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July 19, 2013

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee hopes to know starting quarterback by mid-August (UPDATED w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — If things turn out the way offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee hopes, Auburn will know who its starting quarterback will be a few weeks into fall camp.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee met with media members on Friday to discuss the Tigers' quarterback battle heading into the fall along with other topics.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee met with media members on Friday to discuss the Tigers’ quarterback battle heading into the fall along with other topics.

But the Tigers won’t come to a decision until they are sure they have settled on the right person for the job — simply put, the player who gives the team the best chance at winning. Lashlee said there was “no cutoff line” as far as when as when the starter will be named.

“We have on our mind a date that, ‘Hey, we’d like to know by now,'” Lashlee said on Friday. “As quick as we can make that decision, we’re going to make it. When it becomes evident that this is the individual that needs to lead our football team and gives us the best chance to win, I don’t think you wait.”

In Lashlee’s best-case scenario, one of the four candidates for the position — junior Kiehl Frazier, sophomore Jonathan Wallace, junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson — will set himself apart from the others early on. That way, the starter will get a chance to build a rapport with his teammates.

“You give your team as much time leading up to that first game as you can to develop continuity,” Lashlee said, “and give them all the reps with the right guys.”

Since all four players are able to create plays with their feet, Lashlee said making them go “live” in practice and available for defenders to bring down won’t play a major factor in distancing one candidate from another. Lashlee echoed head coach Gus Malzahn in noting that with each member of the quartet equally “capable of winning the job,” discerning among them won’t be easy.

Because of that, Lashlee said it’s on him to “get creative” in divvying up the reps between them.

“That’s probably the one thing that will be somewhat challenging, because they’re all going to get reps,” he said. “But are they getting enough reps, and enough reps of things we need to see them doing?”

Lashlee wouldn’t rule out possibly going into the season with a two-quarterback system, either. However, he did emphasize it is both he and Malzahn’s preference to settle on one quarterback.

“At the same time, we’re going to do what gives us the best chance to win, and if it’s a two-quarterback system, then so be it,” Lashlee said. “But that’s not necessarily what we’re looking for right now. We’re looking for the one person who can lead our football team, protect the football and win football games.”

Being able to run the “Wildcat” effectively won’t figure into the decision, especially given the amount of former high school quarterbacks on Auburn’s roster. Lashlee gave a few examples, highlighting receiver Marcus Davis.

“What you do like is guys who either have played quarterback before, like a Kodi Burns did, or guys who have handled the ball a lot before, because you know you can trust them,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. We’re going to put a guy back there, but he’s got to be a playmaker and he’s got to be able to protect the football if you’re going to snap it to him.”

And while it’s the option of last resort, Lashlee said the Tigers would wait until the week before the season opener against Washington State to make an announcement on the starting quarterback if they have to.

“You’ll do that because I think the most important thing is getting it right,” he said. “If you get it right, then everything else will fall into place. What you don’t want to do is try to rush to get it done so quick that you get it wrong.”

Lashlee: Tigers’ receivers ‘need to step up and start making plays’

During SEC Media Days earlier this week, Malzahn said finding a “go-to” receiver was one of the team’s biggest goals during fall camp, the quarterback battle notwithstanding. Lashlee reiterated that sentiment on Friday, saying that the Tigers’ receivers need one player to make a move to the top of the class.

“Look, let’s just be honest,” Lashlee said. “We need Sammie Coates, we need Jaylon Denson, we need Ricardo Louis and those guys to step up and start making plays. And Ricardo and Sammie are younger, but it’s time to step up. And then you’ve got Jaylon, you’ve got Quan (Bray), Trovon (Reed), (guys) that have been here that are all going to be juniors. It’s time for them to step up and start making plays, too.”

While still searching for a lead receiver, Lashlee felt comfortable with the depth of the unit, despite 2013 signee Earnest Robinson not qualifying academically and the status of another potential freshman, Jason Smith, still up in the air. “Nine or 10 true receivers” was what Lashlee was hoping to have on this season’s roster, but counting players like Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah, the Tigers won’t be lacking for receiving options.

“We’re obviously trying to sign enough young men in this class to get us to where we need to be numbers-wise,” he said. “But I feel good about having guys like (Fulse and Uzomah), who can make plays with their hand down in the backfield or split out. That helps us with wide receiver numbers.”

Lashlee not worried about rule change on spiking ball

Steve Shaw, the SEC’s coordinator for officiating, went over some alterations to the rulebook which have occurred during the offseason on Wednesday.

One of those changes involves a quarterback spiking the ball late in games. Under the new rules, at least three seconds will have to be remaining on the game clock when a quarterback spikes the ball for another play to be allowed. But if a quarterback spikes the ball with two seconds or less in an attempt to create another “set” play, officials would be required to disallow it, which would end the game in the process.

