War Eagle Extra has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 10 seconds. If not, visit
http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/wareagleextra
and update your bookmarks.

September 3, 2013

Auburn football: With breakout game behind him, Corey Grant hungry for more (w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — It took until the game ended for Corey Grant to finally realize what he had just accomplished on the field last Saturday.

Junior running back Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown last Saturday against Washington State. He also finished as the Tigers' leading rusher, with 146 yards on just nine carries. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown last Saturday against Washington State. He also finished as the Tigers’ leading rusher, with 146 yards on just nine carries. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

He had just finished off a tour de force performance, running for a game-high 146 yards on nine carries against Washington State. It was the type of game Auburn’s junior running back admitted once doubting he could achieve.

Who’s to blame him?

His circuitous, frustrating path to Saturday would do little to boost anyone’s confidence. His Opelika, Ala., upbringing wasn’t able to keep him rooted around Auburn following his prep career, as he committed to arch-rival Alabama in the summer of 2009.

“It was a tough decision,” he said. “I loved (then-Auburn offensive coordinator) Coach (Gus) Malzahn and his offense.”

It was a decision he would come to regret. Yes, part of the reason he committed to the Crimson Tide was because the team promised to take advantage of his skill set, predicated on the blazing speed that made a two-time state champion in the 100-meter dash and a one-time state winner in the 200 meters.

But the other factor had nothing to do with football: He simply wanted to get away from home.

“So I did that,” he said. “Then I realized that it really wasn’t for me.”

He spent one season with Alabama, taking a redshirt in 2010 before transferring to Auburn. Once he joined the Tigers, however, he had to sit out yet another season to satisfy the NCAA’s rules on transfers.

In 2012, he finally saw the field, though it was solely in mop-up duty.

That’s why Saturday meant so much to him.

“Everybody always says hard work pays off,” he said. “I see that it does.”

Grant flashed the speed that made him a high school track star in the second quarter, taking a handoff around the left side and racing untouched for a 75-yard score. Nearly three years had passed since his last touchdown — which, he recalled, came when he was still an Opelika Bulldog — and he was ready to revel in the moment. It was a celebration deferred, as the play was reviewed to make sure he didn’t step out of bounds. Grant didn’t have to worry, as the touchdown stood.

Let the pandemonium begin.

“It was exciting,” he said. “My teammates know what I’ve been through. For me to do that and for us to do that together, it was an exciting moment.”

Left tackle Greg Robinson couldn’t contain his excitement, either.

“Really, when he broke off to the sideline I was cheering him on,” he said. “They all knocked him down in the end zone, but he felt good about it and it’s good for the hard work to pay off.”

Malzahn was also pleased Grant showed his stuff against Washington State. Not that it came as any surprise to him.

“I was here before, and I knew what he could do,” Malzahn said. “But he wasn’t eligible that year. You saw him on the scout team. He’s got a chance to really help us (this season).”

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee echoed Malzahn’s thoughts. The coaching staff had seen everything he could during spring practice, which carried over into fall camp. One aspect of Grant’s game revealed itself Saturday that even Lashlee didn’t see coming.

“He (made) some cuts that were impressive that maybe we didn’t know he could do,” Lashlee said. “His speed is definitely a weapon for him. As you were able to see on Saturday, he helps us have a potential one-play drive or a guy who can make those explosive plays and flip the field and help you get chunks (of) yardage.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of Grant’s explosiveness?

He hasn’t lost his lightning quickness despite putting on 30 pounds of muscle since high school.

“I actually feel a little bit faster,” he said, noting the last time he ran the 40 he was unofficially timed at 4.29 seconds. “Working with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell, he knows what he’s doing and he helps us a lot with our speed – (especially) maintaining your speed as you get bigger.”

The added strength will be an asset when he has to face off against some of formidable defenses the SEC has to offer as the season progresses. He shied away from any talk of being “an SEC-type running back” just yet. It’s only been one game, after all.

Those are the types of designations that only come with time, and only on the basis of multiple games like he put together Saturday.

“Hopefully I can prove that later in the season,” he said.

