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September 1, 2013

Auburn football: Postgame Quote Roundup

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — As promised, here are postgame coaches from both Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn along with assorted players.

Note: These quotes are a collection of quotes from my own interviews as ones sent out by Auburn’s media relations department. This isn’t everything, but I’m not sure a post of (a guesstimated) 4,000 words would get read all the way through. So consider this an “abridged” compilation.

Malzahn

Opening Statement

“First of all I’m very proud of our team, they found a way to win. I’ve been preaching really since we’ve been here how we’re going to handle adversity and we’re going to stick together. I really feel like there was a lot of adversity out there, we made a lot of mistakes, some of them critical, but our guys found a way to overcome them. I’m very proud of our defense. They got us three turnovers and had two fourth down stops late especially after the offense turned the ball over you know late in the game. Special teams I thought played well. We had the big kick return to give us back momentum, but overall I’m very pleased with our team, they found a way to win. We talked about our goals, we’re getting better after each practice and getting better each game, we’ve got a lot of work to do but we’re committed to doing that.”

On the defense:

“They did a very good job adjusting. Our defensive coaches did a great job adjusting. I’m telling you that’s a pretty good football team, they had most of their guys back from last year. They got their coaching staff back, one of the better offensive coaches in all of college football, so our defense did very good with adjustments.”

On Robenson Therezie:

“He played really good. He played a lot of snaps out there and he was tired but he found a way, especially with that one in the endzone late, it was one of the critical plays of the game.”

On Justin Garrett:

“You know it’s kind of been one of those things where it was a game-time decision. We decided to hold him out, but Therezie came through and played well. “

On Montravius Adams:

“I’ll tell you what, Montravius is a big athlete, but he’ll improve each game and you know freshmen, what usually happens is they’ll improve each game.”

On Nick Marshall:

“You know, there were a couple things communication wise we’ll get better on but overall I liked the way he handled himself; he protected the football and that’s hard to do. They were showing him a lot of different looks and trying to disguise some things but he protected the football.”

On Marshall’s nerves in the first quarter:

“Yeah I would say so, that’s expected. I think a lot of our guys had jitters starting out and he calmed down after the first series or two. I think we had some drops early that probably didn’t help either, but he settled down and I think the game settled down for him.”

On Corey Grant:

“Corey can really run and I think everybody saw that today. He’s got speed that’s comparable to Onterio McCalebb and we just need to find ways to get him the ball.”

On possibly challenging Jonathon Mincy’s interception:

“I thought about that, it was close. You know a challenge —you usually want to make sure that I’m pretty sure and I wasn’t pretty sure, it was a bang bang deal. I know they review everything upstairs, but there was a little bit of talk and I decided not to challenge it.”

On overthrown passes:

“Sometimes it takes a while when you’ve got a quarterback for four weeks trying to get timing with everything; they should get better as we come. I thought there was one that was close —I didn’t really get a great look at but the one in the endzone, it was close. We’ll just keep working.”

On his message at halftime:

“Well you know in the second quarter I think at one point we ran only about four plays. I think there was about four or five minutes left, but we had ideas and, like I said, we didn’t want to put him in a bad situation tonight. We wanted to try and protect him and learn more about him. Just to be completely honest we learned a whole lot about our team. I told our team before ‘hey we want to know where we’re at’ and obviously I think you all saw we made some mistakes, but the good thing is most of them are correctable.”

On defending Washington State’s offense:

“I would say average. I think our execution was average at best. You’ve got to give them credit, they had a good scheme and they’ve got some good players, but our execution was average at best.”

On using the entire playbook:

“We had a plan coming in, a specific plan we tried to stick to it.”

On Tre Mason at the end of the game:

“Yeah, he fumbled the football, but Tre is a veteran guy and I just told him we’re going to give you the ball back and get confidence in you and we gave it to him and he finished the game out.”

On Montravius Adams:

“Yeah, he was in the backfield a lot. He was in the quarterback’s face a lot, there wasn’t a whole lot of that, but he was definitely one of the guys that was.”

On Jeff Whitaker not playing

“Jeff’s going to be out for a while. He had a procedure done last week and so he wasn’t able to play and we’ll see when he gets back.”

On winning:

“I’m just so proud of our guys. You know they went through a storm last year and they really bought in with what our coaches have asked us to do. This is kind of one of those moments that you’re very happy for them. I’m very happy for our coaches and really our Auburn fans. Our fans deserve to win and we have a chance to get better I mean we’re not there. I think everybody knows that, but we have a chance to get better and I’m really enjoying coaching these guys.”