Lashlee was not bothered by the move, saying that getting the new rule into his quarterbacks’ heads would be as easy as teaching a new offensive wrinkle.

“That’s our job to coach them up,” he said. ” … Rules like that are nothing we have to do that no one else has to do, too.”

July 17, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 2: Gus Malzahn address quarterback situation, stresses need for ‘go-to’ receiver

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


Auburn coach Gus Malzahn addressed various topics regarding the Tigers on Day 2 of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.


HOOVER, Ala. Gus Malzahn spent a lot of his time at the podium on Wednesday discussing Auburn’s quarterbacks.

Not that it should come as any surprise given the unsettled nature of the position for the Tigers, as four different players are vying for the open spot. Two are players who started games for Auburn last year in junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace. The other two are new additions to the program in junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson.

Malzahn refused to play favorites, saying the coaching staff enters preseason camp with “an open mind.”

“Any time you’re going to have four guys, that’s definitely a concern,” he said on Day 2 of Southeastern Conference Media Days. “I felt very strong we knew about the two guys in spring, but I wanted to give those two new guys a fair chance. We’ll be doing things a little bit different in fall camp early, and hopefully one of those guys will emerge sooner rather than later.”

Identifying who the starter will be is the team’s “No. 1 priority” heading into the fall, according to Malzahn. The coach also said he plans “to be as honest” as possible with all the quarterbacks to let them know where they stand in the race, whether that means daily, weekly or bi-weekly updates. One thing Malzahn refused to accept was making a rash decision.

“The No. 1 thing we need to do is make sure that we’re right,” he said.

Malzahn: Tigers seeking a lead receiver

Emory Blake was the unquestioned “go-to” option at wideout last season, and the numbers bear it out. Blake account for a staggering 42 percent of the Tigers’ receiving yardage, tallying 789 of the team’s 1,879 yards.

Malzahn said it was imperative Auburn finds someone to fill the void left by Blake.

“We’ve got to have somebody step up and be a go-to guy, somebody that wants the ball on third down, wants the ball when the game is on the line,” he said. “In the spring we tried to put them in as many situations as we can, and at times, all guys responded. But somebody has got to emerge.”

Quick hitters

Malzahn confirmed that Class of 2013 receiver signee Earnest Robinson is planning on enrolling in junior college. Malzahn said the status of another possible junior college enrollee, Jason Smith, “is still up in the air.” …  All returning players should be healthy and ready to start preseason practice Aug. 2, Malzahn said. The only question mark is defensive end Keymiya Harrell. “Harrell is a guy that we’ll see as we go, but things are looking pretty good right now.”

July 13, 2013

7 at 7: Looking back on a newsworthy Friday for Tigers, along with assorted other links

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


Hope everyone used Friday to recover from the absurdity that was the “Sharknado” phenomenon on Thursday night.

I was one of about six people in the country who didn’t catch it — the low-budget film did draw in 1.4 million viewers, after all — but it was impossible to avoid on Twitter. Being a fan of campy flicks, I should have tuned in; however, I got preoccupied working on content for War Eagle Extra, and by the time I noticed it had started, it was too late. I’m not into joining a movie if I can’t see it from the beginning.sharknado

No worries, though. If there’s one thing Syfy knows how to do, it’s run something into the ground. I’ll catch one of the repeats bound to occur in the coming weeks and months.

But enough about “Sharknado.”

You’ll note today’s “7 at 7″ has a different look in that it’s a more “traditional” links article. Little-to-no analysis by me. Just a line or two and a link.

Call it “7 at 7: The Abridged Version.”

(This won’t turn into a habit, as “7 at 7″ will return to its normal length on Sunday.)

1. If you weren’t able to stop by War Eagle Extra on Friday, you missed a busy day. There were two more previews of Auburn’s 2013 opponents (Ole Miss and Western Carolina) as well as coach Gus Malzahn’s induction into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Friday night, it was reported that 2013 signee Earnest Robinson, a receiver out of Pinson Valley High School in Alabama, had failed to qualify academically and will not join the Tigers this fall.

2. AL.com’s Brandon Marcello finished his series looking back at Malzahn’s high school coaching career in Arkansas, coinciding with his hall of fame induction on Friday night.

3. Auburn’s secondary intercepted just one pass last season. Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com explains how the Tigers plan to change that this fall.

4. Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report’s lead SEC football writer, had a pair of Auburn-related posts on Friday, writing why Class of 2014 signal-caller Brandon Harris would be a match made in heaven for the Tigers and why Arkansas should roll the dice with former Tigers running back Michael Dyer (but won’t).