September 1, 2013

First take: A quick look at Arkansas State

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Who: Arkansas State (1-0; beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 62-11 on Saturday) at Auburn (1-0; beat Washington State 31-24 on Saturday)

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ETArkansas_State_Red_Wolves2

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

TV: FSN

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

All-time series: Auburn leads 2-0

When last they met: Auburn began its 2010 campaign season with an easy 52-26 victory over Arkansas State. It marked the first game with Cam Newton at quarterback for the Tigers, and he provided a glimpse of what was in store for the remainder of the season — making the spectacular look routine. The dynamic Atlanta native threw for 186 yards and three touchdowns, completing 9 of 14 through the air. He didn’t look bad carrying the ball, either, rushing for 171 yards and two scores on 15 carries. Freshman running back Michael Dyer tacked on another rushing touchdown and totaled 95 yards on the ground, while Quindarius Carr collected two receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown. The Red Wolves were able to move the ball against the Tigers’ defense, especially through the air, as quarterback Ryan Aplin rang up 278 yards and a touchdown. And the Red Wolves were able to put some points on the board — 26 in all. Then again, it doesn’t mean much when your opponent’s score doubles that.

Quick facts on Arkansas State: Bryan Harsin is the third head coach the Red Wolves have had in as many seasons. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze led the team in 2011 and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was at the helm last year. … Arkansas State snapped a three-game losing streak in season openers with its 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday. … The Red Wolves tied a Division I record in Saturday’s victory, as it had four players — David Oku, Sirgregory Thornton, Michael Gordon and sophomore Fredi Knighten — rush for more than 100 yards. In sum, Arkansas State tallied 509 rushing yards, the fifth time in school history it broke the 500-yard barrier on the ground. … The Red Wolves are one of 16 teams in the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision to win at least 20 games over the past two seasons. They are also the two-time defending champions of the Sun Belt Conference.

Which Tiger is primed for a big performance: The Red Wolves don’t have any glaring weaknesses defensive, with a stout defensive line led by sleeper All-American candidate Ryan Carrethers and a secondary that returns players who multiple games at both corner and safety positions. The one question mark is at a pair of its linebacker positions alongside Quashaun Lee. So look one of the Tigers’ trio of running backs — Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant — to see if they can put pressure on the back end of the Red Wolves’ untested front seven.

Which Red Wolf could give the home team fits: After Auburn allowed 344 passing yards to Washington State, Red Wolves wide receiver (and Phenix City native) J.D. McKissic could be a thorn in the Tigers’ side this Saturday. He had a fantastic season last year, winning the Sun Belt Conference’s Freshman of the Year award after catching 103 passes for 1,022 yards and five touchdowns.

Extra point: Two of Division I’s five active coaches who haven’t been part of a losing season as a head coach or full-time assistant (minimum three years of experience) will stand across the sidelines from one another this Saturday in Malzahn and Harsin. The other three? Southern California’s Lane Kiffin, Nebraska’s Bo Pelini and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen.

THE GRADES ARE IN: Assessing Auburn’s 31-24 victory versus Washington State

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some good things happened for Auburn on Saturday night.

Some not-so-good instances occurred, too.

Auburn was able to celebrate a victory in its season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black's report card?

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (27), Tre Mason (21) and the rest of the Tigers were able to celebrate a victory after a victory in the season opener against Washington State on Saturday night. But how did they fare on Ryan Black’s report card? (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Irrespective of the final stats or big plays they produced or allowed, the Tigers accomplished their sole objective against Washington State: They won, beating the Cougars 31-24 in the season opener. It was far from easy, though, as the game’s fate hung in the balance deep into the fourth quarter. Auburn was finally able to breath easy when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday misfired on a fourth-and-five attempt from the Tigers’ 27-yard line with just over two minutes remaining, as his pass wasn’t close to any receiver.

Tre Mason took care of the rest. He picked up a pair of first downs to help the Tigers set up a “victory formation” and give head coach Gus Malzahn a win in his first game on the Plains.

So, in the aftermath of Saturday night, we’ll head to the report card.

This will be done every Sunday following Auburn’s game the previous day. You might not agree with the grades, but the comments section is there for a reason.

Let’s begin.

