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September 3, 2013

VIDEO: Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end LaDarius Owens

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end LaDarius Owens met with media members on Monday night. Each talked about how they felt Auburn played against Washington State as well as what they’ve seen on film of this week’s opponent, Arkansas State.

The videos are provided below.

Uzomah

Owens

August 28, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn talks about final decision at right tackle, praises Chris Davis’ consistency on punt returns

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The battle to become the fifth and final member of Auburn’s offensive line ended last week.

Patrick Miller, who started the last nine games of the 2012 season at right tackle, will begin 2013 back at the same spot. He won the spot over Avery Young, who started the first three games at the position last season before injuring his shoulder. (File photo)

Patrick Miller, who started the last nine games of the 2012 season at right tackle, will begin 2013 back at the same spot. He beat out Avery Young in a two-man competition for the position. (File photo)

It wasn’t made public until Wednesday, when the Tigers finally released their two-deep depth chart as they head into Saturday’s season opener. Patrick Miller and Avery Young went back-and-forth with the first-team offense at right tackle for the duration of fall camp, but head coach Gus Malzahn said Miller finally began to separate himself within the past week.

Now, Miller will return to the same spot he manned the final nine games of 2012.

“He had a very good spring and it was an open competition,” Malzahn said following Wednesday’s practice. “We really felt strong that we needed to do that because Shon (Coleman) and Avery both improved. They both had very good fall camps and we wanted to open that thing up.”

While Young didn’t win the starting job, he won’t disappear, either. He started to take reps at guard last week, and both Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have praised his versatility, believing he could play any position on the line if needed.

“We have a lot of confidence in Avery, a whole lot of confidence,” Malzahn said. “He made that battle very interesting. The positive as far as the offensive line goes is we feel that we’ve got quality depth. I would say there is a chance you could see him on the field.”

Another spot still up in the air at the beginning of the week was at defensive end. LaDarius Owens ended up locking that down and will start at right defensive end, with Craig Sanders stepping in for the injured Dee Ford on the left side.

It was a quick transition back to the line for Owens, who moved to linebacker during the spring and stayed there for the majority of fall camp. However, the coaching staff asked him to return to the defensive line and it paid immediate dividends for the junior from Bessemer, Ala.: Saturday will mark the first start of his Auburn career after appearing in 17 games the past two seasons.

The head coach explained the thinking behind converting Owens back into a lineman.

“I believe when we lost Dee, the fact that he had some experience up front and (we) felt like trying to figure out a way to put our best players on the field was part of it,” Malzahn said. “He’s got a very high motor and he rushes the passer adequately.”

Getting pressure on the quarterback is key in any game. But when playing a team as dependent on the passing game as Washington State, Malzahn said it took on added importance.

He also jumped to defend the team’s pass rush despite Ford’s absence. The senior was the Tigers’ only returnee who had more than one sack last season.

“We’ve got confidence in our guys and like I said when I first got here, we didn’t worry about anything in the past,” Malzahn said. “(We) tried to put it behind us and tried to give everybody an equal foot moving forward and we feel like we’ve done that.”

Malzahn said the Tigers’ highly-touted true freshmen defensive line trio — Carl Lawson, Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel — will also get their chance to play Saturday.

“Those young guys are extremely talented they’ve shown flashes of being very good,” he said. “It’s just a matter of those young guys being consistent and being able to play play-in and play-out.”

Chris Davis to field punts

Perhaps the biggest surprise on the depth chart was Chris Davis capturing the Tigers’ punt return duties. Receivers Quan Bray and Trovon Reed handled every punt for the team in 2012, but Malzahn said the senior cornerback earned the job thanks to his playmaking ability and his sure-handedness with the ball.

“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Malzahn said. “He’s been the most consistent guy catching the football. When he has made some interceptions in the spring and in fall camp he usually does something positive with them. We felt like it was good to give him a chance to show what he could do.”

Another (smaller surprise) was C.J. Uzomah not being listed by himself as the first-team tight end. Instead, just as he did exiting the spring, he shared equal billing with Brandon Fulse.

Malzahn said each candidate had his strengths and their playing time would depend on specific plays and packages.

“C.J. has really gotten better with his blocking and Brandon has gotten better with his receiving,” he said. “I think both of them are very versatile. Like I’ve said before, both of those guys were recruited specifically for our offense.”

