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September 1, 2013

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 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 25, 2013

Auburn notes: With Dee Ford out, Craig Sanders ‘excited’ to make first career start

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

Auburn Football

Senior Craig Sanders (13) is set to make the first career on Saturday in Auburn’s season opener against Washington State. Sanders has appeared in 37 games in the past three seasons. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

AUBURN, Ala.Craig Sanders has appeared in 37 games at Auburn in the last three seasons.

Not a single one of those appearances included a start. That is set to change Saturday. After Dee Ford injured a ligament in his knee during the second scrimmage of fall camp, the Tigers’ starting left defensive end position was vacated for an undetermined period of time, though defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the senior will certainly miss the season opener.

In his absence, Sanders has stepped to the fore.

“I’m excited about it because this is my first start ever in my college career,” he said following Sunday’s practice. “I want Dee back as fast as he can get back because we want that rotation. Whether it’s him starting or me starting, we want to rotate in with both of us working because we need that rotation and depth.”

Johnson said Sanders has most the most of the work he’s had with the first-team defense since Ford went down.

“Craig’s been really consistent assignment-wise,” he said. “Not many missed assignments. He’s done some pretty good things in pass rush. There’s no question I think all the additional repetitions have helped him fundamentally, but he’s done pretty well.”

It will be difficult to replace Ford’s production, however. He was the team’s top returning pass-rusher, totaling 6.5 sacks last season. Sanders said he will do his best to try to fill the void, hoping the gains he made during the offseason will carry over to this fall.

“My thing was using my hands when I was pass rushing,” he said. “With (defensive line) ‘Coach G’ (Rodney Garner) and Coach Brandon Wheeling, they have been helping me one-on-one with flipping my hips and using my hands off the ball. Since the spring actually it has improved greatly. I’m very satisfied with how it’s improved.”

He’s not the only defensive end who has made improvements. Johnson said he’s also seen growth from the Tigers’ other pass-rushers, most notably the true freshman duo of Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson.

“Elijah and Carl have some pass-rush ability that some of the other guys don’t have,” he said. “They’ve gotten a lot of work. They’re making some mistakes, some mental errors, but they’re going to have to play. And I think all this extra work has really helped them.”

Until Ford returns, however, the Tigers will mix-and-match at the two defensive end spots. Sanders said he and LaDarius Owens — who just shifted back to the defensive line after moving to linebacker this spring — have seen the majority of the reps at left end. Seniors Nosa Eguae and Ken Carter will be part of the rotation as well, along with the aforementioned freshman pair of Lawson and Daniel.

Regardless of what happens Saturday, Sanders said he just wants to be able to revel in the moment when his name is announced as part of the starting lineup.

“I’m going to be pumped,” he said. “I’ll be able to jump 10 feet in the air. It will be awesome. I’m ready. I’m really ready.”

Marcus Davis already in line for playing time

When offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was asked which true freshman would “definitely play” Saturday, only one name came to mind: Marcus Davis. The receiver kept “showing up” in practices every time Lashlee turned around.

Eventually, it became too much for the coach to ignore.

“He’s kind of put himself in the mix for some playing time,” Lashlee said. “There’s some of those guys that are on playing time on teams as well, but he’s the one that keeps standing out the most, probably.”

What has Davis done to catch the eye of the coaching staff? Cliche as it sounds, “all the little things,” Lashlee said.

Davis’ background as a quarterback hasn’t hurt, either, as Lashlee believes that has helped for a quick transition from high school to college.

“He came in you could tell he wasn’t in the moment of, ‘Hey, I’m in college and these guys are bigger and faster,’” Lashlee said. He’s been steady. I’m not going to say he’s made a lot of ‘wow’ plays, although he’s made a few. He’s just been steady and he’s worked hard, he’s listened and he’s tried to do everything the coaches say.”

Fellow receiver Quan Bray praised the Delray Beach, Fla., native as well.

“I’ve seen him come in with (the right) mentality,” Bray said. “He’s young but he’s definitely ready to play because he’s a baller. Coach (Gus) Malzahn said it — he’s a natural all the time.”