OFFENSE: B-

For those paying close attention, this is the same grade Nick Marshall gave when asked to take stock of his performance on Saturday. First, the good news: The Tigers did as everyone expected, staying committed to the ground game, totaling 297 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Auburn spread the wealth, as four different players — Corey Grant, Cameron Artis-Payne, Mason and Marshall — touched the ball at least nine times. We all knew how deep the backfield was heading into the game, and Saturday provided on-field proof of those preconceived notions.

Now, the bad news. Those who watched the game saw this coming from a mile away, and that is … (Hold on a second. Marshall just overthrew another receiver before I could finish the last sentence.) Joking aside, Auburn’s signal-caller had a solid game, at least in the realm of his decision-making and not turning the ball over. That being said, Marshall had the potential to put together an even better game through the air if he just reined himself in a bit. He overthrew countless open receivers, including three great opportunities to score on the same drive late in the third quarter. The Tigers eventually ended up punting the ball away.

On Saturday, Marshall’s misfires didn’t sink the Tigers’ hopes at victory.

It might not come back to haunt them next week against Arkansas State, either. But the Tigers can’t afford to be one-dimensional when they get into the heart of their SEC schedule and reasonably expect to win.

DEFENSE: B

Yes, the Tigers allowed 464 yards of total offense. And yes, 344 of those yards came through the air. However, they also intercepted the ball three times — one more than they had all of last season — and gave up only one passing touchdown. The reason for this grade, then, is that even though it took the Cougars 35 completions to rack up those 344 yards, they still averaged nearly a first down per completed pass, at 9.8 yards per catch.

Auburn also gave up far more on the ground than anyone would have expected; Washington State averaged right at 29 rushing yards per game last season, the lowest in Division I. Saturday night, the Cougars had nearly 100 yards more than that, finishing with 120. And after scoring only six rushing touchdowns in 12 games last year, Washington State had two against Auburn, matching the Tigers’ own total.

Finally, if not for true freshman Montravius Adams playing well beyond his years, Auburn’s push up front would have been non-existent. Time and again, Halliday was allowed ample time to look downfield and hit open receivers. If the Tigers’ pass-rush doesn’t improve dramatically in the weeks to come, they likely won’t be able to escape with a victory like they did on Saturday.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A+

There is no need for nitpicking here, especially given everything the Tigers did right. To wit: They scored on a 100-yard kickoff return by Mason. Cody Parkey had five touchbacks, with only one returned kick, which was taken back 30 yards. The senior place kicker also went 3-for-4 on his field goal attempts, only missing from 50 yards out. The Tigers also didn’t have a punt return against them. Needless to say, no unit was more stout than special teams Saturday night.

OVERALL: A

There were some tense moments, but those are to be expected. As defensive line coach Rodney Garner would say, football “is a bottom-line business.” The Tigers won Saturday night. Period.

Everything else is meaningless by comparison.

Auburn notes: Robenson Therezie plays like a ‘star,’ Montravius Adams impressive in debut

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Robenson Therezie was a late entry into Auburn’s lineup on Saturday, being inserted at the team’s hybrid safety/linebacker position known as the “Star.”

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn's 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Therezie then went out and played like one.

He picked off two passes in Auburn’s 31-24 victory on Saturday, becoming the first Tiger since Josh Bynes in 2010 (against Arkansas) to tally two interceptions in a single game. What made the feat even more impressive is that the junior didn’t have an interception to his name prior to kickoff.

And he didn’t just excel in the passing game, also finishing as the Tigers’ second-leading tackler — behind only Jonathon Mincy’s eight takedowns — on Saturday, tallying seven tackles (six solo, one assisted).

Though he was tasked with filling the void left by Justin Garrett — the team’s A-Day MVP — Therezie said he didn’t place any additional expectations on himself to perform.

“Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all,” he said. “I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field.”

Therezie pilfered his first pass in the opening period off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, snagging the ball at the Tigers’ 48-yard line and taking it back to the Cougars’ 28-yard line.

The only thing Therezie didn’t do right when recalling the play?

He forgot what number teammate Jake Holland wore.

