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August 22, 2013

Auburn notes: Kiehl Frazier ‘in the mix’ for playing time in season opener, Justin Garrett returns to practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Kiehl Frazier appears to be a quick learner.

Kiehl Frazier has made enough strides at safety that both head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he's 'in the mix' for playing time in the season opener. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Kiehl Frazier has made enough strides at safety that both head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he’s ‘in the mix’ for playing time in the season opener. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Though the former quarterback has been at safety only 10 days, there are signs he is already making a push to break into Auburn’s two-deep depth chart at the position. Following the Tigers’ practice on Thursday, head coach Gus Malzahn said Frazier is “in the mix” for playing time.

“I think everyday he feels more comfortable,” Malzahn said. “It’s like anything else. The more that you do, the better you get at it. He’s a competitor, he’s a smart football player, he understands offensive concepts and there’s a good chance he’ll be out on the field.”

Ellis Johnson was even more effusive in his praise of Frazier on Monday. The defensive coordinator said it was a seamless transition for the former quarterback, who picked up the scheme and immediately started “making some checks those young JUCO guys and freshmen guys weren’t making for two weeks.” That’s why he’s confident Frazier will be just fine.

All the junior needs is more time.

“Fundamentals and technique and pulling the trigger, seeing and reacting to things right now, he’s sort of in slow motion but it’s coming along for him,” Johnson said. “Once he gets comfortable back there, I think he’ll play quite a bit for us.”

Whether he gets on the field before Ryan Smith is still a question mark. A career backup, Smith has made only three starts in his career, including two last year — the season opener against Clemson and the season finale versus Alabama. Despite his scarcity of starts, Johnson said the senior is “more game-ready” than Frazier at the moment.

“Ryan probably would start on our dime package at one of the deep safeties when we move (Josh) Holsey up to dime,” Johnson said. “(He) has had a good two, three practices (and) been working a lot of that package the last three days. He really has done a good job.”

The Tigers likely won’t make a decision on Frazier’s playing time until just before the season opener.

“I think he’s learned everything we do but right now (but) he just doesn’t have that quick twitch and that reaction,” Johnson said. “I think a lot of (his vision) and knowledge. He knows the assignments. He knows the adjustments. But as far as keys and reaction and all that, some of it’s still just a blur to him right now.”

Notes

As has been the case since the beginning of fall camp, the starting right tackle position is undecided, Malzahn said. The two-man competition between Avery Young and Patrick Miller continues. “The good thing is we have more depth at tackle than we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” Malzahn said. … Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett returned to practice Thursday, according to Malzahn. The junior missed the last 12 practices of fall camp due to a foot sprain suffered in the Tigers’ second scrimmage.

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