On the two-point conversion:

“You have certain plays and you run them or you don’t. We just try to put pressure on the defense as much as we can. I thought it was a pretty good momentum builder there, at least early in the game.”

On possibly running an onside kick:

“You know we thought about all kinds of stuff. We didn’t actually call it in the game, but we thought about it and talked about it.

On not going for it on fourth down:

“There was a lot of talk and if I knew more about our guys I may have gone for it. I just felt at that time in the game — you know we’re learning. I learn about our guys at practice and every game, but you learn more in games and so in the future if there’s a high percentage of us getting it, we’ll do it. I wanted to but didn’t feel like I could pull the trigger right there at that time in the game. It’s very hard but we’ve got a good punter, a very good punter, one of the very best in the country but the timing wasn’t right.”

On whether anything surprised him:

“No not really, my big deal was adversity and my head was on a swivel. I wanted to see how we handled it, that was my big question but I didn’t see heads down and all that pouting. I saw some bright eyes, I saw our guys hustling on and off the field no matter what the score was and I’m proud of our guys for that.”

On freshman defensive linemen:

“I think they gave us some energy, I think you saw we were rotating a lot of defensive linemen in, and all of them played and all of them played significantly. I mean they are good protecting and that quarterback is a very solid guy.”

On defensive interceptions:

“Well they found a way to win. You know I felt like our defensive players, secondary made some really good plays at critical times and I think offense was a little bit hit and miss, but we made some plays when we had to and there’s a couple we’d like to have back. I mean the reverse pass and some thinks like that, pass protection broke down, but you know I think we’ll have a chance to be solid in both areas if we keep improving.”

On Marshall at halftime:

“Nick’s a calm guy; he didn’t say much. He’s just real calm and he was wanting to know where the adjustments were and you know he really handled himself well.”

On this game benefiting team film

“Oh there’s no doubt. You could take the first half and there’s all kinds of things we can teach — the second half too, at the end of the game, and everything that went down to the end.”

On celebrating his first win:

“I think you can be very proud of our team. I hope our team really is able to enjoy their night, they’ve earned it, but then we move on to next week. The challenge is getting better and correcting the mistakes, getting better in all phases.”

On Arkansas State’s offense:

“You know they’re a very good team; we’ll have to play better than we did tonight. They’re a very good team and I know they will be very well prepared.”

Nick Marshall

On his nerves:

I was kind of nervous on the first drive. But then after the first drive I started getting comfortable.

On halftime adjustments

“We had a game plan coming into the game, so at halftime we didn’t really make that many adjustments. We just stuck to our game plan.”

On his overthrown passes:

“They were) mistakes. but they can be corrected.”

On whether it was timing issues:

It wasn’t timing. I just put too much on them.

On his second half performance:

“I did well. I did protect the ball, and that’s really what the game is about – protecting the ball and (commit) no turnovers. So I thought I did great in the second half.”

On what Malzahn said to the team at halftime: 

“He really just told us to keep doing what we’re doing and stick to our game plan. We weren’t really worried about throwing the ball much. Just stick to the game plan and try to get the victory.”

On whether anything WSU’s defense did surprised him:

“Yeah, Washington State is a good team. They were flying around the ball. They made plays, so it was great to come out with a win.”

On whether the game slowed down for him:

“It has slowed down for everybody. I think (after) halftime it slowed down and I felt more comfortable after that.”

On things to improve upon next week:

“Not too much. Just get better. Me and my team just go out there and get better.”

 On returning to the SEC:

“It means a lot. The SEC is the highest competition level, and that’s what I (consider) myself. … I just like being in the SEC.”

On Corey Grant’s speed:

“Yeah, he showed (his speed) off. He came in with his head on straight and ready to play. He made plays on his feet, too. He can run.”

On the defense:

“The defense stepped up big for us tonight and we didn’t have any turnovers, but the defense went out there and balled out today and got us turnovers. It allowed (the offense) to execute.”

On committing no turnovers:

“Coach Malzahn told me before the game started just to protect the ball and I did that to (the) best (of my ability).”

On which overthrow hurt the most:

” The one I threw to Ricardo. I overthrew him just a little bit.”

On what grade he would give himself:

“I’d say like a B-minus. I did good,  but I know I can get better each day.”

Cornerback Chris Davis

On the importance of getting a hand on the ball:

“It’s very, very important. Everybody knows last year in the secondary we only had one interception and we started out this game with three. That’s huge and hopefully they’ll keep coming.”

On his pass breakup on in the fourth quarter:

That was a good play. I think it was a momentum-builder to put the game away and let our offense milk the clock some.

On returning punts:

“That’s what I’ve been waiting on.”