5. Check out this great feature from The Baltimore Sun on one of the best players in baseball this season, the Orioles’ Chris “Crush” Davis.

6. Item No. 6 is once again reserved for a trio of figures who only seem to make headlines for stupid things they say or do: Suspended LSU running back Jeremy Hill, suspended Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson and former Ohio State president Gordon Gee.

7. Should you ever have to survive a bear attack, check out the handy video below, courtesy of NBC 10 in Providence, R.I. You have to give the reporter, Julie Tremmel, props for the amount of overacting she put into her role. Forget the Emmys. This is Oscars-type stuff.

2013 WR signee Earnest Robinson fails to qualify academically

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


According to multiple reports floating around Friday night, one receiver from Auburn’s 2013 recruiting class won’t be on the team this fall.

As first reported by Auburn’s Scout.com (AUTigers.com), Rivals.com (AuburnSports.com) and 247 (AuburnUndercover.com) sites, four-star prospect Earnest Robinson failed to qualify academically. In light of this revelation, Robinson will reportedly enroll at East Mississippi Junior College in Scooba, Miss. Robinson had 51 receptions for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Pinson Valley High School in Pinson, Ala. During his prep career, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver reeled in 106 catches for 1,976 yards and 33 touchdowns.

Robinson is the second of the Tigers’ 24 signees in 2013 to fail to meet academic requirements. Jason Smith, a skilled athlete who played at quarterback for McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile, Ala., and won MVP honors at the Alabama-Mississippi High School All-Star Classic last December as a receiver, will enroll at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia this fall.

April 26, 2013

WHAT DID WE LEARN? Auburn running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-backs

Auburn Spring Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – This is the first of a three-part series through Monday, revisiting the past month in Auburn spring football and taking stock of valuable developments.

Adopting the style of WarEagleExtra.com’s popular “7 at 7” features, let’s go through seven bullet points of what you need to know about the Tigers’ running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and H-Backs.

We learned, in general, that “starter” is a technical title and little more in this offense. Tre Mason should be the No. 1 guy, but Cameron Artis-Payne will get serious carries, and maybe Corey Grant too. Brandon Fulse has been the preferred first-team tight end, but it’s impossible to believe CJ Uzomah won’t be heavily involved in the passing game, and Jay Prosch must be used as a utility blocker. Receivers? Jaylon Denson and Trovon Reed seem to have the edge as starters, with Quan Bray right there with them. But the coaches love Ricardo Louis, and Sammie Coates should get his shot as well.

Whew. That’s eleven names for five spots.


We learned if you dare traipse in his way, Cameron Artis-Payne will seek you out and run you over. The video of CAP destroying T.J. Davis in a high-tempo spring scrimmage speaks volumes.


Brandon Fulse, Trovon ReedWe learned Rhett Lashlee has a long memory. “I keep using the analogy of the first year we were here we had a guy who only had three catches in his career and had 60 in our first year,” the 29-year-old offensive coordinator said Friday, for about the third time this spring. Check out this chart:

2008: WR Darvin Adams 3 rec, 18 yards; WR Terrell Zachery 2 rec, 24 yards; RB Mario Fannin 20 rec, 223 yards, 2 TD; RB Eric Smith, 2 rec, 3 yards

2009: Adams 60 rec, 997 yards, 10 TD; Zachery 26 rec, 477 yards, 5 TD; Fannin 42 rec, 413 yards, 3 TD; Smith 17 rec, 219 yards, TD

Of course, 2009 was the first year of the Gus Malzahn-guided offense, first year of Gene Chizik as head coach, first year of Trooper Taylor as wide receivers coach and first year of young Lashlee – just 26 at the time – serving as offensive graduate assistant.

By the way, Adams and Zachery weren’t one-year wonders; they combined for 96 grabs and nearly 1,600 yards in the 2010 championship season. It’s not just about this year, it’s laying groundwork for the future.

Why is all this relevant?

2012: WR Quan Bray 14 rec, 94 yards; WR Trovon Reed 9 rec, 122 yards, TD; TE CJ Uzomah 7 rec, 136 yards, TD; RB Tre Mason 7 rec, 86 yards; WR Sammie Coates 6 rec, 114 yards, 2 TD; WR Ricardo Louis 3 rec, 36 yards; WR Jaylon Denson 1 rec, 12 yards (!!!!), TE Brandon Fulse 1 rec, 8 yards.

Team stats – 2008: 184 rec, 1985 yards, 7 pass TD … 2012: 147 rec, 1879 yards, 8 pass TD.

Team stats – 2009: 218 rec, 2857 yards, 25 pass TD … 2013: Stay tuned.


