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August 7, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/7: Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent from first scrimmage of fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to watch approximately 20 minutes of practice on Wednesday, which was scheduled to be Auburn’s first scrimmage of fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window on Day 6 of the Tigers’ preseason.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team's practice on Wednesday.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team’s practice on Wednesday.

  • The Tigers were set to scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, a patch of bad weather rolled through the area, soaking the field and forcing the team to move to the indoor facility.
  • No doubt the biggest news of Wednesday centered around an absence — and no, it wasn’t Demetruce McNeal for once. (More on him later.) Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not in attendance. Though details obviously weren’t available immediately, Gus Malzahn will likely field a question about Grimes in his post-practice presser.
  • The team’s quarterbacks put blue jerseys over their usual “no-contact” orange uniforms as the viewing portion ended. Was it a possible precursor to the signal-caller’s being subject to contact during the scrimmage? We’ll see.
  •  In other quarterback notes, the quartet worked on read-option plays with running backs, doing things such as faking handoffs and getting outside the tackle box. They also tossed the ball around with each other, as Nick Marshall paired up with Jeremy Johnson while Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier comprised another tandem. (And for those interested, walk-on Tucker Tuberville also took part, throwing back-and-forth with junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson.)
  • It’s time for our daily McNeal update: The senior safety was out for the sixth straight practice, and 11th consecutive time dating back to the spring. He had a helmet and jersey on, but did nothing other than holding on to a football and occasionally flinging it around. McNeal is recovering from a minor surgical procedure caused by an infection.
  • Cody Parkey didn’t miss any of his point-after attempts or field goals. And he wasn’t kicking off a tee, as the Tigers lined up and simulated live PATs and field goals, with defenders rushing toward the ball.

Video will be posted soon.

August 6, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/6: Tigers don full pads for first time, Demetruce McNeal inactive once again

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to approximately 20 minutes of practice on Tuesday, the first time the team donned full pads during practice. It also marked Day 5 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

This wide-lens photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn's practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

This wide-angle photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn’s practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • This was the least-interesting practice reporters have had a chance to see thus far. And that’s being generous. Due to rain, most of the Tigers’ drills were forced to take place inside, and the ones on display likely wouldn’t enrapture the fan base. But we’ll forge on nonetheless.
  • Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson finally lifted the curtain on what’s been ailing Demetruce McNeal on Monday: The senior safety had an infection that required a minor surgery. Johnson figured McNeal would be out for “several more days,” and his prediction was right. Safety No. 16 at least seemed to be moving around well on Tuesday, bobbing his head and twirling a football on his fingertips. He also had some fun with right tackle Avery Young during stretching drills. After Young finished one of his steps, McNeal jogged by and tapped him on the helmet with a football. “You know I got you, dog,” Young told him.
  • The quarterbacks didn’t throw any passes while media members were present. Jonathan Wallace was a holder on field goals, with the rest of the quarterbacks off to the side running with ropes tied to them. Jeremy Johnson paired up with Tucker Tuberville and Kiehl Frazier did the same with Nick Marshall.
  • The first-team offensive line stayed the same, with Greg Robinson at left tackle, Alex Kozan at left guard, Reese Dismukes at center, Chad Slade at right guard and the aforementioned Young at right tackle. There was a change on the second-team line, however, as Will Adams replaced Jordan Diamond at right guard. The rest of Auburn’s second-team offensive line: Shon Coleman at left tackle, Devonte Danzey at left guard, Tunde Fariyike at center and Patrick Miller at right tackle.
  • The only contact that took place during the viewing portion was courtesy of the defensive backs. Coach Melvin Smith had his unit working on jamming drills.
  • The punt returner group was identical to Monday, consisting of wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens as well as cornerback Chris Davis. The punt returns were also the only unit adversely affected by practicing indoors, as many of Steven Clark’s kicks reach the roof of the facility. (Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a running tally, though I saw at least five bounce off the ceiling.) Wide receiver Sammie Coates was a new face among the kick returners on Tuesday. He joined a trio of running backs in Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Johnathan Ford, wide receiver Ricardo Louis and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
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August 5, 2013

Practice video: Offensive line attacks blocking sled

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — On the fourth day of Auburn’s fall camp Monday, media members got the chance to see offensive line coach J.B. Grimes run his unit through some drills. Below, Grimes instructs the linemen to attack the blocking sled using a two-step technique — leading with an “off-center right” step, and following it with a “half-bucket left” step.