Quick hits

Freshman receiver Tony Stevens, who has battled a nagging hamstring injury since fall camp, should be good to go Saturday, according to Malzahn. “(We’re) pretty confident,” he said when asked about the chances of Stevens playing in the season opener. … Malzahn didn’t want to speculate how much playing time Kiehl Frazier would see against the Cougars. The former quarterback enters Saturday as Josh Holsey’s backup at strong safety. “We’ll just see how the game unfolds,” Malzahn said. “Obviously the guys that have experience, we know a little bit more about them. But at the same time, he’s our backup at that position right now.”

August 22, 2013

Auburn football: Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn had six players named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference teams released Thursday, led by running back Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes.

The pair was selected to the all-conference second-team offense. They were joined by kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark, who also earned second-team honors, while tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end Dee Ford were named to the third-team.

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches' preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn was one of three teams — along with Kentucky and Missouri — to have no players voted to the first-team. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Mason, a junior, rushed for 1,002 yards along with eight touchdowns last season. Dismukes is a mainstay on the offensive line, making 23 starts in the past two seasons.

Clark, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season, with 15 of his attempts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Parkey was Auburn’s leading scorer in 2012, converting 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and hitting all 27 of his extra-point tries.

Uzomah had seven receptions for 136 yards last year, but is expected to take on a more prominent role in the Tigers’ offense this season. Ford is the team’s top returning pass-rusher after totaling six sacks last year, but according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he will miss the season opener to continue recovering from a knee injury suffered during fall camp.

August 21, 2013

Auburn football: Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn wrapped up its fall camp on Tuesday, the first since Gus Malzahn took over as head coach.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

The Tigers were able to solve what Malzahn considered “the No. 1 priority” heading into the regular season — settling on a quarterback. That four-man race concluded last Saturday, when Nick Marshall was named the starter. But with just 10 days left before Washington State comes into Jordan-Hare Stadium for the season opener, Auburn is still looking for answers at other positions.

Here are five questions (in no particular order) the Tigers will try to figure out prior to squaring off against the Cougars on Aug. 31, with (bold) predictions on what the outcomes will be:

Who starts at right tackle?

For the duration of fall camp, it appeared Avery Young and Patrick Miller were neck-and-neck at the position, as both saw time with the first-team offense. Earlier this week, however, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Miller had “been working there a lot” in recent practices. During the same interview session, Lashlee said Young had moved inside and started taking snaps at both guard spots, though he saw more time on the left side, which has been manned by Alex Kozan.

Malzahn refused to shed any more light on the situation following practice on Tuesday, but expect a decision by the beginning of next week — even if the coaching staff doesn’t make its choice public.

Bold prediction: Miller becomes the right tackle, and Young, who Lashlee said is “talented enough to play all five positions,” steals the left guard spot from Kozan.

Who is the team’s go-to receiver?

One of the biggest unknowns heading into fall camp remains the same at its closure. The Tigers have a lot of options at receiver, but none has stood above the rest. Just see what Lashlee had to say earlier this week. “I’ll be honest right now,” he said. “I don’t know who our leading receiver is going to be.” Lashlee lauded juniors Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson for their consistency, but didn’t rule out tight end C.J. Uzomah possibly developing into the best pass-catcher the Tigers will have this fall.

Bold prediction: Sophomore Ricardo Louis, who was the “most explosive” player in camp according to teammates, establishes himself as the Tigers’ top receiver this season (and beyond).

What happens at defensive end without Dee Ford?

The Tigers certainly would have liked to have some semblance of a rotation in place by now. Injuries have made that difficult. The starter at left end, Ford has already been ruled out for the opener due to a ligament injury in his knee. But he’s far from the only player who dealt with an affliction during camp. Fellow ends Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae have missed time, while Keymiya Harrell has yet to practice after having surgery knee surgery this spring. To combat their lack of healthy bodies, the Tigers also moved LaDarius Owens back to end after he had shifted to linebacker during spring practice.

The absences allowed true freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel to audition for a possible starting spot, and they have done their part to impress defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, saying the duo already comprises “two of our best pass-rushers.”

Bold prediction: Though Johnson said he would prefer to have his “veterans prepped up to be the starters,” Lawson is on the field at one of the end positions with the first-team defense versus Washington State.

Who holds the edge at middle linebacker?

Kris Frost entered the fall No. 1 on the depth chart, but he didn’t stay there long. Time and again, Johnson said Jake Holland has been the steadier player during practice, and as such, moved him ahead of Frost. Johnson explained the difference between the two on Monday.