We learned we might not have our finger on how Uzomah and Prosch will be utilized. Those were two of the three green-jersey guys from Day 1 due to their strength and conditioning prowess (along with defensive tackle Gabe Wright), but they were often running with the second unit in media windows (and sometimes not at all.) We never heard specifically of injury issues, but Uzomah had just one catch for 20 yards on A-Day – for the blue squad – and Prosch registered no stats, albeit as the starting first-team H-Back.



We learned Corey Grant is quietly humble, but won’t shy away from the challenge of Tre Mason; a guy who last fall didn’t actually say “Gimme the ball” but basically, yeah, said “No, seriously, gimme the ball.”

“It is important – knowing he has that mentality, you’ve got to come with that mentality also to fight for position, fight for reps, fight for carries,” Grant said. “Overall, it will help the team if you have that mentality.”


We learned Brandon Fulse should be taken seriously as a starting skill player. Because when coaches returning to their old school and re-teaching their unique system say things like “that’s what we recruited so-and-so for,” it’s significant.

“That’s what we recruited Brandon Fulse for: for that position standing up, doing a lot of dirty work, a very physical blocker,” Malzahn said Tuesday. “The very first year, we lost Eric Smith, and so he had to do a lot of the H-Back stuff that Eric Smith did. He’s finally coming into his own at the position we recruited him for.”


We learned Marcus Davis, Earnest Robinson, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker should be ready to compete from the time they get here. Because those five returning wide receivers hardly distinguished themselves. There are playing reps to be had.

March 18, 2013

OLD SCHOOL: Rebuilding Auburn WRs, former Tigers QB Dameyune Craig preaches consistency on and off the football field


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – One day, Dameyune Craig forced himself out of bed to run a few miles as a morning wake-up call. The first time, the second and third and fourth and fifth, they were challenging.

“When I first started off, I had to be consistent,” Craig said. “Now I’m used to it.”

Distance running is a skill and hobby of Craig’s, but it’s not his full-time craft. His is coaching, educating, and mentoring the wide receivers at his alma mater Auburn, a crew of highly-touted young products who largely underachieved in 2012.

Chat live with WarEagleExtra.com’s Aaron Brenner, Thursday 3 p.m. ET

Craig also has four incoming freshmen he convinced to follow him to the Plains – it took two tries, but head coach Gus Malzahn pried Craig away from Florida State to become the Tigers’ co-offensive coordinator.

Consistency, willpower, accountability … these aren’t tangible skills taught and learned in a few practice sessions. Craig refuses to preach the same values day after day – he insists on making it a mindset, swearing to be great no matter what.

“It starts off the field: every day when you wake up, what’s the first thing you do? Brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair,” Craig said. “If you do it every day, you’ll become consistent. We want to become consistent doing the small things. If you do the little things right, you go to class every day, it becomes a habit.

“We don’t talk about being consistent; we just make it happen.”

Craig’s former program is a model of consistency – Florida State has the nation’s longest active streak of consecutive winning seasons (35), bowl appearances (31) and bowl victories (5), capped by its 31-10 Orange Bowl domination over Northern Illinois the night of New Year’s Day.

Dameyune CraigTwo days later, Craig, 38, was wooed to Auburn, where he was a two-year starting quarterback in 1996-97. He still remembers idolizing Bo Jackson, Tracy Rocker, Reggie Slack and Stan White among others, primarily for their work ethic.

“I’m from the old school,” Craig said. “They were hard-nosed guys. They were talented, but they worked hard. My first day of practice here, I would see guys running 100-yard sprints after they got the ball. I was like, ‘wow, I’ve got to pick it up.’ So I understood from day one what it took to be an Auburn Tiger.”

That unwavering commitment to greatness may have, well, wavered in previous years, allowing the unthinkable to unfold – embarrassing losses to Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 167 points.

The new staff, adamantly, isn’t concerned with recent history. Ancient history, however, helped mold Dameyune Craig, who won the Independence and Peach Bowls his junior and senior year, as well as the 1997 SEC Western Division crown.

“I think what we always hung our hat on here: we outworked everybody,” Craig said. “We felt like going into the game, that week, nobody had worked harder than us in the offseason, and during the week, and we felt good about the game. That’s what we’ve got to get back.

“So I’ve got to work these guys as hard as I can so when they step on that field, they feel like they’ve prepared because you’ve outworked everybody you’re going to face.”

One step in the process is complete: landing signed letters of intent from four-star receiver Tony Stevens from Orlando, his high school teammate Dominic Walker, fellow Floridian Marcus Davis and in-state product Earnest Robinson. Another commit from Alabama, Jason Smith, could eventually play receiver, though he’ll start his career working at quarterback.

It’s the Tigers’ greatest position of need; no returning receiver had more than 14 catches in 2012.