Quick hits

Johnson said hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett has “looked pretty good” since he returned to practice. The junior sprained his foot during fall camp, which forced him to miss 12 straight practices. “He’s looked like the old Justin,” Johnson said. “If you need to know how he feels, you’d have to ask him. But he’s made some plays.” … Lashlee said Avery Young has continued to move back and forth between tackle and guard on the offensive line. “He was tackle early, then it was guard and lately he’s been doing some of both,” Lashlee said. “We’ve had him at tackle probably the last week or so.”

August 15, 2013

Auburn football: Defensive end Dee Ford out with unspecified injury, status for opener unknown

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s pass-rushing was already a concern heading into the 2013 season. Dee Ford’s uncertain status going forward won’t help matters.

Senior defensive Dee Ford will be out for an undetermined amount of time. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn declined to disclose the nature of the injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior defensive Dee Ford will be out for an undetermined amount of time. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn declined to disclose the nature of the injury. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Head coach Gus Malzahn confirmed Ford, the Tigers’ starting left defensive end, did not participate in Thursday morning’s practice.

“We feel like it shouldn’t be too long to get him back on the field,” he said.

However, Malzahn seemed to backtrack on the severity of the unspecified injury later. When asked whether the ailment could prevent him from playing in Auburn’s opening game against Washington State on Aug. 31, Malzahn appeared unsure.

“I would definitely hope not,” he said.

Ford’s loss for any period of time would be a big blow to Auburn’s defense. Of the 22 sacks the Tigers tallied last season, Ford accounted for a team-best six of them. No other returnee has more than one.

With Ford out for now, Malzahn said the defensive line’s newcomers have had a chance to make their case for playing time.

“We gave those young guys and new guys probably more opportunities than anybody in the country,” Malzahn said. “We’re gathering a lot of information on all of our guys.”

Malzahn refused to name any lineman who has caught his eye thus far.

“(Defensive line) Coach (Rodney) Garner has been mixing and matching,” he said. “They’ve all got a chance.”

But veterans such as Craig Sanders, Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter will have their fair shot as well.

“We’ve got some seniors that have some experience and that’s always very important,” he said. “We’ve got some guys that I think are versatile, that can move around.”

Even with Ford’s injury and another one that has hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett sidelined, Malzahn has been pleased with the team’s physicality during fall camp.

“We’re a little banged up but not a bad banged up,” he said. “I think we’ve been working very hard on getting our edge back and being physical. That was part of the plan.”

August 6, 2013

Auburn notes: Tigers cut Tuesday practice short to focus on first scrimmage of fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s players got a bit of a reprieve on Tuesday.

With the team's first scrimmage of the fall on tap Wednesday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to cut Tuesday's practice short. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

With the team’s first scrimmage of the fall on tap Wednesday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to cut Tuesday’s practice short. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

The fifth practice of the fall marked the first time the Tigers had on full pads, finally giving players the chance to take part in contact drills. But it didn’t last for long, as head coach Gus Malzahn made the decision to end practice early.

No need to get players too banged up with the first scrimmage of the fall set to take place on Wednesday, after all.

“We just want to make sure everybody gets to the scrimmage somewhat fresh and has a chance to mentally prepare because it will be a big scrimmage for us,” Malzahn said. “Not only for players, but (for) the coaches evaluating them.”

Jay Prosch couldn’t want to get back inside Jordan-Hare Stadium for the first time since the A-Day game.

“Really just looking for the plays, people getting the plays right, lining up right, being fast and execution, obviously,” he said. “That’s what getting everybody working together as one unit. That’s what I’m looking for mostly and hopefully we can do that.”

The senior was also pleased with the Tuesday’s practice, since the burly fullback never shies away from an opportunity show off his physicality.

“Finally able to hit somebody instead of using your hands and slowing down before contact,” he said. “So it was nice.”

Fellow senior Craig Sanders is equally anxious for the scrimmage to arrive. The defensive end said the coaching staff told them to treat it like the first game of the NFL preseason.

“During the scrimmages we have to show out because they’ll start evaluating us,” he said. “That will determine who is going to be on the scout team and who is not going to be on the scout team.”

Malzahn said the format for the scrimmage will involve only the most basic schemes offensive and defensively.

“The main thing is to evaluate our players and try to put them in different situations,” he said. “Really, (just) try to get on the field to make plays.”

