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August 20, 2013

Gus Malzahn video: Auburn offense finds ‘best rhythm that we’ve had since I’ve been back’ in final practice of fall camp

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn held its 21st (and final) practice of fall camp on Tuesday. Head coach Gus Malzahn used his meeting with reporters to recap the improvements he saw during the camp, discuss what he expects out of Washington State in the season opener as well as answer the usual questions about position battles and injury updates.

August 8, 2013

Auburn notes: Malzahn pleased with toughness of quarterbacks, disappointed with energy at Thursday morning practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn was not happy Thursday.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (right) and coordinators Rhett Lashlee (left) and Ellis Johnson (center) broke down film of Wednesday's scrimmage along with the rest of the coaching staff. Malzahn came away impressed with the quarterbacks' resolve under pressure. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn (right) and coordinators Rhett Lashlee (left) and Ellis Johnson (center) broke down film of Wednesday’s scrimmage along with the rest of the coaching staff. Malzahn came away impressed with the quarterbacks’ resolve under pressure. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn’s head coach had just walked in from the team’s morning practice, the first of two sessions scheduled for Thursday. Known for his punctiliousness, there may have been a valid reason Malzahn was running late to his post-practice meeting with reporters.

He was too busy lighting into the Tigers for what he considered a lackluster effort.

“I pulled the team up afterward and just told them that, bottom line, (I) wasn’t happy with the way we responded,” he said. “I didn’t feel like our approach was good and we’re going to have to make sure we are mentally and physically ready to practice each time.”

The morning practice was spent correcting mistakes made in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Malzahn and the rest of the coaching staff broke down film of the scrimmage and passed along their critique along to the players.

“We just felt like it was important that each one of the guys understand the expectations for each position the coach has,” Malzahn said, “and make sure the expectations were clear. ”

Malzahn came away from his film study pleased with the way the quarterbacks handled pressure.

“We had some guys hanging in the pocket. All four of them showed toughness and that’s one of the No. 1 things that you look for in a quarterback,” he said. “Can they hang in the pocket when the pressure is on? And they all took pretty good licks. I think we got some good information.”

Each of the four quarterbacks competing for the job — Kiehl Frazier, Nick Marshall, Jonathan Wallace and Jeremy Johnson — had their share of gaffes, though, as the defense picked off multiple passes.

The signal-callers weren’t necessarily at fault for all of them.

“There was some pressure, there was some routes on some that weren’t right, so it wasn’t all the quarterbacks,” Malzahn said, “but at the same time, the bottom line is the quarterback is the most responsible person for any kind of mishaps. ”

Those miscues helped the evaluation process, since Malzahn said the coaching staff is specifically looking at how each quarterback responds under duress.

“We’re going to try to put those guys in the same situation, not only today, but in our next scrimmage,” he said. “The plan will be after that next scrimmage, hopefully we can start to narrow some things down.”

One aspect that livened up Wednesday’s scrimmage was “going live” with the quarterbacks, which gave defenders free rein to knock them to the ground. With another scrimmage on tap Saturday, Malzahn was asked whether he would institute a similar strategy.

“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I’m still trying to work through that. Me and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee will decide that sometime tomorrow.”

Freshmen defensive linemen making their mark

Quarterbacks were far from the only players auditioning for playing time during the scrimmage. That’s the the case at nearly every position, after all.

“It’s very good to see how the (newcomers) react and see how much they improve,” Malzahn said. “We have pretty good information on our old guys (after) going through spring, but they’re also getting good reps.”

Malzahn noted the highly-touted trio of freshmen defensive linemen — Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel — have also been showing signs of progress.

“They’re getting a lot of reps,” he said. “I know (defensive line) Coach (Rodney) Garner is getting a good look at them. Saturday will be big trying to figure out these guys — who can handle it mentally and who can’t.”

McNeal, Grimes on the mend

Demetruce McNeal, who has yet to take part in fall camp following a minor surgery caused by an infection, did not participate Thursday morning. Malzahn didn’t expect him back for Thursday’s afternoon session, though he said the senior safety “possibly” could be suited up for Saturday’s scrimmage.