Auburn Practice Report, 8/5: Demetruce McNeal sits out fourth straight practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see about 20 minutes of practice on Monday, which marked Day 4 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins on of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins one of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

  • Safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be the headliner during the media’s short stay at practice. For the fourth time in as many days of fall camp, the senior did not participate in drills while reporters were in attendance. Including the final five sessions of the spring, it marks the ninth consecutive time the College Park, Ga., native missed an Auburn practice. As he did Saturday, McNeal had a helmet on. However, with the team practicing in “shells” (helmets and pads), the safety was sans shoulder pads. In his post-practice meeting with media member’s on Sunday, Gus Malzahn said McNeal was “getting better.” But apparently not good enough to be cleared to practice just yet.
  • Avery Young was with the first-team offensive line, working at right tackle. Young and Patrick Miller have seemingly been going back-and-forth at the position (in the first-team lineup) during the first few days of fall camp.
  • The defense was working on its “dime” package, which included two of the hybrid safety/linebacker “star” position players on the field at the same time in Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie. Other members of the first-team defense (in that particular formation) had Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter manning the two ends and Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright inside. The linebackers were Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey at safety.
  • Malzahn stayed around the quarterbacks for a few minutes, but then drifted over to watch the defense running through its various formations. The quarterbacks once again practiced their footwork today as well as executing proper handoffs. Jonathan Wallace and Nick Marshall worked with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason and Corey Grant, while Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson were paired with Johnathan Ford, Peyton Barber and Patrick Lymon.
  • Punt returners were mostly the same as it was during the portions of practice reporters saw Friday and Saturday. Wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis were back, as well as cornerback Chris Davis. There was one new member, however, as another receiver — true freshman Tony Stevens — joined the fray. Kick returners mostly stayed to form, too. Mason, Grant, Ford, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Ricardo Louis were seen fielding kicks, with one new addition in Therezie.
  • Right guard Chad Slade got an earful from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes during one drill. As the line was practicing its footwork once the ball is snapped, Slade didn’t have his feet in the proper position — and Grimes let him know it. “Check your splits!” said Grimes, before moving the junior’s feet where they needed to be. “I’m trying to help you!”
  • The media once again walked out as the team finished up its stretching drills with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate while Russell leads drills, it’s that he has an incredible amount of energy. It’s no wonder the team has touted his offseason workout program at every opportunity.

August 3, 2013

Practice video: Offensive line drills

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — On the second day of Auburn’s fall camp, media members got the chance to see offensive line coach J.B. Grimes run his unit through some drills. Below, Grimes teaches the linemen how to get off the ball and into the right position after the ball is snapped.

Auburn Practice Report, 8/3: Demetruce McNeal back at practice in limited role

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see roughly 20 minutes of practice on Saturday, which marked Day 2 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short time at practice.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was hands-on with his unit on Saturday. Here, he watches redshirt freshman Shon Coleman attacks a tackling sled. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was hands-on with his unit on Saturday. Here, he watches redshirt freshman Shon Coleman attacks a tackling sled. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • Demetruce McNeal’s lack of participation was the biggest story of Friday’s practice. The senior safety was back on Saturday, but didn’t look much different than he did the previous day. He appeared to be favoring his left leg as he watched teammates run through drills and occasionally glancing down at a piece of paper in his hands. Unlike Friday, he donned a helmet for the first time. Gus Malzahn would only say that McNeal has a “medical issue that he’s working through,” declining to lend any insight as to when the Tigers’ top returning tackler will be cleared to practice without any limitations.
  • Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes had a lot of instruction for his group Saturday. “Get that second step!” he said. “(You’ve got to) get vertical push on that down guy!” The drill involved two linemen lining up with their hand on the ground across from a defender. The goal (obviously) was to get leverage on the player acting as the defensive lineman and move him out of the way. Grimes had them working in alternating groups.
  • Four players who fielded punts on Friday were back at it Saturday: wide receivers Trovon Reed, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis along with cornerback Chris Davis. The only one missing Saturday was running back Jonathan Ford. He was still in a return capacity, however, as he was working with kick returners. The other four kick returners were running backs Corey Grant and Tre Mason, wide receiver Ricardo Louis and defensive back Jonathan Jones.
  • The four quarterbacks jockeying for position at the top of the depth chart tossed the ball back and forth to each other. Newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson paired up together, while Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier did the same. Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Rhett Lashlee gave each of them feedback, while Malzahn watched silently in the background chewing on a wad of bubblegum.
  • To reiterate something repeated by nearly every other media member on Friday: Yes, Johnson is quite tall. He’s every bit of the 6-foot-5 he’s listed at on the team’s official roster.
  • Avery Young, who started three games at right tackle last season as a true freshman, looked fine during every drill he took part in Saturday. The sophomore was sidelined most of last season with a shoulder injury, and surgery on it forced him to miss most of the spring. But through two days of fall camp, it looks like he is fully recovered.
  • Malzahn runs a tight ship in nearly every aspect of his program. One area where he seems to be lenient, however, is a dress code for the coaching staff. Few, if any, matched with each other Saturday. Malzahn had on a long-sleeve orange Auburn shirt and khaki shorts (along with his signature visor), Lashlee wore a short-sleeve orange Auburn T-shirt and blue shorts. The winner of the day was defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who was wearing at least two, possibly three shirts. He had an orange Auburn pullover and another long-sleeve blue shirt underneath. The lesson here: The heat don’t bother Rodney Garner, y’all.