Malzahn continues stonewalling on quarterbacks

In what has become routine since fall camp opened, Malzahn talked only in generalities about the quarterback race. In fact, he refused to even address any of the four candidates for the job by name. But Malzahn did say “the two new guys” — junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson — are starting to get more comfortable with the offense.

“You can tell, as far as the procedures pre-play and I think they’re getting a better understanding,” he said. “We’re putting our installs in, so there’s a lot going on.”

Marshall did make one mistake during the portion of practice open to reporters. While working on handoff drills with Cameron Artis-Payne, Marshall mishandled the exchange and fumbled the ball away.

Malzahn didn’t make much of it, though.

“As a coach you make sure, no matter what it is, that ball security is very important to us and it starts with the quarterback,” Malzahn said. “He just got here. He’s learning the expectations and everything that goes with that.”

When asked how much closer the coaching staff is to naming a favorite, Malzahn said the team continues to stay “open-minded.”

“There’s some ups and downs and stuff like that,” he said. “One guy plays better each practice than the other, but I think they are all four solid quarterbacks.”

And it should go without saying how important the scrimmage will be when the coaching staff begins to mold the positional depth chart. Regardless, Malzahn said Marshall, Johnson, Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier have been reminded of the scrimmage’s significance.

“I really believe they’ll be ready,” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing better to evaluate a quarterback than a scrimmage situation with live bullets coming and everything that goes with that. Some people find a way to raise their level and some people get a little nervous.”

Second-team offensive line mixes up rotation

Jordan Diamond has been practicing at right guard with the second-team offensive line since the beginning of fall camp. But Will Adams was in his place at Tuesday’s practice.

Malzahn said it was just a matter of rotating players into different personnel groupings.

“We try to give them opportunity with different groups and all that until you get to the scrimmages,” he said. “(Then) things will start taking care of themselves, but right now we’re just trying to give them some opportunities.”

Quick hitters

Malzahn confirmed that safety Demetruce McNeal missed his fifth practice of the fall and 10th in a row dating back to the spring, still recovering from a minor surgical procedure caused by an infection. Malzahn expects the senior to be back at practice “in the next few days.” … After Ricky Parks was dismissed last week, Prosch said Gage Batten has been getting the lion’s share of reps behind him at H-back. “He came over from linebacker, so he’s been adjusting,” Prosch said. “He’s never blocked before in his entire life so he’s been adjusting to that but he’s done a really good job. (He’s) finally starting to feel it out and get a good hang of it.”

March 22, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive line

This is the third of an 8-day series previewing each Auburn position leading into spring football. Tomorrow: special teams.

AUBURN Miss State

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – There’s not a more enticing position group on the roster.

How awesome has Rodney Garner’s job got to be? He’s got like a 12-car garage, stocked with all shapes and sizes of vehicles to drive his defensive line.

Rodney GarnerOf course, Garner won’t make it a smooth ride for his pass-rushers and run-stuffers, young and old. A sense of entitlement just won’t do – after all, this unit had its moments in 2012 yet ultimately underachieved in setting the tone for an up-and-down defense.

Because of how personnel shakes out for 2013, the entire defensive line has got to be the heart of the unit. If they can attack quarterbacks and plug gaps for the guys behind them to make plays, this defense can match up with the top SEC offenses. If not, well, prepare for more shootouts which might not roll Auburn’s way.

Former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder ordered up a nine-man rotation on the line, and Garner’s already promised five ends and five tackles need to be ready to play in September. With a mass of 14 returning scholarship players (eight ends, six tackles) raring to go in spring, joined by three stud recruits this summer, the internal competition will be as fierce as it will be fun.

Here’s a look at Auburn’s defensive line, leading into spring football scrimmages:

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28Who’s been playing: DT Angelo Blackson (jr.), DT Kenneth Carter (sr.), DE Nosa Eguae (sr.), DE Dee Ford (sr.), DE LaDarius Owens (jr.), DE Craig Sanders (sr.), DT Jeffrey Whitaker (sr.), DT Gabe Wright (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: DE Justin Delaine (jr.), DE Keymiya Harrell (so.), DT Tyler Nero (r-fr.), DE JaBrian Niles (so.), DE Gimel President (r-fr.)

