalist” Selena Roberts has penned another scathing pile of steaming manure, and this time the target is more or less all of Auburn.
I’m not going to go into a huge run-down over everything this woman alleges, but you can get the general gist here. It’s another piece alleging football pay for play, grade fixing, ignored drug tests and blatant racism by former coach Gene Chizik. It also alleges that Auburn University and the Auburn City Police Department were in cahoots to punish Mike McNeil and the three other players arrested for armed robbery for… some reason. Roberts’ logic is that Chizik wanted to “send McNeil a message,” but the piece fails to communicate what that is. In addition, a half dozen or so former Tiger football players are quoted in this “report.” The whole report can be found here, but I’d think twice before gracing that site with a lot of hits.
What you need to know about Ms. Roberts is this: She has a history of penning scathing accusations of sports institutions and athletes. She has lost jobs with Sports Illustrated and the New York Times, and is now writing for some obscure web outfit called “roopstigo.” One example of her work is the “Duke Lacrosse rape scandal” of about seven years ago. She did her best to demonize those players, twisting some facts to fit her agenda, and seemingly outright making many more up.
In the end of course, the “scandal” fell apart. The victim admitted making the whole thing up, and a rogue, politically motivated prosecutor pursued the case far beyond any reasonable standard of evidence. Even when faced with a scenario that clearly was not true, here is what Ms. Roberts fired back with:
“Don’t mess with Duke, though. To shine a light on its integrity has been treated by the irrational mighty as a threat to white privilege….lay off the lacrosse pipeline to Wall Street, excuse the khaki-pants crowd of SAT wonder kids.”
The New York Times sports editor at the time, Tom Jolly said that he very much regretted the paper’s coverage of that story. You can read about the fallout here, here, and here. I’m not really sure how anyone’s supposed to take Ms. Roberts seriously after all of that, but ESPN has seen fit today to run a story on it. And of course it’s all over al.com. Even those guys are skeptical, though.
It’s important to note that Auburn players “quoted” in the story (Neiko Thorpe, Darren Bates, and Mike Blanc) have come out in force, and either said that they were misquoted, or denied the quotes altogether.
Supposedly, Gene Chizik hated dreadlocks and tattoos, and persecuted players because of that. I ask this question: has Auburn football ever had more dreads and tats than we’ve seen the past four years? Curious. Chizik was also accused of bad-mouthing his players to NFL scouts, hurting their draft chances. How likely is that? How many times did we EVER see Chizik bad-mouth ANY player, to anyone? (“We had a great week of practice, and things of that nature…”) Coaches like to brag to recruits about how many players they’ve sent to the NFL, not how many they’ve sandbagged!
Wow. This is why I try to avoid “rant-mode.” I can’t see much coming out of this “article,” but I sure was steamed about it! Now, on to actual football.
Speaking of “hustle,” hurry-up continues to be the watch-word at Auburn practices. One has to remember that even now we’re not seeing the meat of practices on those youtube videos out there from the news outlets, but I like what I’m seeing thus far from this staff. They are not at all afraid to correct players, and require do-overs if things aren’t right. We’re seeing a LOT more of “this is how you do it,” and less of “you have to cover this area, any way you can.”
The high-speed aspect of the thing is going to pay dividends on both sides of the ball. The Johnny Footballs of the league won’t be able to catch the defense asleep as much, after they’ve practiced this way for months. We kind of figured Auburn was pretty limited at linebacker this year due to lack of numbers, but Ellis Johnson seems to have a plan to have a full two-deep ready, with replacements also trained in the wings. And if linebacker is really two-deep this year, the line and secondary certainly are! Auburn seems to have enough able defenders on the squad to stay rested, even if the other team is trying to play fast!
If there’s anything to be concerned about, it’s that none of the junior college transfers seem to be jumping out. General consensus is that the early-enrolled JUCOs were “signed to play, not sit.” Tommy Tuberville famously once said, “they are JUCO transfers for a reason.” He believed that a guy went to junior college either because he had difficulty with the academic side, or that he was lazy. Tuberville believed that those with academic issues had to spend so much time studying that they’d be hard-pressed to stay in college football playing-shape. In one of the early hurry-up offensive drills, running back Cameron Artis-Payne was singled out for saving everyone a bunch of up-downs by snagging a tipped, errant snap, and keeping the play going.
While Auburn hardly has issued a cast in stone depth chart, reporters are tracking who’s working with the first and second units. Your biggest surprise here is on the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond seems to be holding on the starting left guard spot, the one vacated at the end of last season by John Sullen. That’s no small accomplishment on a unit loaded with unproven talent. Diamond is as talented as anyone on the line, it’s said, and he’s relentless.
Another pleasant surprise has been Justin Garrett, at the star position. Before practice began, it was believed that Auburn really didn’t have a prototypical player for this Ellis Johnson hybrid position. Instead, Garrett has remained atop the pecking order. Garrett always struck me as a very fast linebacker, but one with durability issues. No way he’d survive the Roof/van Gorder marching orders to bang against the run for 70-80 plays per game. This way, Garrett gets to use his speed, and the unpredictability of the defense to make an impact. And he sure has, thus far!
Here’s hoping these Tigers keep “hustling.” The coaches will be on the spot Saturday, when Auburn runs their first scrimmage of the spring. I think we’ll really start seeing the starting lineup settle in, after that. I don’t think we’ll get to see a lot of it on the videos, but Malzhan’s definitely been a lot more forthright and accommodating to the media folk than his predecessor, thus far. I don’t think Chizik ever got that the Auburn fans don’t want to hear the same robot-speech every week after practice. That didn’t play well at all during a 3-9 season, and may have been the single biggest factor in the pressure on the administration to get rid of Chizik.
War Eagle, folks! We’ve grown very accustomed to shaking off our critics, and I assure you no one is jumping off bridges in light of the latest scandal-rag accusations on the web. It’s really pretty incredible what this institution has been put through the past few years in that regard. It all quieted down last fall when we were losing, but it’s now back again. Think the haters are worried? Looks like…