February 8, 2013

Auburn to practice 15 times in 25 days

Photo by Todd Van Emst

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn lives his life and works his craft 20 miles an hour over the speed limit. All day, every day.

It comes to no surprise, then, that Auburn will cram 15 spring football practices, concluding with the annual A-Day scrimmage, into 25 days. For the math-disinclined, that means a minimum of four instances with back-to-back days on the practice field, somewhat of a rarity in spring ball.

But hey, no better way to establish the helter-skelter tempo of Malzahn’s ways from the first whistle.

Auburn announced Friday Malzahn will hold his first spring practice as the Tigers’ head coach on Wednesday, March 27. The rest of the schedule is yet to be determined, leading up to A-Day at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday, April 20. Kickoff time and TV arrangements will also be released in the near future.

Just for comparison, four other SEC schools that have announced their spring schedules – Arkansas, Ole Miss, Missouri and Tennessee – will let their spring schedule drag out for at least five weeks.

Tennessee’s new coach Butch Jones opens March 9, and Arkansas, under new head man Bret Bielema, starts March 10, meaning the Volunteers and Razorbacks start two and a half weeks before Auburn … yet all three programs finish up the same date of April 20.

August 8, 2012

Late-night scrimmage notes: Clint Moseley’s shoulder still ailing

Photo by Todd Van Emst

Clint Moseley’s throwing shoulder is still severely limiting the junior in practice, throwing a wrench into the quarterback battle being waged between he and sophomore Kiehl Frazier.

At first, the injury was only supposed to limit Moseley during the spring, but it lingered long enough that he saw renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews over the summer. Andrews proclaimed it structurally fine.

“I had an MRI, I had an X-ray and everything,” Moseley said. “The big man himself, Dr. Andrews, came in there and looked at it and said I was good.”

But the injury hasn’t gone away.

Moseley has been limited in fall practice, too. Unable to throw for some sessions, Moseley had to find a way to get through the pain just to participate in passing plays in Wednesday night’s scrimmage.

He completed only one throw, a screen.

“It was hurting, but I knew I could throw through the pain to get some reps,” Moseley said. “I threw 7-on-7 for the first time in a few days and was able to get some throws in the scrimmage.”

On the other hand, Moseley knows his chance to battle Kiehl Frazier for the starting job rests on whether or not his shoulder can perform well enough to let him run the entire offense.

At the moment, he’s stuck trying to get healthy and back to full strength.

“(Dr. Andrews) said it was just inflamed, tendinitis, and something I’ll just have to take care of,” Moseley said. “It’s aggravating.”

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  • Kiehl Frazier wasn’t available for interviews after the scrimmage, but Auburn quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler said his passers still have some work to do before the Sept. 1 opener against Clemson in the Georgia Dome. “We’ve got some work to do still,” Loeffler said. “We’re not where we want to be yet, and we’re going to bust our rear end these next couple of weeks to be ready to compete in Atlanta.”
  • Chizik has said much the same thing every time he’s been asked about the qualifications for Auburn’s starting quarterback, but he answered the question again Wednesday. “At the quarterback position, we’re looking for a guy who takes command of the huddle, that is never rattled by circumstances and executes every play with poise and confidence. … You’ve got to go out there and move the football, and the guy who’s going to be our starting quarterback is the guy that handles those moments the best,” Chizik said. “We’ve got some things we’ve got to clean up there. We’re expecting it to be much cleaner on Saturday.”
  • Onterio McCalebb had the scrimmage’s big play, a highlight-reel touchdown run. “Onterio, I think we all know how productive he is when he touches the ball,” Chizik said. “The young guys, we’re still evaluating.”
  • Auburn ran “65-ish” live plays during the scrimmage.
  • Expect Auburn’s special teams under Jay Boulware to be a rock-solid unit again. “”I thought the special teams were not bad,” Chizik said. “We’ve got so many guys who’ve played in our special teams for a while.”
  • Chizik said Auburn has a lot of work to do in terms of understanding the schemes. “The effort is where we need to be,” Chizik said. “The execution is not.”
  • Loeffler repeated his mantra on Auburn’s running game. “We need to continue with our physical mentality and be able to run effectively,” Loeffler said.
  • Brian VanGorder said that Auburn’s problems in the scrimmage were expected, for the most part. “It was sloppy, but much-needed,” VanGorder said. “Live reps are of great value to us, again, we’ve got a lot of guys that are in the developmental phase, so live reps are good, and bad experiences are good.”
  • Explosive plays continue to be a problem for the Tigers’ defense. “For the majority of it, our 1’s played pretty good, but then we gave up a number of explosive plays, and we all know that’s a bad game,” VanGorder said. “If it’s a 70-play game, and you play 66 of them real well, and four explosive plays, it’s a bad game. You can’t do it.”
  • Greg Robinson said that Jovon Robinson had two or three nice runs. “Jovon Robinson did some good things,” Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson said. “He had like two or three big gains. I see him as more of a power runner.”
  • Robinson also said Mike Blakely had a big run, and Sammie Coates made at least one big play in the passing game.
  • Gabe Wright finally feels healthy. Like defensive line coach Mike Pelton a couple of days ago, Wright echoed the idea that he simply has to make it through a camp healthy after being injured last fall and then breaking his foot in the spring. “I feel good,” Wright said. “I don’t think I even reached my peak, so I can’t say I’m getting back into the groove, because I don’t know what my peak is.
  • Competition is tough at the defensive tackle position, where six players are going for two spots. “(Defensive line coach Mike Pelton) doesn’t have to scream, he doesn’t have to yell, because the competition is there, it speaks for itself,” Wright said. “You don’t want to come out, because there’s another guy behind you who will jump in and do the job.”

