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August 15, 2013

Auburn football: Specialists seek to perfect technique as season draws closer

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Steven Clark has played golf his entire life.

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

In fact, Auburn’s senior punter said it predated his career on the gridiron. Given the parallels between punting and golf, it was a thrill for Clark to hear from the winner of this year’s PGA Championship following Thursday morning’s practice.

And the address came from an Auburn alumnus and fervent Tigers’ football fan, Jason Dufner.

“Really my position is a lot more like golf than any other position, just as far as, you’ve got to have different clubs, you’ve got to have practice with each one, and it’s a day-to-day thing,” he said. “You know you’ve just got to keep trying to refine your craft. If I can ever win the PGA Championship with punting, that would be the best day of my life, too. Hopefully I can come back and share a little wisdom like he did today.”

Clark was disappointed when he was informed during his time with reporters that senior kicker Cody Parkey had already snapped a photo with Dufner and the Wanamaker Trophy.

“I’m going to have to do that,” he said. “I hope (Dufner) is still out there.”

As far as his punting goes, Clark actually hopes there will be more returned kicks this year. Incredibly, only five of his 70 attempts last year were returned. Clark wants to see more runbacks since it will mean he’ll get to make some longer kicks.

There’s another reason, too.

“It increases the possibility of some turnovers,” he said. “That’s probably the most exciting thing that ever happens when I’m punting — trying to run back there, and (seeing) them drop it and we end up getting it back. I don’t know how much more I can do.”

Clark said he hasn’t felt like he has had to sacrifice distance on his punts in the past seasons. Besides, if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s not to get caught looking at statistics.

The results are the only things that matter in the end.

“I don’t really try to worry about averages as much anymore,” he said. “I had gotten caught up with that in the past and it’s something that really messes with your head trying to worry about all that stuff. You don’t do numbers. All you do is you can punt and you can only prepare yourself as best you can. That’s all you can really control.”

Parkey felt a little differently, as he admitted worrying about numbers. Specifically, he focused on his 3-for-6 showing on kicks between 40 and 50 yards last season. He went 8-for-8 from 39 yards and in.

“It wasn’t anything to do with my distance,” he said of his misfires in 2012. “I feel comfortable hitting far field goals. It just so happened that those were the ones I missed last year. I have been working on that a lot along with being more accurate. Along with hitting 55-yard field goals, you have to be hitting them straight.”

Parkey has been thankful for the team’s new indoor practice facility. Despite the wet weather this summer, it hasn’t affected his preparation.

“It’s phenomenal” he said. “Back in 2010, my freshman year, we had the small indoor (facility) and we weren’t able to kick or anything in there. Now I can do field goals and kickoffs and all that. … It works to our advantage to get out there as long and as much as we can to practice.”

Another kicker who has been able to put in work during fall camp has been Daniel Carlson. The 6-foot-5 true freshman’s “big leg” has impressed Parkey.

The senior also acknowledged the Colorado Springs, Colo., native is farther along in his development than he was at the same time of his career.

“He’s really smooth,” Parkey said, “and I think he’s going to be a good one for Auburn in the future.”

August 13, 2013

Auburn football: Jonathan Wallace down (on depth chart), but far from out of starting quarterback race

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace will be the invisible man this week.

Jonathan Wallace won't get any snaps with the first team offense this week, but he's still in the running for Auburn's starting quarterback job, according to coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. (File photo)

Jonathan Wallace won’t get any snaps with the first team offense this week, but he’s still in the running for Auburn’s starting quarterback job, according to coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. (File photo)

After Auburn coach Gus Malzahn announced on Monday that newcomers Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall would split all the reps at quarterback with the first-team offense this week, Wallace became an afterthought. Many thought the move eliminated Wallace, for all intents and purposes, from becoming the Tigers’ starting quarterback this fall. Malzahn disputed that notion on Monday, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee reiterated it Tuesday.

Malzahn and Lashlee came to the decision for one reason: They already knew what Wallace and Kiehl Frazier who has since moved to safety could do. The coaching staff had an entire spring to evaluate them.

Now they want the chance to do the same with Marshall and Johnson.

Lashlee described what he and Malzahn told Wallace when they sat down together on Sunday to map out the coming week at quarterback.

