1) Talk about cross-training: Ricardo Louis is using tennis balls in a common hockey drill to help himself catch footballs.
Louis will take two tennis balls and fire them rhythmically at the wall – think a fast-paced juggling motion – working on catching the balls and releasing them as quickly as possible. It helps specifically with hand-eye coordination.
“The faster I throw it on the wall, it comes back and I look it in, tuck it in, find the tip of the ball,” Louis said. “It helps with everything.”
Louis is also setting up his own cone drills to improve his footwork, and throwing on the side with quarterback Jonathan Wallace, a fellow true sophomore, before and after practice.
“As hard as everybody works, I feel like whoever’s worked the hardest will get that job,” Louis said, referring to the starting wide receiver derby. “I’ve been working hard – I think I’ve been working the hardest because I do stuff on my own.”
He’s also focusing on returns, though most those reps have gone to Quan Bray, Trovon Reed, Jonathan Jones and Jonathon Mincy. The first time Louis ever took a kick return in high school (his junior year), he says he took it back 80 yards for a touchdown.
“The more reps we get,” Louis said, “the more comfortable we get catching the ball and running it smoothly.”
2) Of the clear top five receivers on the depth chart is one walk-on: Melvin Ray, who technically is not on athletic scholarship in his return to football after trying his hand with the Los Angeles Dodgers and unable to return to his scholarship with Alabama.
“He’s a big, athletic guy,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think if you ask him, he’s thinking a lot about where to line up and his assignment instead of just playing football. At times, he’s made some plays.”
3) Redshirt freshman Alex Kozan sort of stumbled into a position to play backup center, moving over from offensive guard. He’s struggling so far to learn the position, but there’s less competition at center.
“Coach (J.B.) Grimes called me into his office and kind of explained the situation, how they need to figure out what everybody can and can’t play,” Kozan said. “He just said he thought it would be a good fit for me because of my intelligence. Also, when you look at our line, a lot of guys are 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 – longer bodies. It’s a lot harder for those guys to bend down and be low enough to play center … versus a guy who is 6-4 like me who can bend and be able to get good leverage on the D-tackles and the noses in the SEC.”
4) There’s a clear leader at the forefront of Auburn’s offensive line: center Reese Dismukes.
“He’s got the most experience,” Malzahn said. “Those guys will listen to him.”
Of course, Dismukes has played and started 23 games in college. One of the two games he didn’t play or start is the reason Dismukes hasn’t addressed the media since before the 2012 season began: a one-game suspension following his arrest for public intoxication nine games before the season.
Yet Dismukes is speaking up, around the team.
“Reese has always been a vocal leader as long as I’ve been here,” Kozan said. “Not everybody sees that necessarily, but Reese has always been a leader on our offensive line.”
5) Monday’s practice also included some intrasquad scrimmaging with referees on hand, just like Saturday’s – except no tackling this time.
Malzahn was more encouraged by Monday’s session than the one over the weekend.
“The great thing is we have a lot of room for improvement and we felt like our guys were trying to do what we asked. It’s just a matter of fighting through fatigue and being more disciplined with our assignments,” Malzahn said. “It did look like we improved … the guys know what to expect and they should be better about the execution of their drills and assignments.”
6) Obviously, Teammate A competing with Teammate B for a particular starting spot won’t make for a completely cordial relationship. Obviously, Teammate A and Teammate B will rarely say anything bad about the other – that’s how football players are trained.
In the case of Patrick Miller vs. Avery Young for right tackle, they actually are friends rooting for each other.
“We come from the same hometown, so we’re like brothers,” Young said. “Anything I mess up on, he lets me know. If I see him not stepping right or doing something wrong, I help him. We know it’s a team effort.”
Indeed, Miller attended Dwyer High School and Young came from Palm Beach Gardens in West Palm, Fla. They squared off their junior year of high school in 2010, with Miller’s Dwyer garnering an easy 35-0 victory.
Miller’s also got the upper hand in this right tackle battle, while Young works back into playing shape from a torn labrum.
“He’s doing real good,” Young said. “It looks like he’s been doing it already. So everything’s going real well for him. I’m proud of him.”
Said Miller on Saturday: “There’s guys that are not even playing right now: like for instance, Avery, he’s going to be an awesome offensive lineman.”
7) And finally, athletes and figures across Twitter found a number of ways to dupe unsuspecting, gullible individuals on the first day of April.
As for incoming Auburn punter Jimmy Hutchinson, well, he found about the simplest way to tweak Tigers fans.
Tweeted @Kicker_88 Monday afternoon: “Rolllllll Tide! #AprilFools #WDE”