“Kris had two or three days where he kind of went backwards, had some missed assignments and some things that were uncharacteristic and shouldn’t have done,” he said. ” … The two legitimate scrimmages that we had, Jake just had more production, had more tackles, more plays, had a pick (and) hasn’t had as many missed tackles.”

That should tell people all they need to know.

Bold prediction: Frost continues to fight the good fight, but Holland is in the starting lineup come game time.

What’s the deal with the secondary?

Much like the defensive line, injuries have taken their toll on the Tigers’ back end. Jonathan Jones will miss the opener (and possibly more) after breaking a bone in his ankle in an off-field mishap. That means the No. 3 corner on the Tigers will come from a trio of first-year players: redshirt freshman T.J. Davis and true freshmen Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford, who switched from running back this week.

Demetruce McNeal’s decision-making didn’t help matters, whose arrest last Saturday led to his dismissal and weakened an already-lean unit at safety. Originally a cornerback, Josh Holsey has been at the strong (or boundary) safety position since the end of the spring, when McNeal missed the last five practices for undisclosed personal issues. McNeal then sat out the first 10 practices of camp following an infection that required minor surgery, which forced Holsey to remain at safety. Many thought he would finally move back to corner after McNeal regained his health, but the senior was dismissed before the Tigers ever reached that point. If anything were to happen Holsey or fellow safety Jermaine Whitehead, it would be down to Ryan Smith and quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier.

Bold prediction: The two former offensive players — Ford and Frazier — see more action on defense than they ever would have imagined one month ago.

August 18, 2013

VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, C.J. Uzomah and Jay Prosch meet with media members

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — After Auburn named Nick Marshall its starting quarterback and safety Demetruce McNeal was dismissed from the team following an arrest on Saturday, anything else that took place became trivial. However, head coach Gus Malzahn, tight end C.J. Uzomah and H-back Jay Prosch met with reporters, with video of their interviews provided below.

Malzahn

Uzomah

Prosch

August 17, 2013

Auburn football: Gus Malzahn says team is closer to naming starting quarterback

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn gets closer to naming its starting quarterback each day.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn observed quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson from the sideline on Saturday. He hoped the different vantage point will aid in narrowing the starting quarterback race. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn observed quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson from the sideline on Saturday. He hoped the different vantage point will aid in narrowing the starting quarterback race. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Head coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday there was still a bit farther to go, however. Though the Tigers chose not to hold their scheduled scrimmage, the coaches were still able to run quarterbacks through specific drills that will factor into the final decision.

“We put them in some blitz pickup situations. We did 7 on 7,” Malzahn said. “We ran our offense from the sideline and started to try to be as game-like as possible.”

Malzahn said he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee changed their perspective on Saturday — literally. Normally, the two line up behind the quarterbacks during practice and monitor their every move. To keep with the “game-like” feel they wanted, Malzahn and Lashlee watched from the sideline.

“We wanted to see how they reacted, just with the way they handled their teammates, the way they handled calling out different things and all that,” he said. “We learned a lot today.”

Senior fullback Jay Prosch said it has helped offensive flow working with only two quarterbacks this week, as Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall have received all the snaps with the first-team offense. Jonathan Wallace is still in the running for the starting job, according to Malzahn, while Kiehl Frazier decided to move to safety last Sunday.

“It helps a lot,” Prosch said of the narrowed race. “Either way we’re still going to be doing the same thing no matter who is at quarterback, but it’s nice to have a few guys you feel comfortable with back there.”

Tight end C.J. Uzomah said working with fewer quarterbacks has made it easier for receivers, too.

“We know how each quarterback throws and the timing,” he said. “Having that narrowed down, (we have) been able to say on this route where the ball is going to be (and) how fast it’s going to get there.”

Uzomah said Wallace has the best grasp of the offense — specifically “the protection and things” — after having an entire spring to learn Malzahn’s system.

“Nick and Jeremy, they’re kind of rusty with the offense in general, just because they’re not familiar with Coach Malzahn and the offense,” Uzomah said. “However, you know, they make plays with their legs, and they have the ability to extend the play. I think all three of them have that, but I think they all kind of have their different niche.”

Which one will fill the niche as the Tigers’ starter?

Malzahn said he will sit down with Lashlee and try to get that settled Saturday afternoon.

“We’ll see where we’re at,” he said. “We’ll come up with a plan leading up. We understand we’d like to name the starter sooner rather than later.”

August 9, 2013

Scott Fountain says Gage Batten ‘really coming on’ at H-back (and quotes)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The light is starting to come on for Gage Batten.