McNeal has missed 12 straight practices dating back to the spring.

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was also absent Thursday morning. He missed Wednesday’s scrimmage after undergoing an unknown medical procedure earlier in the day.

Malzahn confirmed Grimes would be back with the Tigers for their second practice Thursday.

Quick hits

Malzahn said there were “a couple of guys banged up” coming out of the scrimmage, but nothing serious enough to hold a player out. … Thursday’s second practice will be split into two halves, with one part focused on special teams and the other on the further installation of offensive and defensive schemes. Malzahn said the Tigers will likely practice in “shells” (helmets and pads), but won’t put on full pads.

August 7, 2013

Auburn notes: Defense believes it won first scrimmage of the fall ‘hands down’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Jermaine Whitehead had no doubt which unit won Wednesday’s scrimmage.

Of course, the junior safety admitted he’s far from an impartial observer. Nonetheless, he said it was a no-contest in favor of the defense.

“Hands down, we won,” he said. “I don’t care if (the offense) put up a hundred. We won.”

Senior linebacker Jake Holland was pleased with the defense's performance in Wednesday's scrimmage. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Senior linebacker Jake Holland was pleased with the defense’s performance in Wednesday’s scrimmage, calling it ‘a progressive day.’ (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

While he was being a bit factitious, Whitehead walked off the field feeling good about the unit’s performance. However, he reined in his enthusiasm a bit when asked for a letter grade.

“I’d say, B, B-minus” he said. “But I won’t know until I watch the film. I think we made some great plays. I think it was probably way better than a B. But being hard on myself, I always want to get better, so I never give (things) an A.”

Jake Holland was more restrained in his assessment of the scrimmage.

“I felt like today was a good day,” he said. “There were mistakes made, but there were some good plays, too. … I thought it was a progressive day. I thought we got better.”

The senior linebacker was just happy to get back on the field, seeking to further distance himself from the Tigers’ disastrous 3-9 record last year.

“It’s definitely a different feel,” he said. “Our calls and adjustments, we’re able to get them in really fast and play really fast. That’s allowing us to make plays. That’s helping us a lot.”

Whitehead agreed.

“We all seen great strides especially from the spring,” he said. “I think we learned the defense, it kind of (sunk in) on us and we got a chance to run it and perfect it. Some day we (will run) it to perfection. We missed a play or two a day, but we’re going to get it perfect. We’re going to get it right.”

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent

A key piece of Auburn’s coaching staff was missing from Wednesday’s scrimmage.

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was absent after having an undisclosed medical procedure performed earlier in the day. Tigers head coach Gus Malzahn said Grimes won’t be gone for long, though.

“He’ll be back tomorrow,” Malzahn said. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

To fill the void, Malzahn stepped in to help the offensive line “a little bit more” during the scrimmage. He wasn’t alone, as offensive graduate assistant Johnny Brewer pitched in, too.

“And of course, (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee was on top of them a little bit more,” Malzahn said. “I think we just all combined. We’ve got good leadership and (junior center) Reese Dismukes. It wasn’t an issue today.”

Indoor scrimmage doesn’t hinder Tigers

Jordan-Hare Stadium was originally the intended venue for Wednesday’s scrimmage.

Mother Nature had other ideas.

Rough weather moved into the area before the Tigers stepped on the field, soaking the playing surface. Though it cleared up, Auburn decided to move the scrimmage back to its indoor practice facility.

It wasn’t ideal, but Malzahn didn’t think his team was negatively affected by holding the scrimmage indoors.

“I was curious to see how our kids would react,” he said. “I know there’s nothing like going into our stadium but I was really impressed with the way our players were excited to scrimmage.”

Whitehead proved to be the embodiment of that sentiment.

“Football is football,” he said. “We’ll play in the parking lot. I want to play football.”

Quick hits

Safety Demetruce McNeal sat out the scrimmage, marking the 11th consecutive practice he has missed dating back to the spring. He is day-to-day after having minor surgery caused by an infection. … There were no injuries to report following the scrimmage. “I think everybody made it out pretty much OK,” Malzahn said. …. The Tigers will likely have two practices tomorrow, according to Malzahn. “We’ll have another good practice,” he said. (Then) we’ll focus on some special teams in the second practice.”