“I was trying to get to the flats, but No. 2 didn’t spot (it),” he said, though Holland sports jersey No. 5. “It was fast and I ended up right by him and there was a tip ball and I got to it.”

Auburn didn’t let the turnover go to waste, as it scored a touchdown four plays later.

His second interception was perhaps even more important. With 4:57 remaining, the Cougars were on the Tigers’ 8-yard line, looking to score a touchdown to knot the contest at 31-all. Halliday took the snap and fired the ball toward the right corner of the end zone.

Therezie was there, though, making a leaping grab on a pass intended for receiver Ricky Galvin to thwart Washington State’s last scoring opportunity of the game.

The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on the Miami native.

“I had to make a big play there,” he said. “We knew as a defense they were going for the end zone right there and we communicated the right read and I made the play.”

Coming off his best game as a Tiger made Therezie appreciate Saturday even more, especially in the light of his career up to this point, which has seen him shift around from position to position without a real home.

“It was very different. I felt great,” he said. “I felt like I got back to my old self, because I was kind of lost for two years. Now I feel good.”

Adams ‘thankful for the opportunity to make an impact’

Montravius Adams didn’t have an inkling he would be on the field for so many snaps on Saturday.

The true freshman defensive tackle showed out, ending with two tackles (one for loss) and notching the first sack of his career in a pasting of Halliday in the second quarter.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to make an impact this first game,” he said.

He introduced himself immediately, as the sack was his first play of the game.

“I didn’t want to let the team down,” he said. “At the snap of the ball, my only focus was to push down the quarterback, and I did.”

In a statement that will likely induce headaches for opposing offensive coordinators later this season, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn believes Adams only scratched the surface of his abilities on Saturday.

“Montravius is a big athlete, but he’ll improve each game,” he said.  “You know freshmen — what usually happens is they’ll improve each game.”

A first half full of ‘firsts’

“First” stood for far more than the opening 30 minutes of play at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

It also was a statistical achievement for many of Auburn’s players. Along with Therezie, four other Tigers made their first career start: quarterback Nick Marshall, left guard Alex Kozan and defensive ends Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens.

Like Therezie, safety Josh Holsey notched his first career interception on Saturday, making a leaping grab of a wayward Halliday pass on the final play of the opening period.

The Tigers’ special teams had its share of firsts as well: Ryan White pulled off a feat that hadn’t occurred for Auburn in seven years in the first quarter, as he scored on a two-point conversion. It was the first time the Tigers had successfully converted a two-point try since doing the same against Alabama in 2006.

Junior Corey Grant scored his first touchdown as a Tiger in emphatic fashion, scampering 75 yards in the second quarter, which gave Auburn a 22-21 lead with 6:18 remaining before halftime.

Injury updates

Malzahn updated the status of both Garrett and defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker in his postgame press conference — to an extent, anyway.

He didn’t get into specifics of either player’s absence, but explained the reasoning that was behind each of them sitting out Saturday.

“You know it’s kind of been one of those things where it was a game-time decision,” Malzahn said of Garrett, who sprained his foot in the Tigers’ second scrimmage of fall camp and was initially expected to play Saturday. “We decided to hold him out, but Therezie came through and played well. ”

While Garrett should be back soon, the same couldn’t be said of Whitaker. The senior from Warner Robins — who was replaced by Gabe Wright in the starting lineup — was seen on crutches prior to kickoff.

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

Quick hits

With the win, Auburn improved to 93-26-2 in season opening games all-time and 96-15-3 in home openers. … The Tigers have now won 78 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points and 294-4 overall. Auburn’s only loss against a non-SEC foe when scoring 30-plus came in 1979, when it lost to Wake Forest 42-38. …  Washington State scored two rushing touchdowns on Saturday. In 12 games last season, they totaled just six scores on the ground. … Cody Parkey’s 47-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career-long for the senior from Jupiter, Fla. … Auburn’s undefeated 1993 squad was honored in a pregame ceremony as part of its 20-year reunion.

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 27, 2013

Auburn football: Starting running back position a toss-up between Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne entering Saturday

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The race to be in the backfield with Auburn’s first-team offense on Saturday is too close to call.

