BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – On the first day of winter workouts, new Auburn director of strength and conditioning Ryan Russell instituted a 3-tiered system to reflect where each player rated in terms of his physical attributes.
Everybody started with an orange jersey, the first and lowest level. Blue would be the ‘average’ colored uniform, with the ultimate goal to be wearing a green practice jersey by the start of spring football practices.
The very first day, three Tigers were already impressive enough to earn the green jerseys – thus instantaneously installing senior H-back Jay Prosch, senior defensive end Dee Ford and junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright as leaders in the weight room.
“The coaches would grade each player according to their performance in the drill, how much effort they gave, how they finished, their composure as far as acting tired with hands on your knees, and leadership, how you encourage other players,” Prosch said. “If they think you were slacking through a drill, it’s obviously a deduction.”
It was a point of pride, sure, for the trio of veterans. Ideally, they wanted their teammates to follow suit, and more than half the squad has gone green leading into next Wednesday’s first practice under new head coach Gus Malzahn.
In a produced video released Feb. 21 by the Auburn athletics-official YouTube channel, those three players were indeed the only ones in green. Prosch in particular could be seen encouraging his teammates.
“It’s obviously a different type of competitive thing we’re doing,” Prosch said. “But we’re college football players. I’d say 99.9 percent of the guys on the team are naturally competitive people. I do think guys strive to get green jerseys and upgrade.”
For a team outscored 76-36 in the fourth quarter last year – including 69-6 through the first eight games, a 1-7 start – improved endurance will be a heavy emphasis this offseason.
“Yeah, there were issues. It had a lot to do with maturity – just a lot of young cats,” Ford said. “We have a lot of guys taking better approach to those things.”
Added Wright: “I’m not going to say physicality was an overall issue. It was definitely a factor in some games – cardio, whatever you want to say.
“In saying that, you can’t put it all on coaches. Some of it’s just players’ personality – if you have a green jersey by this point, at some point you’ve shown you have the ability to have the physical, emotional and mental stability to be able to put your best foot forward.”
It remains to be seen which players will take on the captain roles – particularly, who leads both in the locker room and on the field, both with their speech and with their production.
Much as coaches and players want to ditch the horrors of 2012, lessons sure were learned.
“Things are never going to go the way you expect. Last year was built on who’s going to fight when things get tough,” Ford said. “The biggest thing is attention to detail, because we started a lot of games good, but we never ended those games good. So we learned a lot from last year, especially as far as consistency and detail – things you have to learn as a young player.”
Ford, the Tigers’ most experienced player on the roster, said Malzahn is “huge … huge” in regards to attention to detail – warmups are no longer mundane, with repetitions demanded after any mistakes.
Which really was no different, as Ford recalled, than the way Malzahn was as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11.
“He’s the same. Same cat,” Ford said. “Just … I guess he’s running everything now. He’s the same no-nonsense type of guy. He’s going to push you. He’s the same as before he left here.”