“We just told him going into this week, ‘We feel like we’ve got a pretty good grasp on what your strengths are and what you can do,” Lashlee said. “‘You’re not out of it. You’re still going to get plenty of reps. Just hang in there for the next couple of days. These two guys are going to get the bulk of the reps. We’ve got to see how they respond.'”

Wallace took the news in stride, exactly the way Lashlee knew he would.

“He understands it. He’s always ready and when he does get reps like he got some reps today he’s ready to take advantage of it,” Lashlee said. “He’s done what you would want an older guy to do: He’s been encouraging them. He’s been a perfect team player.”

But will he remain that paragon of selflessness forever?

Ryan Nelson thinks so.

The offensive coordinator at Wallace’s alma mater, Central High School in Phenix City, Ala., said his former player has always carried himself with a team-first mentality.

“Jonathan is the definition of a true team player,” he said. “He has been that way throughout his career, especially at Central. And I think Jonathan is going to embrace his role at Auburn, whatever it is. And he’ll do it to the best of his ability.”

One of the sophomore’s best attributes is his consistency, Nelson said. There aren’t any surprises with Wallace, who Nelson said brings the same thing to the table every day.

“You know what you’re going to get out of him when he steps on the field,” he said. “Off the field, there’s nothing to hide. That’s one of the characteristics of his personality. It’s the way he was brought up.”

Neither Wallace nor any of Auburn’s other quarterbacks have been made available to speak to the media since fall camp began, Frazier’s position change notwithstanding. That means, of course, no one has been able to gauge the mind-set of the contenders, to look them in the eyes and see how they react to questions, of both the simple and pointed variety.

Nelson couldn’t speak for Wallace’s thoughts on the competition no one can do that but Wallace himself. However, Nelson said it’s safe to say Wallace should be “real excited” for the opportunity to become the face of the Tigers at the most prominent position in his sport.

Who wouldn’t be, after all?

“Just knowing Jonathan and what he was about at Central, he’s going to come to work every day,” Nelson said. “He’s going to give 100 percent on and off the field, he’s going to be as prepared as anybody and he’s going to go out there and compete and see what happens.”

July 16, 2013

LIVE CHAT: SEC Media Days, Day 1

July 8, 2013

L-E hires Ryan Black as Auburn football writer

Ryan Black joined the Ledger-Enquirer on Monday as the Auburn football beat writer. His stories, notebooks, commentaries, videos and photos will appear here his blog at wareagleextra.com as well as in print.

Black is a December 2012 graduate of the University of Georgia with a bachelorís degree in Journalism-Newspapers.

He replaces Aaron Brenner, now covering Clemson sports for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier.

“Ryan is a talented writer and reporter who is eager to dive into covering Auburn football,” sports editor Kevin Price said. “Ryan grew up watching, eating and sleeping SEC football, so he knows how passionate fans in this area are about their football.

“Ryan also will be writing stories on the Southeastern Conference when news warrants. He will also expand our coverage of football recruiting.”

He served as the Georgia beat writer, columnist and sports editor for the Red & Black, a student-run independent newspaper that covers UGA, from 2010-12.

Black also worked as a freelancer and an intern covering Georgia football for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Readers can contact him by email at rblack@ledger-enquirer.com, on Twitter at @wareagleextra and on Facebook at facebook.com/wareagleextra.

Ryan Black

Ryan Black

June 28, 2013

Auburn releases its plans for more parking and tailgating

auburn parking

From staff reports

Auburn University unveiled a new parking and tailgating plan Friday.

In a letter from athletic director Jay Jacobs to fans, he said that a result of changes made that a “net gain of 2,000 parking spots and more tailgating space around campus for the 2013 football season.”

“One of our five goals for the Auburn Athletics Department is to provide the best gameday experience possible,” Jacobs wrote. “… The results of our annual football gameday surveys have made it clear that tailgating, parking and the accessibility of campus rank high on your list.”

Fans will have a number of options from free parking and tailgating to tailgating packages that will be sold for a fee.

“A number of fans told us they want pre-paid parking or tailgating packages so they can enjoy a hassle-free, guaranteed space on gameday, so that option was increased as well,” Jacobs said. “The changes we are implementing for the 2013 season are just the start. This is the beginning of our efforts to improve the gameday experience, not the end.”