Tight ends/H-back coach Scott Fountain praised the progress of Gage Batten since switching from linebacker this summer. (File photo)

Tight ends/H-back coach Scott Fountain praised the progress of Gage Batten since switching from linebacker this summer. (File photo)

After struggling during the first few practices of fall camp, the former linebacker has started to turn the corner on grasping his responsibilities as an H-back. The redshirt freshman’s improvement has been significant, according to his new position coach, Scott Fountain.

“These last two practices, he’s really come on,” Fountain said. “We felt like if we could bring him over (to the offense), he could be a good blocker for us on our power, our counter game. It’s what we needed, and he’s starting to show a lot of promise. I’m really excited for the young guy.”

Batten’s position change took on more importance after Ricky Parks was dismissed for a violation of team rules on the first day of fall camp. Parks exited the spring as the Jay Prosch’s backup. Fountain said if Batten was still on defense, it likely would have meant an increased role for both C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse at H-back.

He’s just glad that situation is only a hypothetical at this point.

“(Batten) making the progress that he has really got me very, very excited,” Fountain said, “regardless of whether we would have had (Parks) or not.”

 MORE FOUNTAIN QUOTES

On the improvements he’s seen from Prosch, Uzomah and Brandon Fulse:

“C.J. is a guy I told after the spring, ‘The thing we’re going to have to get you better at is run-blocking. I want you to focus on that this summer.’ And in camp I’ve been super impressed with how far he’s come. I see a guy that I feel like can really help us as a split-side tight end and in the backfield, whereas Jay is kind of a backfield guy at heart. Then we’ve got Brandon Fulse who has stood out at the 5 and at tight end. … And at times, you’ll see them on the field together.”

On Prosch’s pass-catching:

“I knew he could block this spring, but I wasn’t sure what else he could do. And boy, he’s a guy that can catch, and he just keeps getting better and better. He’s a guy that we can trust catching the football.”

More on Fulse’s progress:

“He’s more focused in terms of what we’re doing in our route game. He’s a guy that can block fairly well coming out of spring. In high school he (played) in tight spaces, and now we’re doing a lot more of that with them. He’s a guy that’s an emerging player in practice, so I’m expecting some big things out of him this year, too.”

On Uzomah’s versatility allowing him to play at nearly any offensive skill position:

“He’s a guy that No. 1, is willing to do it. You’re normally catching the ball, and now you’ve got to put your hand down and block Dee Ford. So that part is really hard. And then once past that, then you’ve got the mental aspect of learning the different positions. There is some carryover, but I think he’s the guy who’s most versatile for us, and those guys are really hard to find.

On how much his background as a high school quarterback helps:

“Coach Malzahn is really big on wanting to sign quarterbacks and inserting them into the offense. And I think that’s been really big for (Uzomah), but I also think his approach to it. There’s no question his quarterback background in high school him understand the whole grand scheme of coverages and fronts and things like that.”

August 5, 2013

Auburn notes: Ellis Johnson explains finer points of the star position, Rhett Lashlee says receivers showing ‘inconsistency’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson didn’t mind teaching a little “Football 101″ on Monday.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was happy to explain to reporters how the "star" position functions in his 4-2-5 scheme following Monday's practice. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was happy to explain to reporters how the “star” position functions in his 4-2-5 scheme following Monday’s practice. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

During its limited viewing window at practice, media members saw Auburn’s defense working on its dime package. On a few of the run-throughs, the Tigers had two of their hybrid safety/linebacker “stars” — Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie — on the field simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, Johnson was asked about it after practice.

And the defensive coordinator was more than happy to enlighten those not “in the know.” He explained that the star functions, for all intents and purposes, as a weakside linebacker.

“There’s a lot more carry-over to what the star does every day fundamentally and his zone drops,” Johnson said. “He can take it to the other side of the ball and it’s almost a mirror in zone coverage techniques. Then you’ve got a faster guy who skill-wise can matchup on a decent wide receiver.”

One of the benefits of the hybrid position is that nearly any linebacker or bigger defensive back with “football intelligence” can learn to play it.

“I’ve had guys be the extra back that played corner as a starter,” Johnson said. “Guys that played free safety drop down there and play the nickel and bring in a new free safety.”

But there can be drawbacks to moving someone to the star as well, Johnson said.

Sometimes players used to playing outside don’t do well on the inside, since they tend to struggle with zone coverage. Or taking a player who has spent a majority of his career on the back end of a defense doesn’t respond well to moving closer to the line of scrimmage.