Who’s out the door: DE Corey Lemonier, DE Devaunte Sigler, DT Jamar Travis

Who’s in the door: DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.), DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.), DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.), DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Rodney Garner, 23rd year (all in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Mike Pelton, Georgia Tech

Thoughts and musings:

- Gut feeling on who’s listed as the starters when Gus Malzahn’s post-spring depth chart is released: Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae at the ends, Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright at the tackles.

- Primary backups: Nero/Bradley inside, Lawson/Sanders outside. We’ll see.

- It’s spectacular to think that if Lemonier felt he needed one more year to prove himself to NFL scouts, essentially the entire stable of linemen would be back in spring … to be bolstered by three four- or five-star prospects as true freshmen, depending on which recruiting service you favor. That’s outrageous.

- But remember: just like a basketball team laden with McDonald’s All-Americans, there’s only so much space in the lineup. It’s about who proves they can get the job done not just on first down, but on all three downs.

- A great line I remember being told by a high school defensive line coach I know and respect: out of an entire football team, he takes the four guys he’s most want on his side in a fight and sticks them on the defensive line. What’s interesting is the group of guys in this program – Wright, Whitaker, Ford, et al – are generally nice, pleasant dudes. But as Wright and I talked about Wednesday, they’ve got to flip that switch the moment they hit the field, and get MEAN.

- There’s already a pair of Georgia natives on the defensive line in Whitaker (Warner Robins) and Wright (Columbus). Adams, Bradley (a Hutchinson juco transfer) and Lawson give Garner a total of five guys he recruited while he himself was at Georgia … and they were or are all fairly high recruits.

- Now, with that said, Jamar Travis was a 4-star defensive tackle, per Rivals.com. The nation’s No. 11 defensive tackle in his class, per ESPN. Offered by Alabama, Clemson and Florida State. Lettered four years at Auburn and is graduating. Nine career tackles. Don’t get hung up on recruiting stars, folks. Seriously.

Montravius Adams

Statistically speaking:

6 – Sacks for Dee Ford last year, leading the Tigers.

1 – Sack for Dee Ford last year in eight SEC games.

2 – Sacks for Dee Ford in 24 career games against SEC competition. Great player, entertaining personality, but Ford simply must impact more conference games.

5 – Sacks for Corey Lemonier in his first four games of 2012, settling him in at 16.5 for his career, good for ninth all-time at Auburn.

0.5 – Sacks for Corey Lemonier his final eight games of 2012.

T-77 – The Tigers’ national rank in team sacks, with 22. Seeing as pass-rushing was considered a team strength, that tells the story, no? (For comparison, Auburn quarterbacks were sacked 37 times – ranked tied for 107th.)

5 – Different starting lineups along the defensive line in 12 games last year. Starters aren’t the biggest deal in a rotation, but the tackles were spread out between Blackson, Whitaker, Carter and Wright, while at end Lemonier, Ford and Eguae split opportunities.

2 – Number of pass break-ups, number of forced fumbles, and number of blocked kicks … in 2012, for Angelo Blackson.

4.9, 197.6 – Average yards per rush, and average rushing yards per game, Auburn allowed in 2012. Those figures were 101st and 100th nationally, and both were dead last in the SEC.

15 – Times Auburn was whistled for offsides in 2012.

4 – Times Auburn’s opponents were whistled for offsides in 2012.

17 – Options Rodney Garner will have this fall to fix an underachieving unit – ten ends, seven tackles. (It’s a point worthy of repeating.)

Clemson_Auburn18_9-1-12

Good Twitter follows: Follow Gabe Wright @NineORhino (5,063 followers) and Dee Ford @dee_ford_ (3,559), thank me later. LaDarius Owens at @KingLO1091 (2,213) is also quality, and if you’re lucky enough to get approval from Carl Lawson @CarlCarltp, well, you’re in luck.

Say what? “I have no preconceived ideals about any of them. I’m going to evaluate everybody on their body of work that they do under my watch. It ain’t going to be a popularity contest, the media’s not going to decide, the alumni’s not going to decide. Whatever the film says, who’s productive and who deserves to play, that’s who’s going to play.” – Garner

December 31, 2012

Report: Corey Lemonier entering NFL Draft

Auburn junior defensive end Corey Lemonier is foregoing his senior year and will enter the 2013 NFL Draft, according to a tweet by ESPN college football reporter Joe Schad.