Here is a look at some of the changes announced in Jacobs’ letter:

South Donahue Corridor

Over the past few years, parking and tailgating on South Donahue Drive between South College and Samford Avenue has been limited to protect the pedestrian path and to ensure efficient traffic flow. We have worked with the university administration to adjust the plan for that area so it still accomplishes those goals while also opening up more free parking.

The temporary green stakes that line both sides of South Donahue during the fall will be moved or eliminated. The stakes on the western side of the street will be removed to allow fans to park on the grass above the curb. The stakes on the eastern side of the street will remain but will be pushed farther away from the curb to protect the pedestrian path while also creating ample space for additional parking. (Available at 4 p.m. on Friday).

A new lot previously not available to fans will also be opened on the north end of the Donahue Drive hayfields, adjacent to Lem Morrison Drive. Additional parking will also be opened up on Lem Morrison near its intersection with Duncan Drive as a construction laydown area is converted to parking and tailgating space.

Weagle Woods

Thanks to the cooperation of Dean James P. Shepard and the School of Forestry & Wildlife Sciences, a new free tailgating area will be opened up behind the Forestry & Wildlife building at the corner of South Donahue and Lem Morrison Drive.

The School of Forestry has partially cleared a wooded area there for a longleaf pine tree reforestation project. “Weagle Woods” will offer tailgaters a prime location among the pine trees just a short walk from Jordan-Hare Stadium. (Available at 4 p.m. Friday.)

West Samford Avenue

A small area of green space on West Samford Avenue near the intersection of Duncan Drive will also be opened up for free parking and tailgating. Permanent pipe and chain barriers along that portion of West Samford will be removed. (Available at 4 p.m. Friday).

Additional parking will also be available immediately south of the Old Track on West Samford Avenue, where temporary stakes put in place for the fall in recent years will be removed. (Available at 4 p.m. Friday).

Intramural Fields

A limited number of free parking spots not previously available to fans will be available in the Intramural Fieldhouse parking lot on Biggio Drive.

Thanks to the cooperation of the Division of Student Affairs, approximately 70 new tailgating spots will also be offered on the perimeter of the Intramural Fields. The reserved spots will be offered free of charge. We will provide more information about reserving these spots in early August.

As has been the case in past years, the area around the Intramural Fields is an RV-free zone.

Facilities Division Area

Additional free parking will be available at the Facilities Division off of West Samford Avenue. Fans can “quick park” their vehicles there, and shuttle service will be available to and from the stadium. A tailgate drop-off area will also be added at the Facilities Division, giving fans a place to drop off their tailgating supplies.

More free parking and tailgating space farther out West Samford Avenue will also allow fans to park and tailgate in that area. Additional free RV spots will be available on the south side of Samford Avenue where RVs have traditionally parked. (Available at 4 p.m. Friday)

June 5, 2013

The bus has arrived with No. 1 in our countdown

Gus Malzahn

Just a quick recap of what this countdown is. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at our choices for the 25 people who will have a short-term and a long-term effect on the rebuilding of the Auburn football program.

1) Gus Malzahn, head coach

By Aaron Brenner

C’mon, you weren’t expecting a backup kicker, were you? College football head coach has become one of the most powerful on-field or on-court titles in all sports. Not just college sports; sports. Even though the players play and the assistants handle gameplanning, the short- and long-term performance of Arthur Gustav Malzahn III will dictate whether Auburn does as it usually does – flock back to SEC elite-hood with a new leader – or fall back to the second or third tier in the top-heavy age of SEC fiefdom.

It’s mind-blowing, when you “big-picture” it (one of Malzahn’s newly-coined phrases): a high school coach seven years ago is now an SEC head coach, and one his fans adore and rivals respect. The Malzahn Mystique is tied to the evolution of college football offense, with multiple packages and pure speed overtaking traditional power. Of course, the fans demand winning immediately: watch Auburn start 2-3 and see if the fans are still in love with Gus. With that in mind, a simple bowl game appearance will do in the new day; much more is expected for the next day.