“He’s not always a great blitzer or a a great guy that can play the draw or the lead draw and get in the box and those types of things,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t always mean it’s (good).”

That’s why Johnson is thankful to have both Garrett and Therezie manning the hybrid spot.

“I don’t know how many more talented kids we have on the football team, physically,” he said, “and they’re learning a position that has a lot of transition advantages.”

Lashlee sets record straight on Denson’s position

Tight end C.J. Uzomah caused a bit of a stir on Sunday when he said receiver Jaylon Denson was seeing time at tight end. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee put that rumor to bed quickly.

Melvin (Ray) and Jaylon have really been working at our slot receiver spot,” he said on Monday. “They haven’t been playing hand-down tight end any.”

Lashlee said Uzomah and Gage Batten have “been getting a lot of reps” at tight end, though, and that he feels fine about the depth of the position.

Lashlee couldn’t say the same about the team’s wide receivers, saying there has been “a lot of inconsistency” since fall camp started.

“I do see improvement,” he said. “We’ve got guys that are playmakers. Now it’s just a matter of those guys deciding they want to be playmakers every day.”

Johnson sheds light on McNeal’s absence

Johnson revealed that safety Demetruce McNeal has missed the first four days of practice due to an infection which required minor surgery, saying the senior is still day-to-day.

“I don’t want to say anything more than that because I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve been told we won’t have him for several days.”

Johnson hopes the Tigers get the senior “back as soon as we can.” And it’s not just for the benefit of the position, where Johnson acknowledged depth is still a concern.

If McNeal misses too much time, it would put him in jeopardy of missing the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31.

“If you can’t put on a game jersey, you can’t play,” Johnson said. “And I don’t mean that facetiously, but obviously, he can’t play right now, so we’ve got to have a plan. But we fully expect him to be ready soon enough to get ready to go before the first game. I don’t know all the medical details, but it’s something that’s got to heal up.”

Quick hitters

Through the first four days of practice, Johnson admitted the coaching staff has “probably overloaded” the younger members of the defense. “But there’s just no way around it,” he said. “A lot of times when the defense can’t hit without pads, one thing you like to do is really put your focus on install. Once you get the pads you go back to fundamentals. We’ll slow down a little with that part on the mental overload and hopefully kids will start to polish things up.” …  Lashlee wasn’t sure whether the team would do any full-contact, 11-on-11 drills on Tuesday, which marks the first practice the Tigers will put on full pads. “I know it’s possible,” he said. “But I haven’t seen the (final) practice plan yet, so I don’t know.”

August 4, 2013

Auburn notes: Quarterbacks struggle with turnovers for third straight day, Gus Malzahn touts team leaders

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — For the third consecutive day, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn kept any information regarding the team’s quarterback battle close to the vest.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said  Sunday that the four quarterbacks fighting to be the starter had problems with turnovers for the third straight day. (File photo)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said Sunday that the four quarterbacks fighting to be the starter once again had problems with turnovers. (File photo)

One difference on Sunday was that the Tigers started to mix-and-match the units the four candidates took reps with. Malzahn couldn’t remember, however, whether newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson took snaps with the first-team offense.

“I believe (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee tried to rotate them, at least with a different group than they’ve been working with,” he said. “They’ve only been working with the younger guys, and both of them rotated with the older guys.”

There was still little separation among Marshall, Johnson and the veteran pair of Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. That might change once the coaching staff has a chance to sit down and break down film from practice, though.

“When you have a whole lot of reps and you’re going quick, there’s some good, and you really just (need to) get in the (film) room and see things,” Malzahn said. “All positions are being evaluated a lot better once we were in shells, and the quarterbacks were no different.”

Tight end C.J. Uzomah was impressed with the level of play from the quarterbacks on Sunday. He was surprised how well they moved around during the first day in “shells,” which consists of helmets and shoulder pads.

“They warmed up well and we had a lot of individual periods with them,” he said, before running down a list of the specific period numbers. “Once we started getting our timing and mesh correct in 7-on-7 and one-on-one in team periods, they looked spectacular, really.”

Malzahn didn’t share Uzomah’s sentiment, focusing on the mistakes his signal-callers made. The team’s first three fall practices have been marred by quarterbacks struggling with their decision-making.

“There’s always going to be turnovers when you’re rotating four quarterbacks, so it’s just a matter of protecting the football, making good decisions,” he said. “We’re going to put these quarterbacks in a lot of different situations, so there’s a lot of plays. There’s some good, there’s some bad. That’s to be expected when it’s that type of setting.”