Schad quoted Lemonier as saying, “I feel I’m ready for the next level.”

Lemonier projects to go in the earlier rounds, and possibly as high as the later part of the first round. 2013 has a deep crop of pass-rushing prospects, including Florida State’s Bjoern Werner, Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore and LSU’s Sam Montgomery.

Lemonier produced 5.5 sacks his junior year, but just half a sack for three yards in the last eight games of Auburn’s 3-9 season. He had two sacks each in nationally-televised close losses to Clemson and LSU. He was tied for fourth in the SEC his sophomore campaign with 9.5 sacks.

On Nov. 4, Lemonier was asked about his mindset regarding his senior year. He would only say “It’s all about performance. It’s self-explanatory. I’m still just trying to focus on the season.”

Lemonier’s 17 career sacks rank tied for seventh in Auburn history.

His departure leaves Dee Ford as Auburn’s most experienced defensive end, under the tutelage of new D-Line coach Rodney Garner. Ford will be joined by Nosa Eguae, Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens.

November 11, 2012

Auburn notes: Chizik believes he can rebuild his team

AUBURN, Ala. — There’s little left for coach Gene Chizik to say in the wake of yet another disheartening loss for Auburn, less than two years removed from reaching the pinnacle of college football.

“I’m just very disappointed we are where we’re at,” Chizik said Sunday afternoon following the Tigers’ 38-0 loss to No. 5 Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “I could belabor the point much more than that, but I think that word is sufficient.”

It was the most lopsided margin in the 116-game history of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. It was also Auburn’s fifth SEC loss of 17 points or more this year, and ninth in the past two seasons since winning the BCS National Championship.

As rumors and reports circulate regarding his job security, Chizik was asked, again, if it’s difficult not to think about his future with the program.

“No, it’s not. Because this isn’t about me,” Chizik said. “Really and truly, I really want to talk about our next football game (Saturday vs. Alabama A&M, a 7-3 FCS squad) and our seniors that it’s their last time.”

Auburn concludes its regular season Nov. 24 in the Iron Bowl at Alabama, just knocked off its No. 1 perch by Texas A&M Saturday. Auburn needs a triumph to avoid its first winless SEC campaign in 32 years and second since 1950.

“It’s embarrassing for the Auburn people, especially in these types of rivalries,” junior defensive end Dee Ford. “It’s hard, but we have to own it.”

Junior defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker gave his coach a vote of confidence Saturday night.

“Can’t say nothing bad about coach Chizik,” he said. “We’re playing hard for each other. Coaches and players.

“The main thing for me that I understand as a young man, is that life is tough,” Whitaker continued. “Walking out here with cancer, that’s tough. Walking out here when a loved one dies, that’s tough. This football deal, of course we take pride in it, but we’re going to rebound from this.”

Asked Sunday if he feels he’s the man to lead this rebuilding project, Chizik said simply, “That’s very accurate.”

Wallace to start again

Chizik confirmed freshman Jonathan Wallace will play quarterback Saturday, making his third career start.

“It’s the equivalent of a rookie starting in the NFL, somewhat,” Chizik said. “He’s in a tough situation. He played against a very effective defense, a very good, very aggressive defense.”

The Central-Phenix City product has completed 31-of-48 passes for 478 yards with three touchdowns against two interceptions.

“Just got to make plays, keeping the guys motivated on our sideline,” Wallace said postgame Saturday. “I’m still not doing things like I want to, but I’m progressing … slowly.”

Practice doesn’t make perfect

Chizik regularly opens his sitdowns with reporters by discussing the just-completed practice, and rarely deters from lauding a good session.

Chizik was requested to detail the difference between good energy and good physical progress in practice.

“When we’re out at practice, and the passion and the energy and them being focused is one thing. The execution of what we do is different,” Chizik said. “There’s been times at practice where the execution has not been up to the level … it needs to be able to compete with the people we’re playing with consistently.