Head coach Gus Malzahn said during his Tuesday press conference that Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne were “pretty much on equal ground right now” heading into the season opener against Washington State.

Gus Malzahn said Cameron Artis-Payne (above) is 'on equal ground' with Tre Mason as the first-team running back heading into Saturday's season opener. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Gus Malzahn said Cameron Artis-Payne (above) is ‘on equal ground’ with Tre Mason as the first-team running back heading into Saturday’s season opener. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“They both had outstanding fall camps,” he said. “Corey Grant’s a guy you could see in the mix too. The best thing is we feel like we’ve got some quality depth at the running back position going in. You can never have enough of that.”

Malzahn went on to list the attributes he believes will help Grant contribute on offense this fall.

“Definitely he’s a speed guy, but he’s a strong guy,” he said. “And he can do the different things we ask our tailbacks to do. You could see him doing just like Tre and Cameron.”

Unlike others, Malzahn said Grant hasn’t been promised a minimum number of touches each game.

“There are certain guys on offense that we do want to have certain touches,” he said, “but I can’t say right now that Corey’s one of those guys.”

Malzahn was also asked whether Johnathan Ford would return to running back at some point in the season. Ford, a true freshman, moved to cornerback following Jonathan Jones’ off-field injury, which happened near the end of fall camp.

“He’s made the transition to defensive back, and we’re letting him, especially being a freshman, really focus on playing corner and playing special teams,” Malzahn said.

August 23, 2013

Auburn football: Tigers not lacking for options in the backfield

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Tim Horton was sure it would happen eventually.

Junior Corey Grant is just one of the running backs Auburn will be able to hand the ball to this fall, joining returnees Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne as well as true freshman Peyton Barber. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior Corey Grant is just one of the running backs Auburn will be able to hand the ball to this fall, joining returnees Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne as well as true freshman Peyton Barber. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

When Auburn’s first-year running backs coach met with reporters during fall camp, he acknowledged the depth at the position was a bit more “than I’ve been used to.” Yes, the same man who coached the likes of Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson at Arkansas said this year’s Tigers were as deep a unit as he’s ever seen. He was confident it wouldn’t stay that way for long.

Depth is always a fleeting matter, especially in the rough-and-tumble SEC.

“One thing about playing running back in this league is (that) you never have enough depth,” he said. “Because about the time you’re feeling pretty good — ‘Hey, we’ve got four or five guys’ — the next thing you know, two of them are gone and you have no depth. You’re trying to move a defensive player over there.”

Ironically, the opposite has occurred.

With returnees Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant along with true freshman Peyton Barber, it wasn’t an issue to move Johnathan Ford to defense to combat the lack of bodies at cornerback.

“He’s a phenomenal running back, but we need help in the secondary,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Tuesday. “You’ve got to have depth in the secondary. He played some in high school, and he’s off to a good start.”

Ford’s temporary conversion didn’t affect the coaching staff’s view of the running back position. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee touted the options they have with the trio of Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant.

“We’ve said that since the spring (and) it’s kind of a broken record, but really all three of those guys bring something different to the table for us and I think all three are going to play and probably play a good amount,” he said. “There’s some good versatility there.”

Those three won’t get every carry, however. Barber showed Lashlee enough during fall camp that the true freshman will get his fair share of snaps as well.

“Barber is a guy that, from a physical standpoint, we feel is ready to play,” he said. “It’s just a matter of (him being) a true freshman. But you know, when certain moves happen, that will thrust people up quicker than normal. He’s got to be ready to go. At this point the three older guys are there, but he’s got to be on high alert.”

Whenever he returns to offense, Ford should be able to jump right back into the running back rotation. Lashlee compared him favorably to Grant due to his speed and ability to make plays in space, an important component of the Tigers’ hurry-up, no-huddle system.

“They’re really fast guys,” Lashlee said. “Corey is bigger. He’s a junior and has been in college longer. I think Rudy is one of those guys, when he gains 10, 12 pounds over the next year or two, it will really help him. But he can really run. More than anything, there’s no fear.”

Horton says he has seen more than that from Ford and Barber, though. Their love of the game shines through, he said. From poring over the playbook to putting in extra work at practice, there are certain things that can’t be coached.