May 31, 2013

Getting stronger at No. 6 in our countdown

6) Ryan Russell, strength and conditioning coach

By Aaron Brenner

Don’t scoff at the No. 6 placement. How about some numbers for you: 69 and 6. Sixty-nine fourth-quarter points allowed in the first eight games of 2012. Six fourth-quarter points scored in the first eight games of 2012. It’s almost too incredible to believe: just two field goals in 200 crunch-time minutes, and a whole bucket of points allowed in that same time frame. Pride and passion have something to do with it. But the rash of injuries indicates endurance plays a role too.

Say what you want about Kevin Yoxall; plenty of former Auburn players did when he was dismissed, and they were none too pleased. https://twitter.com/lutzenkirchen/status/276831786707857408 But the current Tigers say they love Russell – a one-time Auburn assistant brought over with the Gus Malzahn parade from Arkansas State – and his rampaging ways and trademark howl during “flex” periods keep the intensity high during a dogged practice. We’ve seen some fairly daunting weight changes, both gains and losses, among several players who were previously too light or too heavy for their position. Even if most his work is done in the offseason rather than the fall, Russell’s program is critical to leveling that horrific 69-6 mark. Absolutely critical.

May 28, 2013

SEC QBs should be aware of No. 9 in our countdown


Just a quick recap of what this countdown is. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at our choices for the 25 people who will have a short-term and a long-term effect on the rebuilding of the Auburn football program.

9) Carl Lawson, freshman, defensive end

By Aaron Brenner

The SEC’s got this reputation as a defensive league; yet four of the last six Heisman winners have been SEC offensive players, including three quarterbacks. The Jadeveon Clowneys of the league are more and more important; Sam Montgomery, Damontre Moore and Jarvis Jones make their money at the next level by making cameos in these golden boys’ nightmares.

Corey Lemonier split for the next level, which could be the best thing that ever happened to Lawson. Opposite Dee Ford, who’s quite comfortable coming from the QB’s line of visual, there must be an impact pass-rusher who can handle himself against SEC left tackles. Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter do certain things well; like lead. But this team needs playmakers. Lawson can do that from day one. At least in year one of this inaugural Gus Malzahn class, he’s the most relevant commit out of high school

May 27, 2013

Running into our countdown at No. 10

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28

Just a quick recap of what this countdown is. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at our choices for the 25 people who will have a short-term and a long-term effect on the rebuilding of the Auburn football program.

10) Tre Mason, junior, running back

By Aaron Brenner

One of the more amusing recurring moments from the press box last year would be the immediate aftermath of a long Tre Mason run. No naming names, but another reporter would predict, “there he goes, out of the game, and they won’t give it to him for the rest of the drive.” It wasn’t snark; it was sage. Mason’s usage was occasionally puzzling; he even had a mini-blow-up after the Vanderbilt loss (17-13; Mason 16 rush, 85 yards, TD) when he all but demanded the ball more often.

It was clear the primary motive in the season finale at Tuscaloosa was to get Mason his 1,000 yards – the motive not just for Mason, but for the whole team. It makes no sense otherwise to make that, a 49-0 loss, the first SEC game in which Mason got 20 carries. Just imagine if Mason got what he wanted: a healthy ankle, and close to 200 SEC carries. It probably won’t happen, with Cameron Artis-Payne and perhaps Corey Grant quite capable of cracking the rotation. But just imagine.

May 25, 2013

Let’s stay on defense for No. 12 in our countdown

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Just a quick recap of what this countdown is. Over the next few weeks, we will take a look at our choices for the 25 people who will have a short-term and a long-term effect on the rebuilding of the Auburn football program.

12) Kris Frost, sophomore, linebacker

Aaron Brenner

The storyline continues that Frost is limited only by his own grasp of the playbook. Which, fair or unfair, can’t be disproven until gametime this fall. Frost is crazy athletic, well-spoken; the kind of guy you trust in the middle. With only five tackles in ten games played last year, it’s too early to assess his tackling capabilities.


There’s still a rational chance Jake Holland takes the starting job back; just because Frost got more reps than Holland in spring guarantees nothing for Frost, though Holland had his struggles last season. Hopefully for Auburn. Backing up Daren Bates should have helped Frost in the mythical ‘clipboard’ role. But can Frost adapt to the new schemes, since in Brian VanGorder’s view he struggled to master that playbook?