“We met the demands,” Craig said. “We got the guy who attacks you deep, we got the guy that stretches you horizontally and we got the guy who makes you miss and stretches the field vertically. Everything we wanted, we hit on all of (it.)”

When Craig joined new head coach Jimbo Fisher’s staff in December 2009, the Seminoles had just sent Bobby Bowden into retirement with a 7-6 season. The program was still on sound footing, but far away from its heyday in the 1990s with 14 consecutive double-digit win seasons.

“It was a shock to me when I stepped on that campus and saw the talent level that was there, what we had to work with and where we had to go,” Craig said. “But we turned it around really, really quick – because we were able to go out to get some great football players that bought into the system, trusted the coaches.”

Fisher, of course, was Auburn’s quarterbacks coach from 1993-98 under Terry Bowden. The coaching tree has branched its way back to Auburn, and Craig is fixated on restoring Auburn to its customary levels of success.

“My coaching style and expectations won’t change for these guys,” Craig said. “I am who I am. It’s ingrained in me. We gotta make them do it, or we gotta find somebody that can. Those are the only two options.”

February 7, 2013

THREE-HEADED MONSTER: Auburn hauls in Adams, Daniel, Lawson to beef up D-Line


AUBURN, Ala. — The moment Montravius Adams clutched a bear paw around an orange-brimmed Auburn University ball cap and placed it over his dreads, the dozens of officials anxiously watching in the War Eagle Conference room did their part to wake the neighbors.

Hoots and hollers, high-fives and hysterics, fist bumps all around.

“Give me some more of that,” an ear-to-ear grinning Gus Malzahn implored to right-hand-man Rodney Garner, a man who earned his paycheck (and then some) Wednesday morning. “God, that’s big.”

That was the goal: get bigger on defense. Stronger. Meaner.

Mission accomplished on national signing day, when Auburn settled in at around the back end of the top ten on most recruiting services’ class of 2013 team rankings by welcoming in 20 signees Wednesday (joining three early enrollees from January.)

That’s an impressive feat, considering Malzahn, Garner and their new colleagues had barely two months to convince blue-chip prospects to come play for a 3-9 squad and a new staff.

“I tell you what, it was a great feeling when he put on that Auburn hat,” Malzahn said. “That was a special feeling. Coach Garner’s had a relationship with him a long time. They’re extremely close.

“Everybody in the country was wanting him. But when he got home to Auburn — he loved Auburn before. When he came back on, he said, ‘I still feel the same way.’ So that was a very exciting moment this morning.”

Adams was the pleasant surprise of the morning, a five-star defensive tackle from Dooly County, Ga., who just as easily could have picked home-state Georgia, first love Clemson, or defending champion and Auburn nemesis Alabama.

“I love the coaches there, I love the players there, and it’s just the place that I think I want to be,” Adams said after announcing his decision on ESPNU’s daylong coverage.

There was more welcome news at the crack of dawn, when four-star defensive end Elijah Daniel’s name was on the first signed national letter of intent to emerge from the fax machine. Daniel had been committed to Ole Miss since Jan. 20, and was previously a Clemson pledge as well.

“It was a real tough decision. It was, like, late last night I was deciding,” Daniel said. “(I loved) their track record, Coach Garner’s track record, the players they’re welcoming in, and Auburn’s good people.”

AUBURN FOOTBALLThrow in Auburn holding serve by retaining summer verbal Carl Lawson — considered the nation’s top prospect not named Robert Nkemdiche — and Garner just landed three fresh-faced toys to play with next fall in the form of two 250-pound pass-rushers and a 310-pound run-stuffer.

“Coach Garner’s a great coach, and he’s going to have three guys that have a chance to help us immediately,” Malzahn said. “I know Coach Garner’s extremely excited.”

No, there’s no Dee Liner — he’s off to Alabama, just like Reuben Foster — but this is one heck of a D-Line.

“Y’all know in this league, you win on the offensive and defensive lines, and the defensive line was a focus,” Malzahn said. “The three guys we have, we feel like are three of the best in the entire country.”

Daniel was one of six total Auburn signees who were flipped from other schools. Running back Peyton Barber (Ole Miss), offensive lineman Deon Mix (Mississippi State), receiver Tony Stevens (Florida State, Texas A&M), receiver Dominic Walker (Nebraska) and safety Khari Harding (Arkansas) all were pledged elsewhere before ending up officially agreeing to play on the Plains.

Out of nine verbal commits who had stayed true to the program since before Gene Chizik’s firing Nov. 25 — a group that contains Lawson — eight stayed true to their word, including in-state quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith, receiver Earnest Robinson, linebacker Cameron Toney and cornerback Kamryn Melton.