Auburn football: Quarterbacks take licks and dish them out as no-contact ban lifted during scrimmage

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn spiced up Auburn’s four-way quarterback battle on Wednesday.

Each of the four quarterbacks fighting to become Auburn's starter got "fairly equal" reps during Wednesday's scrimmage. With the no-contact ban on them lifted, the signal-callers took some hits and dished them out, too. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Each of the four quarterbacks fighting to become Auburn’s starter got “fairly equal” reps during Wednesday’s scrimmage. With the no-contact ban on them lifted, the signal-callers took some hits and dished them out, too. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

With the Tigers holding their first scrimmage of fall camp, the head coach decided to make the quarterbacks “live,” meaning they were fair game for defenders. All four candidates for the position — Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson  took snaps during the scrimmage, with Malzahn saying they had “fairly equal reps.”

Malzahn couldn’t think of a better way to assess the quartet than to open them up to contact.

“I thought it was very important, especially when you’re trying to evaluate four guys, to give them a chance to make plays, just like a regular football game,” he said. “So that’s the way we ended up.”

The last time Malzahn could recall lifting the “no-contact” restriction on quarterbacks at practice was at some point during the spring. But it’s not every day a team has so many quarterbacks bidding for the starting spot this close to the regular season, either. It wasn’t a decision Malzahn sprung on his signal-callers at the last minute.

The coaching staff informed them of the plan earlier this week, wanting to give them time to mentally prepare for it.

“When it’s not live, you’re blowing the whistle,” Malzahn said. “You don’t if they could break a tackle, you don’t know if they’d escape pressure. It gives you a chance to evaluate them. I think all four guys were extremely excited to be live.”

The defense was excited as well, according to Jermaine Whitehead.

The junior safety described the mood among defenders when the news first surfaced.

“Seeing them put on the blue jerseys today definitely put a smile on our face as a defense,” he said. “We got a chance to get after them today.”

Being a member of the secondary, it was added motivation for Whitehead, who said the quarterbacks run their mouths a bit too much for his liking.

“Man, don’t let them complete a pass,” Whitehead said. “They carry it on for the rest of the day. Whoever completes a pass is going to talk.”

The defense was able to silence the signal-callers a few times during the scrimmage, as Whitehead happily noted there were at least two interceptions, maybe three.

“I don’t want to miss nobody,” he said. “I know Chris Davis had one and Jake Holland had one while I was on the field. I don’t know who had ones on the second and third teams.”

Holland was already enthused when he heard there were no limitations on tackling.

Picking off a pass was just icing on the cake.

“We were doing a little blitz in red zone,” the senior linebacker said. “I was a hole player. I was spying the quarterback. I got lucky because he threw it right to me. It was about a 70-yard return.”

Seventy yards was good.

It just wasn’t good enough.

“I was gassed at the end,” he said. “I was caught at about the 20-yard line.”

The interceptions weren’t the only way the defense made it tough on the quarterbacks. Whitehead said they got their fair share of licks, too.

“We got to them in a couple of sacks and smashed down to the ground a little bit,” he said, “but I don’t think we got to take anybody’s head off.”

But the quarterbacks dished it out just as well as they took it when they decided to keep the ball themselves.

“The ones that think they bad, they can run somebody over,” Whitehead said. “They took their chances with the ball when they got it. They got that yardage. They tried to hit us back, which was good to see from me — that they would deliver a blow.”

That’s exactly the kind of give-and-take Malzahn hoped to see when he opted to go live.

Whether the Tigers will make the quarterbacks open to contact again is a topic for another day, though.

“I don’t know. I’ll sit down with (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and we’ll see where we’re at,” Malzahn said. “It’s a possibility.”

Practice video: Quarterbacks run read-option, Cody Parkey works on point-after attempts and field goals

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — On the sixth day of Auburn’s fall camp, media members got the chance to see the quarterbacks run some read-option plays as well as the point-after and field goal units in action. Check out some video I was able to shoot. (Apologies in advance for any shakiness in the videos.)