On what he thinks about punt returns thus far:

“I’m enjoying it pretty well. I’m trying to do whatever to help the team win.”

On him being ‘fearless’ when returning the ball:

You’ve got to be.”

On whether he wished he had returned punts earlier in his Auburn career:

“In high school, I was an athlete, and coming here that was one thing I wanted to do: I wanted to return punts and kicks. I just thank Coach (Malzahn) for giving me the opportunity to do that.”

On his mind-set on punt returns:

“When the ball is punted, I just look down the field at the coverage and see if anybody left their man free and see how much room I’ve got if I catch the ball or if I need to fair catch it. And Quan (Bray) actually told me, ‘Be aggressive with the punt returns’ and that’s what I went out and did.”

On the difference between the first and second half for the defense:

“We just stayed together as a defense. Coach Malzahn always says, ‘Take it one play at a time’ and that’s what we tried to do. He tells us how we’re going to act when adversity kicks in. Me being the senior, I just tried to walk up and down the sideline to motivate the team.”

On what he attributes his personal improvements to:

“I’m having fun. I’m having fun again playing football.”

On whether it’s frustrating to face an offense like Washington State:

“It’s not, because going into the game, Coach (Malzahn) told us they were going to complete a couple of passes. You’ve just got to have a ‘next play’ mentality and that’s what we did.”

VIDEO: Postgame reaction from Auburn’s players

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Due to some technical difficulties with my flip camera — which I won’t detail here — we sadly have no video of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s postgame press conference with media members.

Let’s look on the bright side, though: He didn’t say anything particularly interesting, which you’ll see when I post my “quote roundup” later. I know that might not suffice for some, but that’s how it is.

Not to worry, since we still recorded video of five different players, consisting of quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Tre Mason, wide receiver Sammie Coates, “Star” Robenson Therezie and cornerback Chris Davis.

Marshall

Mason

Coates

Therezie

Davis

August 31, 2013

Last look: Capsule for Saturday’s game, including key matchups (and edges)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Who: Washington State (3-9 in 2012) at Auburn (3-9 in 2012)

When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: ESPNU

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 1-0AU logo

Quick game notes: Auburn has never had a problem holding serve at home to begin the season, owning a 34-6 record all-time in opening games at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have won six home openers in a row, with the last loss coming at the hands of Georgia Tech in 2005. … Auburn coach Gus Malzahn prefers to lean on his running game, and the stats from his stint at Arkansas State last year back him up: The Red Wolves ran the ball 56.7 percent of the time (540 rushing attempts out of 952 total offensive plays). Washington State coach Mike Leach is at the other end of the spectrum, as no team in Division I put the ball in the air more than the Cougars last season. In 12 games, Washington State attempted 624 passes, averaging out to 52 per game. …  The SEC hasn’t been friendly to the Cougars over the years. Washington State has played against the SEC six times in its history, posting a 1-5 record. The Cougars are 1-4 against Tennessee, and lost to Auburn on the road in the 2006 season opener 40-14, which marked the last time they faced an SEC foe.

KEY MATCHUPS

Washington State receivers vs. Auburn secondary

The Tigers return three starters from last season in corners Jonathon Mincy and Chris Davis alongside free safety Jermaine Whitehead. Strong safety was formerly occupied by Demetruce McNeal, but he’s no longer with the team after being dismissed following an arrest during fall camp. In his place is Josh Holsey, a former corner who moved to safety in the spring and has remained there ever since. They will line up across from a Cougars’ receiving corps that brings back players who accounted for 70 percent of their yardage in 2012. The unit’s top pass-catcher is Brett Bartolone, a sophomore. He’ll be joined by a cadre of other options in Gabe Marks, Kristoff Williams, Dominique Williams and Isiah Myers. The team is also expecting big things from junior college transfer Vince Mayle, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound physical specimen.

EDGE: Even. The Cougars might hold the advantage here when it comes to depth, but there’s only so many receivers they can put on the field at the same time. Assuming the Tigers don’t suffer any injuries in the secondary during the game, they should be fine.Washington-State-University

Washington State offensive line vs. Auburn defensive line

Most games are decided up front and it won’t be any different in tonight’s tilt. It doesn’t matter how many times the Cougars want to throw if quarterback Connor Halliday doesn’t receive enough protection to get the ball out of his hands. That’s where Washington State’s much-maligned line comes in. It allowed more sacks than any team in the country (57) in 12 games last season, but those close to the team — including beat writer Christian Caple — seem to believe they have made great strides during the offseason. The Tigers are missing their top pass-rusher off the edge, as senior Dee Ford is out for an indefinite period of time with a knee injury. That being said, it has opened the door for less-experienced players to get an opportunity, as Auburn’s two first-team ends — LaDarius Owens and Craig Sanders — are both making their first career start on Saturday.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Even with Ford out, it’s hard to give a nod to the nation’s most woeful offensive line in 2012. Expect the Tigers to be able to get pressure on Halliday with regularity.