The only last-minute defector was defensive end Tashawn Bower, who ended up at LSU. But given the embarrassment of riches now at that position, it barely even mattered.

“We’ve got to have pass rushers. We’ve got to put pressure on the quarterback without blitzing,” said Malzahn, identifying one of many 2012 bugaboos. “I feel like the defensive ends can do that.”

Of course, recruiting rankings are only as good as the hard work the incoming freshmen put into their college careers. But Malzahn mandated he filled all the Tigers’ needs — especially along the defensive line.

“They wouldn’t have signed Adams without Garner. Wouldn’t have happened,” said AuburnSports.com managing editor Justin Hokanson, a Rivals recruiting analyst. “I think Adams had a great relationship with the other staff, and they had a really good shot of getting him, but when that staff left, I gave them basically no shot, even going into his visit.”

“But Garner came through huge.”


February 6, 2013

The Class of 2013: Auburn signees list, with stories, Twitter handles and game tape … plus what Gus Malzahn said about each player


GUS MALZAHN Opening Statement, Feb. 6:

“It’s been a great day. I’m very excited about this class. We’ve signed 23 so far in this class. Really feel like we accomplished that. Really like to compliment our staff; they did a wonderful job on a short period of time. A new staff coming in – we had a lot of obstacles as far as trying to develop relationships and a lot of different things. Anytime you come in and you don’t retain anybody from the previous staff and you have a lot of commitments, there’s a lot of things that go with that and I’m extremely excited and pleased with our staff.”

AUBURN CLASS OF 2013 SIGNEES (all star ratings via Fox Sports/Scout.com)

Early Enrollees

4* RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Harrisburg, Pa.) | Allan Hancock CC | 5-11, 215
The No. 1 juco back in the country, per 247Sports, rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 TDs in 10 games last fall. Ideal Tre Mason complement
Story: Tigers ink top JUCO RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Twitter: @ThaRealKillaCam
Malzahn says: “A big, physical runner. Really think he’s going to provide some very good depth, and I think he’ll be a very good player for us.”


3* OG Devonte Danzey (Tampa, Fla.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 303
The No. 1 juco guard in the country, per 247Sports, could compete right away for one open spot along the Tigers’ line
Story: Tigers unwrap another junior college present; Devonte Danzey, the nation’s top available OG
Malzahn says: “We needed some help at center and at guard, and I feel like he’ll have a chance to help us immediately.”


4* DT Ben Bradley (Norcross, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-3, 310
Followed Danzey to the Plains, where both are already enrolled and prepping for spring practice
Brief: Defensive tackle Ben Bradley gives Auburn a third juco prospect
Twitter: @IamAmbition98
Malzahn says: “We needed depth up front, and this guy is very athletic and very strong.”

Wednesday signees, listed in chronological order of received national letter of intent

4* DE Elijah Daniel (Avon, Ind.) | Avon HS | 6-4, 250
Flipped from Ole Miss to Auburn, the Tigers’ first fax Wednesday
Story: Elijah Daniel, Tony Stevens first to fax signed letters to Auburn
Twitter: @ElijahDaniel6
Malzahn says: “He was our first commit of the day. Pass rushing was one of our big needs and this guy can really do it. Had a relationship with Rodney Garner that goes way back. He signed this morning and we’re tickled to death to have him.”


4* WR Tony Stevens (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-4, 184
Receptions by Auburn receivers taller than 6-2 in 2012; one, by 6-3 Jaylon Denson. Previously a Florida State and Texas A&M verbal
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @TS8_NewEra
Malzahn says: “He’s a big, tall wide receiver. He’s got tremendous skills, he’s s kick returner. Dameyune Craig did a wonderful job with him – had a previous relationship, and he has a chance to be an impact player.”


3* WR Dominic Walker (Orlando, Fla.) | Evans HS | 6-2, 194
Flipping Stevens paved the way to pair him with Walker, giving the Tigers’ pass-catchers some much-needed depth
Story: Auburn beefs up WR depth, flipping its second Orlando Evans prospect
Twitter: @DW_SHOWTIME4
Malzahn says: “(Tony’s) teammate. 6-2, 195, a big, physical, fast guy that really feel like he’ll have a chance to be that special type player and once again Dameyune recruited him also.”


3* WR Marcus Davis (Delray Beach, Fla.) | American Heritage HS | 5-10, 175
Once upon a time, Emory Blake was an underrated slot receiver prospect. Davis looks to pave the same path
Story: 3-star Marcus Davis on board
Twitter: @Marcus_davis1
Malzahn says: “He is a quarterback from Delray Beach, Florida and he is going to play like a slot receiver for us. We’ve had a lot of success with former quarterbacks. He has running back skills and he’s a really good kid, smart kid. We’re excited about him.”


3* CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.) | Dothan HS | 5-10, 170
A similar mold as Auburn rookie Jonathan Jones, perhaps a special teams contributor right away
Story: Auburn adds fifth commitment for the 2013 recruiting class
Twitter: @_NoFlyZoneMelt
Malzahn says: “I want to say this about all of the guys that hung in there with us, specifically the defensive guys, because we didn’t have great relationships. We knew a lot of the offensive guys because I was here before and some of our staff, but really appreciate Kamryn, he’s got a wonderful family and really think he’ll be a very good player for us.”


3* RB Peyton Barber (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 5-10, 210
Flipped to Auburn from Ole Miss during the Super Bowl, making two poaches from the Rebels today
Story: Super seal: RB Peyton Barber to Auburn
Malzahn says: “He’s a guy that we started recruiting when we first got here. He was committed to another school, he got hurt his junior year and this past year has a phenomenal year and I really feel like if he hasn’t got hurt his junior year he’d be one of those top-type guys. He is a very strong, fast individual. We’re very excited about Peyton.”


3* QB Nick Marshall (Pineview, Ga.) | Garden City CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 210
A major point of intrigue going into the spring. He swears the coaches have promised him a shot in the starting quarterback derby
Story: “The best athlete I’ve ever seen”: ex-Georgia CB Nick Marshall plans to sign as Auburn QB
Twitter: @NicMarshall7
Malzahn says: “He is one of three quarterbacks that we took. We felt like that was definitely a need as far as depth was concerned. He’s a great athlete. He’s one of those impact players, throws the ball extremely well, has a very strong arm, feel like he can come in here and give us a chance right of the bat.”


5* DE Carl Lawson (Alpharetta, Ga.) | Milton HS | 6-3, 251
ESPN tabs him the No. 2 overall prospect in the country. Auburn kept him on board over Clemson and Tennessee
Story: Carl Lawson tweet: “I am an Auburn Tiger”
Twitter: @CarlCarltp (protected account)
Malzahn says: “I really felt like he’s one of the keys to this class. H hung in there with us. When a lot of guys went South, or went other ways, opened stuff up, he hung in there with us and he provided the stability I really feel like on the defensive side specifically, to have the class that we did. He’s a phenomenal player, a phenomenal person. He’s an Auburn person, he loves Auburn and his family loves Auburn.”


3* S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.) | Santa Fe HS | 6-1, 205
After committing to Arkansas, changed his mind following an official visit. DC Ellis Johnson needs more safety options
Story: Auburn snatches two verbal commits from SEC rivals, loses RB
Twitter: @5numerocinco5
Malzahn says: “A safety from Oklahoma. One of the bigger hitting safeties I’ve seen come out of high school. He’s vicious guy, we need some depth at safety. He’ll have a chance to come in and contribute early.”


4* QB Jeremy Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.) | Carver HS | 6-5, 215
The centerpiece of this class; maybe not the highest-rated, but the most valuable player recruiter and face of the future
Story: Four-star quarterback Jeremy Johnson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Twitter: @MRSUPER6A
Malzahn says: “I’m going to say the same thing about Jeremy as I did Carl. He was kind of one of the centerpieces offensively. Me and coach Lashlee already had a relationship with him but you really hung in there with us. He helped us recruit and really provided a lot of stability on the offensive side. Once again, he loves Auburn.”


4* WR Earnest Robinson (Pinson, Ala.) | Pinson Valley HS | 6-2, 200
Fielded offers from Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State. Dameyune Craig was likely instrumental in keeping E-Rob’s word
Story: Four-star receiver Earnest Robinson commits to Auburn for the 2013 class
Malzahn says: “He’s been committed to us a long time. I actually recruited him when he was a sophomore and have a great relationship with him. Think the world of Earnest; he hung in there with us too during the change.”


3* LB Kenny Flowers (Lilburn, Ga.) | Hutchinson CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 228
Count ‘em, the third Hutchinson alum and fifth overall commit from a Kansas junior college. Must tackle well to play
Story: Six-pack of jucos committed to Tigers
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at linebacker that could come in immediately and help. This guy is a very physical, hard-nosed type player and coach Johnson did a great job recruiting him.”


3* LB Cameron Toney (Huntsville, Ala.) | Huntsville HS | 6-2, 225
Former DC Brian VanGorder always wanted a bigger, stronger defense. Toney will help that cause
Story: Huntsville linebacker Cameron Toney commits to Auburn on A-Day
Twitter: @CToney47
Malzahn says: “He was committed before, very good kid, he hung in there with us, and I think he’ll have a chance to be a really good player.”