Regardless, Malzahn said it’s still “too early right now” to make any proclamations about the eventual starter, which is the same approach he takes with every position on the field.

“You gather information at every position,” he said. “But at this point it’s way too early for me to be able to stand up here and tell you we’re going to be able to make it earlier rather than later.”

Team leaders remain the same

While Malzahn provided little insight on how the quarterback battle is shaping up, he had no problem highlighting the players he views as the team’s leaders.

All are pretty familiar faces, since it’s the same group who took on those roles during the spring: center Reese Dismukes and fullback Jay Prosch on offense and hybrid safety Justin Garrett and cornerback Chris Davis on defense.

They just haven’t had a chance to make their voices heard at practice yet — for good reason.

“You’ve got to understand that we’re straining them,” Malzahn said. “It’s hard to be real vocal when we’re practicing at the pace we are.”

Quick hitters

Malzahn said safety Demetruce McNeal sat our practice for the third time in as many days. “But he’s getting better,” Malzahn said. The Tigers have yet to specify why the senior hasn’t participated in the first three days of fall camp, other than to say he’s battling an undisclosed “medical issue.”

August 3, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn addresses depth at H-back, updates quarterback race

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — After Ricky Parks was dismissed for a “violation of team rules” on Friday, Auburn’s depth at H-back took a hit just one day into its fall camp.

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Parks came out of the spring as Jay Prosch’s backup at H-back on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart. Gus Malzahn isn’t worried, though.

Auburn’s head coach said they’ll just have to move some players around a bit more.

“Right now, we’ve got C.J. Uzomah doing a little bit,” Malzahn said Saturday. “Obviously Brandon Fulse has done that before. We’re kind of playing around with Gage Batten and a couple of other guys. They’ll be more defined probably in the next two or three days, because that position is also a position that when you have pads on, you can properly evaluate better than you can with just helmets.”

Uzomah and Fulse also are expected to share snaps at tight end. Malzahn said the position was something the team is “still working through.” Like H-back, the tight end spot will have various players shuffled in and out to bolster the unit.

“There’s three or four guys that we’re talking about,” said Malzahn, though he declined to name specific players.

No separation in quarterback battle

Those hoping to see much of an update in the Tigers’ four-way quarterback battle will have to keep waiting. Malzahn said Saturday’s proceedings were “similar” to Friday’s, though he noted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson looked more comfortable on Day 2.

“We’re throwing a lot at them, just from the sideline,” he said. “They’re feeling more comfortable with (the) sideline (calls). They were able to relax a little bit more and play football.”

Meanwhile, veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace continued to show their command of the offense, much the way they did during spring practice.

“Any time you’re comfortable doing something and you’ve been through a spring and you kind understand what to expect and different looks (it helps),” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing like experience.”

Sunday’s practice will take on a different look than the first two days, as Malzahn said the signal-callers will “mix and match” more.

But the coach cautioned they’re still in the early stages of what figures to be a long race to decide who starts against Washington State on Aug. 31.

“We won’t throw them into the fire until we think they’re ready,” Malzahn said, “but it’ll be very quick.”

McNeal inactive for second straight practice

Safety Demetruce McNeal made progress in one area on Saturday: He put on a helmet for the first time this fall. However, just like Friday’s practice, he sat out team and position drills for the second straight day. Malzahn said he expects the team’s top returning tackler to be back at full speed “fairly soon.”

“It’s not anything major,” Malzahn said. “We just want to make sure he’s 100 percent before we get him back out there. He’s a veteran guy and has a lot of experience.”

Despite his inactivity thus far, Malzahn was confident the senior won’t miss a beat when he rejoins the secondary and attempts to capture the starting spot at boundary safety.

“He’ll have a chance to compete for playing time, just like the rest of them,” Malzahn said. “But he does have experience, and that usually helps.”

Quick hitters

Wide receiver Trovon Reed has been one of four players fielding punts at practice the first two days of fall camp. He said there haven’t been any muffs — yet. “I don’t want to jinx us,” he said. … Defensive back Joshua Holsey said he picked off a pass during practice. Wallace was the unlucky victim. “It came off a tipped ball, so I was fortunate to get a good one today,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll probably get some more to try and catch them slipping.” … Prior to Saturday’s practice, two Tigers received their bachelor’s degrees in commencement ceremonies. Defensive back Ryan Smith majored in Public Administration, while defensive end Craig Sanders was a Human Development and Family Studies major.