“At practice, when I say we’ve had good practices, I’m looking for everybody to come out there and focus and be into it and practice with energy. But there are times in practice when we don’t execute well. There’s no question.”

Injuries pile up

Junior cornerback Chris Davis (cornerback) was not medically cleared to return until Friday, and junior linebacker Jake Holland (ankle) did not go through a full practice during the week. Both dressed against Georgia, but were only available in case of emergency and did not see action.

Freshman cornerback Josh Holsey suffered a quad injury and freshman receiver Ricardo Louis sustained an undisclosed injury against the Bulldogs. In a mid-week practice, junior defensive end Craig Sanders twisted his ankle during a kickoff return drill, what Chizik deemed a “freak Wednesday night deal.”

The injuries continue to pile up for the Tigers. Offensive guard and outside linebacker are the only individual positions which have not had a man dinged up since the season opener Sept. 1.

“It has been a little bit unique, especially the timing of some of them,” Chizik said. “They all weren’t necessarily game-related. You had guys that were a little bit banged up, but they were trying to push through. That has happened with us several different times.”

October 19, 2012

Pregame Pep Talk, Part II: Oct. 20 X-Factors

Five X-Factors when the Tigers have the ball

#43 Philip Lutzenkirchen, 6-5, 255, sr., TE, Auburn. Anybody see an All-American around here? Somewhere? Anywhere?

#35 Jay Prosch, 6-0, 260, jr., FB, Auburn. The power running game will be the path the Tigers must take to control possession on the road. Obviously, Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason will have to use those fleet feet to move the chains, but it’s in the red zone where Jay Prosch and Blake Burgess can truck defenders in the jumbo package.

#36 Cody Parkey, 6-0, 194, jr., K, Auburn. His only blemish this year was being short on a 49-yard try against Arkansas. He responded with a 46-yarder at Ole Miss which would have been good from 56.

#28 Karl Butler, 6-1, 215, jr., OLB, Vanderbilt. Sets up camp in backfields. Lutzenkirchen, fellow tight end Brandon Fulse and the Tiger tackles need to keep him compromised.

#23 Andre Hal, 6-0, 184, jr., CB, Vanderbilt. Pairs with Trey Wilson to make one of the best cornerback tandems in the league in breaking up passes. Emory Blake has never found a rhythm this year, and Hal will try to keep that trendy.

Five X-Factors when the Commodores have the ball

#2 Zac Stacy, 5-9, 210, sr., RB and #87 Jordan Matthews, 6-3, 205, WR, Vanderbilt. Obvious names, yes. But you know Stacy, approaching the title of Vandy’s all-time leading rusher and ground scorer, and Matthews, one of the SEC’s best receivers in the first half, will want to get a piece of Auburn for bragging rights. Stacy (Centreville) and Matthews (Madison) are each Alabama residents.

#30 Cassanova McKinzy, 6-3, 243, fr., MLB, Auburn. Should get the start tomorrow, and with a week of full reps under his belt, we’ll see if he’s mature enough to handle the heart of Auburn’s defense and make a difference as far as the inconsistency goes.

#13 Craig Sanders, 6-4, 257, jr. and #94 Nosa Eguae, 6-3, 268, jr., DEs, Auburn. If Dee Ford didn’t make the trip or is limited, Sanders and Eguae have to use those high motors to complement Corey Lemonier and plague QB Jordan Rodgers’ comfort level.

Three players you should watch since I can’t be at every game Saturday

#1 Ben Malena, 5-8, 195, jr., RB, Texas A&M. Johnny Manziel’s the leading SEC rusher, so LSU will undoubtedly sell out to contain the freshman. So Malena can take some pressure off by having an efficient game himself.

#3 Collin Klein, 6-5, 226, sr., QB, Kansas State. Is he ready for a prime-time shootout? Because the quarterback on the other sideline, Geno Smith, probably heard all the jawing that he’s no longer the Heisman frontrunner because of one lackluster road performance. Up to Klein to help K-State’s title survive another week.

#7 Jadeveon Clowney, 6-6, 256, so., DE, South Carolina. Kind of an obvious name, but the Gamecocks need a massive effort from their effort to have a chance in the Swamp. That falls on Clowney and linebacker Shaq Wilson.

-AB