Auburn running backs vs. Washington State’s front seven

The Tigers will try to get their ground game established from the outset. But the Cougars aren’t going to make it easy on them, as the strength of their defense lies with the front seven, led by linebacker Darryl Monroe, the team’s second-leading tackler last year. Fellow linebacker Justin Sagote started the last 10 games of last season, collecting 61 takedowns in that span. And along the line, Washington State brings back three players who saw significant action last season in Ioane Gauta, Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole to anchor its base 3-4 scheme. Auburn will try to run it right at them, with the option of handing it off to one of four players out of the backfield: Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber. That’s not even mentioning quarterback Nick Marshall, who is as dangerous with the ball in his hands as any player in the country.

SLIGHT EDGE: Auburn. Even with the experience the Cougars have returning, it’s not as if their run defense was stingy last season, as they only ranked 64th in the country in that category in 2012, allowing an average of 163.4 yards per game. Given the Tigers bevy of weapons at tailback and the fact they’ll be running behind an offensive line with four starters back, this matchup ends up in Auburn’s favor.

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 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

August 16, 2013

Auburn football odds and ends: Gus Malzahn hopes to have starting QB in place by Monday, Jonathan Wallace progressing at holder

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — If everything goes according to plan, Auburn will know who its starting quarterback is by Monday.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn hopes to have a starting quarterback in place by Monday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn hopes to have a starting quarterback in place by Monday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

And if the Tigers come to a conclusion before then, obviously, that would be even better, head coach Gus Malzahn said.

“It could be (Friday), Saturday or Sunday,” Malzahn said Thursday. “Any time before next Monday would be really good for us, but like I’ve said before, we’re not sure.”

Auburn has had 16 practices since fall camp began, holding its final two-a-day practice Thursday. The Tigers will then have their fourth scrimmage on Saturday; assuming they make a decision at quarterback after the scrimmage, that would give the new signal-caller roughly 10 practices to work exclusively with the first-team offense.

“You want as much (practice) as possible,” Malzahn said. “Ideally, it would have been a week ago, and you get three weeks, but the earlier the better.”

Quarterback isn’t the only position still unsettled with the Aug. 31 opener against Washington State drawing ever closer. That’s why Malzahn hopes to solve those battles following Saturday’s scrimmage as well.

“Well, we’ve got a lot of stuff figured out, but there’s still a few we’re trying to answer,” he said. “Obviously, that’ll be two weeks from the first game, so you’d like to have pieces of the puzzle in place.”

Special teams update: Wallace at holder, four players working at punt return

Regardless of how Jonathan Wallace finishes in the starting quarterback competition, he still might see playing time at other spots on the field.

Kicker Cody Parkey lauded the progress the sophomore has made since he began holding kicks during fall camp.

“I’m teaching him as much as I can,” Parkey said. “He’s got potential and that’s the most important thing. Ryan (White) has been doing it for three years for me. To have a solid guy behind him and watching him like Jonathan Wallace  who is willing to learn  is good. I would say he’s doing well.”

Though Wallace is White’s backup at holder, he provides another dimension by either running or passing if there is a trick play or a botched snap.

“I think that’s our theory behind it, in case something like that does happen,” Parkey said. “We want someone that can make a play instead of taking a loss on the play.”

In other special teams news, Malzahn provided a brief update on the Tigers’ punt returners.

“We’ve got three or four guys working back there,” he said. “Quan Bray, Chris Davis, Marcus Davis. Obviously, we know what Trovon (Reed) can do, so we’re giving those guys all opportunities, and there’s been a few live situations that we’ve been able to evaluate those guys.  I think they’ll be ready.”

Quick hits

Safety Demetruce McNeal practiced Thursday morning and “looked 100 percent,” Malzahn said. Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett attended practice but didn’t participate. … Three walk-ons were awarded scholarships Wednesday night: wide receiver Dimitri Reese, defensive back Blake Poole and running back Chandler Shakespeare.

August 7, 2013

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.”

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

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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

August 5, 2013

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.

VIDEO: CB Chris Davis talks about the secondary, newcomers at WR and Melvin Smith

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn cornerback Chris Davis met with reporters for the first time since SEC Media Days following Sunday’s practice. The senior discussed how fall camp has gone thus far as well as how the secondary is shaping up. See that and more by watching the video below.