That innate inner drive sets the duo apart, and Horton couldn’t be happier.

“I’ve been real pleased with their attitudes and their efforts,” he said. “And if they’ve got a good attitude and they’ve got good effort, then we can work with them from there.”

August 20, 2013

Auburn football: True freshman Johnathan Ford switching from running back to cornerback

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No one can say Auburn’s offensive players aren’t selfless.

True freshman running back Johnathan Ford voluntarily moved to corneback following Jonathan Jones' off-field injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

True freshman running back Johnathan Ford voluntarily moved to corneback following Jonathan Jones’ off-field injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

For the second time in as many weeks, one of its players will be moving over to work with the Tigers’ defense. Running back Johnathan Ford offered to switch to cornerback, one week after Kiehl Frazier dropped out of the quarterback race to focus on becoming a safety. And echoing Frazier’s actions, Ford wasn’t asked to shift to defense by the coaching staff.

Seeing how thin the Tigers’ cornerback unit became following Jonathan Jones’ recent off-field mishap — which saw him break a bone in his ankle after slipping on wet steps, ruling him out for the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 — the true freshman felt his talents could be put to use.

“I know he came to us and said, ‘Coach, I want to help the team win and win now,’” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said following Monday night’s practice. “Right now that’s what is best for our football team. He’s a big-time athlete, so to be able to be young and come in and prove yourself on offense and go right over and us think he’s got a chance to help us on defense, I think says a lot about his character as a person, his toughness and his ability.”

The Big Cove, Ala., native was one of the top running back prospects in the country last year after rushing for 1,669 yards and 27 touchdowns at New Hope High School. He was already making a case for playing time during camp, despite the depth in the backfield thanks to returnees Tre Mason, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant as well as fellow freshman Peyton Barber.

“We love ‘Rudy.’ He’s going to be a really good player,” said Lashlee, invoking one of Ford’s many nicknames. “We feel like his future is very bright. He was slated to play on a lot of teams so we were going to find a way to get him into the mix, but at the end of the day we’ve got to win and do what is best for the team.”

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson acknowledged Ford won’t be able to transform himself overnight. And he’s fine with that.

He knows a gifted player when he sees one.

“It’s going to take him a little while to learn it,” Johnson said. “He looks really good physically, now. He’s got all the skills.”

Ford has worked alongside redshirt freshman T.J. Davis and another true freshman in Kamryn Melton as the trio attempts to fill in at the No. 3 cornerback spot manned by Jones.

Whenever the sophomore recovers from his ankle injury, Ford will likely return to running back.

Lashlee will welcome him back with open arms.

“It just came down to, at the end of the day, it helps to move Johnathan to defense right now and he’s one of those guys that wants to play and wants to help us win,” he said. “(So) that’s the move we made.”

August 16, 2013

Auburn notes: Receiver Ricardo Louis using fall camp to ‘show the coaches what I could do’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Ricardo Louis has arguably been Auburn’s top player since fall camp began.

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn's most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn’s most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Teammates have praised his play during the Tigers’ scrimmages, none more than last Saturday’s scrimmage, where he had what fellow receiver Quan Bray called multiple “explosive plays” in the passing game and at least one touchdown reception.

Louis is glad to see the fruits of labor during the offseason have paid off thus far.

“I just felt like I had to show the coaches what I could do,” he said. “I had to make a lot of plays. They told me before the scrimmage that they were going to try to get me the ball, and they got me the ball, and I made plays.”

The sophomore said he’s trying to make up for lost time. Last season, he believed he arrived on campus with much expected of him — and acknowledged he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

“Everybody was thinking I was going to be a good receiver for the quarterbacks to throw to,” he said. “Now, what they were expecting from last year is what they want to (see) for me. It’ll be a good starting spot to produce in this offense.”

He doesn’t consider last season a failure on all levels, however. Thanks to the guidance of the Tigers’ elder receivers, Louis felt he improved even if his numbers didn’t back it up.

“I just took it in,” he said. “It was a learning experience, learning what they do, putting it into my game and producing when I get a chance.”

