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March 30, 2013

Notes & quotes: Malzahn unhappy with padded practice, Jordan Diamond ‘blessed’ by return, Patrick Miller has All-American aspirations

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Individually, nobody stood out, and together, the Auburn football team isn’t fully adjusted to its head coach’s expectations.

Gus Malzahn was less than enthralled with the Tigers’ first padded practice, their first session inside Jordan-Hare Stadium, on a warm Saturday morning.

“Big picture: after seeing some things, we’ve got a long way to go,” Malzahn said. “And that’s what I told the players. The great thing is, I really feel like most of them have the right attitude and want to get better. It’s just a matter of getting in the proper shape and learning the right techniques and everything that goes with that.”

Malzahn admitted it took “probably half of spring” for his last program, Arkansas State, to get comfortable with the breakneck speed of a Malzahn practice.

However, Malzahn pointedly said “not yet, no” when asked whether Auburn was starting to get it together, as if to infer the Tigers are behind where Malzahn expected they’d be.

Also asked if anybody stood out personally, Malzahn’s answer was “No. Zero. No.” This was Auburn’s third practice in four days, a structure which will continue each of the next three weekends.

“A lot of them are in shock, with how fast the pace, everything that goes with that,” Malzahn said. “Fatigue is a factor. We’ve got to get them in our type of playing shape.

“I will say this (about) our defense: I’m very proud of those guys, the way they handled the pace.”

Indeed, junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright is reasonably optimistic, if not doing cartwheels.

“We’re adjusting. It’s still a long time to go, we still have plenty of work to put in,” Wright said. “We’ve got 12 more days of spring. It felt good to get in pads and work out all the kinks you couldn’t out of pads. I can truly say we got better.”

There’s still 80 percent of spring football remaining, not to mention all of summer conditioning and fall camp. But it’s about how quickly the Tigers get situated to what has become the norm in any football-related activity.

“Getting lined up, being able to process, think quick, being disciplined, mental toughness,” Malzahn said. “Then you play pace teams and the game seems slow. Just about everybody in our league is doing some sort of pace, so it’ll be an advantage for them once we get into our season.”

Diamond in the rough? Redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond – one of the rare five-star recruits out of high school who had to wait his turn – is running with the penciled-in first-team offense.

“It’s just a blessing, knowing you worked hard during the offseason and you get the opportunity to play,” Diamond said. “Everybody on this O-Line is good. Nobody’s spot is guaranteed. So you’ve got to bust your butt every day to learn the system.”

Diamond was asked about the shoulder injury that held him out of last year, and after saying he hurt it in fall camp (in August), Diamond cut himself short, saying Malzahn doesn’t want players discussing injuries.

At any rate, with no scholarship seniors on the offensive line, this is a somewhat-experience group which will see much competition for starting spots.

“We all compete. We all praise each other. As O-Linemen, you don’t want to ever go back and see your boys not shaking your hand – that’s a bad feeling,” Diamond said. “We all try to keep comfortable with each other and build relationships with everybody – not even just us, everybody on the team.

“We’re trying to lead this team to the promised land, where we’re supposed to be.”

Lofty goals: Right tackle Patrick Miller, who went through some growing pains the final nine games of 2012 as a true freshman starter, was sheepish when answering a question about his season goals.

“To be an All-American,” Miller said. “And I want to get as many knockdowns as I can in practice and during games. I just want people to know I’m a good offensive lineman.”

Speaking of fast: Onterio McCalebb’s work as an underclassman for Malzahn the offensive coordinator has earned the tailback/returner some looks at the next level.

The Opelika-Auburn News and Montgomery Advertiser caught up with McCalebb outside Saturday’s practice. McCalebb said he has visited with the Detroit Lions, will do so with the Atlanta Falcons and has heard from the Washington Redskins.

The NFL Draft is four weekends away, starting April 25.

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