BY AARON BRENNER | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. – Now two of the three men who’ve brought a Heisman Trophy back to Auburn have attended a spring football practice under the new coaching regime.
Following Cam Newton’s lead from last week, 1971 Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan was the most famous spectator at Wednesday morning’s practice. Sullivan, 63, was seen spending a few minutes chatting separately with head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.
Now the Samford head coach, Sullivan was one-third of the university-assigned committee who recommended Malzahn for the position last fall.
“That’s a pretty big deal. I’m a big fan of his,” Malzahn said. “It was not only big for me. It was big for our coaches and our players. He’s a true class individual that was a great player.”
While Sullivan represented past Auburn quarterbacks, incoming freshman Jeremy Johnson stopped by as well, one of the three future passers to join the program this summer.
Bo Jackson, who’s been busy promoting Bo Bikes Bama at the end of this month, would be the third and final Heisman winner to catch practice.
No separation: Through 11 practices, quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace have yet to distinguish themselves in the race to start opening day – a race which could be muddled next month by the arrival of Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jason Smith.
“Each practice, we grade the guys and we try to keep up, but right now everything is status quo. They’re getting equal reps with equal groups,” Malzahn said. “We’re getting to a point where we’re actually getting guys in the right position so we can properly evaluate them.”
Competitive spirit: Auburn hopes to reveal the A-Day scrimmage format sometime Thursday, but Malzahn has twice said there will be a certain element of competition missing from previous open-to-the-public spring scrimmages under ex-head coach Gene Chizik.
“We’re going to make this thing as close to a game as possible for our fans, and also for our coaches and players,” Malzahn said. “It’ll be great for us to evaluate the guys in front of a crowd and see how they react.”
Malzahn continues to insist there’s no first-team or second-team units, though from brief media windows a pecking order has been taking place over the past week and a half.
The fear of serious injuries – for instance, Clemson lost a backup quarterback and starting tight end to ACL tears in its spring game Saturday – won’t deter the Tigers.
“You put the ball down, that’s part of the deal,” Malzahn said. “Any time you’re evaluating guys and playing game-type situations, that is a factor, but we’re not going into that thing thinking that way.”
McNeal, Therezie no-shows: The most notable void from Wednesday’s practice was starting safety Demetruce McNeal, the Tigers’ No. 2-leading tackler in 2012.
Malzahn would only say McNeal “took care of some things off the field,” but expected his return Friday.
Personal reasons was also the reason given for cornerback/”star” safety Robenson Therezie’s absence. Running back Tre Mason tweeted Tuesday night a photo and message congratulating Therezie on the birth of his daughter.
Receiver Melvin Ray was held out with an ankle injury and linebacker Jake Holland missed his fourth practice due to a mandatory class, while Mason, defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, offensive tackle Avery Young, offensive guard Devonte Danzey and “star” safety Javiere Mitchell continued to work their way back in from assorted ailments.
Respect for Toomer’s: Malzahn plans to stop by the post-scrimmage block party Saturday celebrating the final rolling of Toomer’s Oaks, and is expected to speak sometime that evening.
“It’s one of the best traditions in college football,” Malzahn said. “For the Auburn family, it’s really unbelievable. I’m looking forward to being a part of that after the A-Day game. I know that will be very special.”