Tigers split on importance of scrimmage

Corey Grant is treating Auburn’s scrimmage Saturday like it’s the last day of summer.

Which, in a roundabout way, it is, since the Tigers won’t have another scrimmage before school begins Wednesday.

“Everybody’s excited,” he said. “Last chance to show what you can really do for the coaches and everybody.”

Not everyone shared Grant’s enthusiasm, though. Just ask Shon Coleman.

The redshirt freshman offensive lineman put it plainly: “It’s just a scrimmage,” he said.

“We just need to keep working on the things we’ve been trying to work on this week,” Coleman said. “(Now we’ve) got to go out there and put it together. That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about tomorrow.”

While Grant was ready to play within the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium for the last time before he hits the books, he didn’t feel the scrimmage was the be-all, end-all in regard to positional battles.

“It could be, possibly, but we’ve already had three scrimmages,” he said. “So this is just another day to show what you can do.”

Whether the scrimmage will do much to settle the team’s ongoing battle at quarterback is also up for debate.

Once more, Coleman was the voice of the apathetic.

“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “The whole team is going to be supportive of whoever it is.”

Besides, Grant said he doesn’t even know which signal-caller is on the field half the time as it is.

“Because of the way the coaches teach them, if you had to run it with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know who’s back there giving you the ball,” he said.

Quick hits

Louis said he’s working behind Tre Mason on the kick return depth chart heading into the scrimmage. “We’re just rotating a lot, different sides, learning new kick routine schemes,” he said. Louis said he expects it to come down to Mason, Robenson Therezie and himself as the starters at the position.

August 8, 2013

Been busy lately? Links to all recent Auburn content in one place

Auburn A-Day Jordan-Hare Stadium

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Look, we all lead busy lives.

So believe me, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you’re not caught up with everything that has been posted on WarEagleExtra.com since Tuesday. That’s more than understandable given the prodigious production of content over the better part of 48 hours. To wit: There have been a whopping 19 items added to the blog during that span.

But there’s no reason to scroll through page after page to read every story and watch every video — especially when we’ve compiled them all right here in one handy dandy post.

Whether it’s a notebook, practice report, a player profile or a video interview — or perhaps something else entirely — you’ll find it below. (And for your convenience, each item is sectioned accordingly.)

NOTEBOOKS

8/6 — Tigers cut Tuesday practice short to focus on first scrimmage of fall

8/7 — Defense believes it won first scrimmage of the fall ‘hands down’

8/8 — Malzahn pleased with toughness of quarterbacks, disappointed with energy at Thursday morning practice

PRACTICE REPORTS

8/6 — Tigers don full pads for first time, Demetruce McNeal inactive once again

8/7 — Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent from first scrimmage of fall

PRACTICE VIDEO

8/7 — Quarterbacks run read-option, Cody Parkey works on point-after attempts and field goals

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, POST-PRACTICE

8/6 — Ellis Johnson hopes defenders ‘will start to polish things up’ in coming days

8/6 — Rhett Lashlee says coaching staff ‘learned a lot more’ about offense during last two practices

8/6 — Gus Malzahn: Tigers ‘very physical’ in shortened Tuesday practice

8/7 — Senior H-back Jay Prosch glad to be ‘able to hit somebody’ in first full-pads practice

8/7 — Junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson predicts newcomers at position will play ‘a lot in the fall’

8/7 — Gus Malzahn: Tigers treated scrimmage ‘just like a regular football game’

8/8 — Running back Corey Grant ‘saw a lot of positive things’ from quarterbacks during scrimmage

8/8 — Safety Jermaine Whitehead excited enough for season he would ‘play in the parking lot’ if need be

8/8 — Gus Malzahn: Film of scrimmage provided ‘some good information’ on quarterbacks

PLAYER/POSITION PROFILES

8/6 — Rhett Lashlee: Quarterbacks ‘are bringing themselves along nicely,’ but battle still far from over

8/6 — Tigers still trying to sort out playing time at linebacker

8/7 — Kris Frost fighting to establish himself as Auburn’s starting middle linebacker (w/video)

8/7 — Quarterbacks take licks and dish them out as no-contact ban lifted during scrimmage