Video: Gene Chizik, Brian VanGorder and Scot Loeffler say Auburn searching for consistency after first scrimmage

Other than Onterio McCalebb, Gene Chizik says he’s looking for a young team to step it up the next time Auburn scrimmages, on Saturday.

Brian VanGorder said Auburn’s initial effort at a live scrimmage was sloppy, a malady common to early work in training camp.

Scot Loeffler offers a short assessment — some good, some bad — on the scrimmage.

August 7, 2012

Trooper Taylor says he’ll play as many receivers as he can trust

For the day before a scrimmage, it was a pretty light day in terms of interviews. Only wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor was available. A few of his best quotes/rants are in the video above, and I’ve posted a few more of his thoughts below.

Here’s the big one, though. Auburn could use a whole bunch of faces to give the Tigers another threat beyond Emory Blake. Asked how many receivers he’s going to play, Taylor had an interesting answer.

“To be honest, as many as they’ll allow me to,” Taylor said. “I had a freshman ask me that question, and I said ‘As many as I can trust.’ I really don’t have a set number, say we’re going to play eight, because I told you, they have to play two special teams. Unless you’re a senior, you’re going to have to be on two special teams.”

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  • Auburn’s offense has to be much more precise under Scot Loeffler than it did under Gus Malzahn. “For us on offense, you know how important it is for alignment and assignment,” Taylor said. “That’s huge for us because of the spacing in this offense. In the NFL, west-coast offense, spacing is so important. One guy screwing up a window or one guy closing an alley down that a running back has to run through can throw the whole play off.”
  • Taylor has been impressed by the two new guys in camp, Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray. “They’re both big guys. They’re lost right now with knowing all the intricacies of the offense, but the size and speed and what you’d like for a wideout to have, they seem to possess that,” Taylor said. “There’s a reason Ricardo was recruited. He has the ability to put it all together and understand where he belongs in this offense. I like what I have seen so far. He’s showed me some flash.”
  • Ray’s background as a minor league baseball player has made him better able to absorb some of the tongue lashings administered during these early practices. “Melvin, at least, can talk to guys and say different things, and also the maturity level of being able to take a butt-chewing,” Taylor said. “He’s obviously had some before. And he’s able to take that. He’s able to understand that and not take it personal, where with the freshmen, sometimes they think it’s an attack on them. It’s an attack on the way you ran the route, it’s not an attack on you as a person or a football player. You gotta understand the difference in the two.”
  • “He’s a quiet guy, but he plays big. He’s physical on his blocks, and he knows how to high-point the football,” Taylor said. “What he does now, in terms of being able to sit in a window, understanding how to attack a coverage, how to understand the leverage of a corner, he’s starting to put all those things together.”
  • Taylor has been impressed by Scot Loeffler’s attention to detail so far. “He’s a really intelligent guy,” Taylor said. “He really pays a lot of attention to the details, and I love the way he coaches the whole offense into understanding why we run a play, why we’re doing something, why we’re attacking this.”
  • Three guys have made an impression with their play early in camp. “Quan Bray has made some plays, Trovon Reed, Sammie Coates went up over the top and made a play on some guys,” Taylor said.
  • Anthony Morgan, a receiver turned defensive back turned running back turned receiver, may have a niche. “He can fly,” Taylor said. “That bubble screen’s a whole lot different when you’ve got speed on it, and he’s a guy that I look to run some of those things with.”