I was able to get two different angles of the quarterbacks working on read-option plays.

Here’s the first one:

And here’s the second:

Finally, check out Parkey working on his kicks with a semi-live rush:

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

Gus Malzahn video: Tigers ‘very physical’ in shortened Tuesday practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn spoke with reporters on Tuesday after the fifth practice of fall camp. He discussed his reasoning for cutting practice short as well as how the Tigers looked in full pads, which they put on for the first time this fall. Malzahn also received the obligatory questions about the team’s quarterback situation. (And Malzahn responded to the queries with his obligatory evasive answers.)

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.
Read more here: http://www.wareagleextra.com/#storylink=cpy

Rhett Lashlee: Quarterbacks ‘are bringing themselves along nicely,’ but battle still far from over

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Rhett Lashlee isn’t Gus Malzahn.

For media members and an Auburn fan base interested in finding out more about the team’s four-way quarterback battle, that’s a good thing. Malzahn has been tight-lipped about the race during interviews following each of the first three days of fall camp. Lashlee had no such issue on Monday. No, the Tigers aren’t any closer to naming a starter. However, the offensive coordinator did admit that newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson haven’t quite “caught up” to Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace — yet.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee lent some insight on how the team's quarterback battle is shaping up. Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are still working to find the same comfort level as veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. But the newcomers are closing the gap quickly, Lashlee said. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are still working to find the same comfort level as veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. But the two newcomers are closing the gap quickly, Lashlee said. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

“You’ve got guys that got 15 days in the spring and the majority of the summer, but I will tell you this — I have been pleased with both (Marshall and Johnson) for their attention to detail and willingness to do extra to try to catch up from a mental standpoint,” Lashlee said. “All four have done some good things athletically out there and made some good throws. Mentally, as far as the system goes and understanding things with the speed, you’re going to be a little bit behind. That doesn’t have anything to do with the race. I think those guys are bringing themselves along nicely.”

The coaching staff has been able to gather “some good information” after four days of camp, Lashlee said. The hardest aspect, not surprisingly, is one that Lashlee and Malzahn brought up on multiple occasions prior to opening camp: making sure each candidate gets enough reps.

“I think we have been able to do that though,” Lashlee said. “We have thrown a lot of balls in the last four days. You can tell there is great carryover from the older two guys that were here in the spring and the younger two guys are real eager. “

Giving each quarterback his fair share of reps isn’t easy. That’s why the Tigers have had to get creative in the way they divvy the snaps during practice.

“So maybe you split those up to have two guys going at one time to try to be more efficient with your time,” Lashlee said. “More than anything you’ve got to plan your practice out to make sure you’re not overlooking a situation that one guy is getting reps in and another is not. They need the reps, really all four of them, to learn the system and improve. We need reps to see how they react in certain situations.”

The quartet is showing signs of improvement each day, with Lashlee noting the last two practices have been particularly fruitful.

“They are starting to grasp the system enough that they can play ball a little bit and they’re not thinking as much,” he said. “They’re still thinking in some areas, but they’re getting closer to where I think they can turn it loose and do what they’re capable of.”

But bigger tests are on the horizon. The Tigers will put on full pads for the first time on Tuesday. Lashlee also said a scrimmage will likely take place soon.

That will probably occur Wednesday, when the team goes to practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time this fall.

“The next four or five days, which is going to be about six or seven practices, I think a lot of information could come our way then,” Lashlee said, “and that will be big.”

Lashlee also acknowledged the mistakes the signal-callers had made during the first few practices. Yes, some of them were mental miscues on the quarterback’s part. But Lashlee said the turnovers haven’t always been the quarterback’s fault, either. That would be taking credit away from a defense Lashlee said has been “flying around” since fall camp opened, after all.

Obviously, Lashlee isn’t pleased with the turnovers. No coach would be.

He just knows expecting perfection from four different players is an absurd notion.

“Often times (the turnovers) have been more mental, like it was maybe his first rep live ever with that play,” Lashlee said. “Things are going to happen like that. The positive is that very rarely have we made the same mistake twice.”

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.