4* QB Jason Smith (Mobile, Ala.) | McGill Toolen HS | 6-1, 180
A standout quarterback in high school, but proved he’s got the hands of a receiver at the AL-MS All-Star Classic in December
Story: Quarterback, 4-star athlete Jason Smith commits to Auburn
Twitter: @JasonQB_7
Malzahn says: “He’s electric. MVP of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He’s got phenomenal skills. He can do a lot of different things. We’re very excited about Jason.”


4* OL Deon Mix (Batesville, Miss.) | South Panola HS | 6-4, 315
HS coach says his best football is yet to come; the only high school offensive lineman in this class so far
Malzahn says: “An offensive lineman we really just started recruiting seriously about a week ago. Coach Melvin Smith had a great relationship with him. He was the only offensive lineman we took today other than junior college. He is a big, road-grating type of offensive lineman that coach Grimes likes to have.”


3* S Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.) | Immokalee HS | 6-0, 195
Auburn couldn’t quite land the two-man brother package of Mackenro and 5-star Mackensie, who’s off to Clemson
Malzahn says: “A DB from Florida. This is a kid we feel like has very big upside. He is a tough, smart kid that can run. He’s a very good tackler we think he will definitely provide us some help in the secondary.”


3* S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.) | Highland CC (Kan.) | 6-2, 215
If he can prove a sticky tackler, King will make it difficult for coaches to keep him on the sideline
Twitter: @_KING205
Malzahn says: “We felt like we needed some depth at safety, some guys that can come in immediately and play. He’s a very hard-nosed, physical type of player, so we’re excited about him.”


5* DT Montravius Adams (Vienna, Ga.) | Dooly County HS | 6-4, 310
The surprise coup of the class, pairs with Lawson to make a beastly defensive front of the future
Story: Adams down to final four
Malzahn says: “I think this is going to be is my eighth year to coach college – I don’t know if I’ve seen a bigger, athletic guy than him. I really feel like the sky’s the limit with him. Coach Rodney Garner had a great relationship with him, that really helped get him here. He’s a very good person with a great family.”


3* K Daniel Carlson (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Classical Academy | 6-5, 195
ESPN’s top-ranked kicker in the class, should take over for Cody Parkey in 2014
Story: Tigers land second top-flight kicker for the 2013 class in Daniel Carlson
Malzahn says: “He hung in there with us through two special teams coaches. Really appreciate him doing that. He’s got a very big leg, and he’ll be a very good kicker for us.”


4* RB Johnathan Ford (New Hope, Ala.) | New Hope HS | 5-11, 190
All of a sudden, Auburn is positively LOADED at running back
Twitter: @rudythebeast5
Malzahn says: “Very good running back. He’s got a lot of different skills. He’s not only a good runner, but he can catch the ball out of the backfield, and he loves Auburn. His family loves Auburn, so we’re very excited to have him.”

February 5, 2013

‘True colors': Proud day for Toney, Johnson, and the nine commits who stuck with Auburn

AUBURN, Ala. — Cameron Toney had his convictions. The linebacker from Huntsville, Ala. knew why he was all in on Auburn.

Not because of Gene Chizik. Not because of Brian VanGorder or a particular defensive scheme.

Because it’s Auburn.

“Before I committed,” said Toney, who did so in April 2012, “I always told myself, pick a school that you’ll fall in love with, not just for football. Auburn’s all about family, the student section, the atmosphere, and also the education, most importantly. I didn’t commit because of a coach or coaching staff.”

Neither did eight other players who originally said ‘yes’ to Chizik and his staff, but will end the long wait by signing their national letters of intent today to play for Gus Malzahn and his assistants.

LIVE CHAT: Get all-day updates Wednesday

Quarterback Jeremy Johnson. Defensive end Carl Lawson. Skilled athletes Earnest Robinson, Jason Smith and Tashawn Bower — they all had to hear Malzahn and company convince them to stick around.

“I just see more discipline in this new coaching staff,” Toney said. “More discipline than the last one.”

It’s not always an easy task, to be told twice by two different voices to stick with the same decision.

“Yeah, you would think the kids would pick the school for more about the school and just one or two coaches, or even the team,” said Chad Simmons, Fox Sports/Scout.com national recruiting analyst.

“But all these kids dream about playing in the NFL, so they go to these schools thinking that this quarterbacks coach or that defensive scheme can help me get to that elite level.”

Therefore, Simmons continued, any new coaching staff — and Auburn wasn’t alone in the SEC, with Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee also in transition — has an uphill battle to climb.

“The head coach has to show the kid and the family they’re still the perfect fit, the perfect environment for them,” Simmons said. “It’s a tough job when a coach comes in early- to mid-December and really only has six weeks to really build that relationship that some schools have had for two or three years.”

The process was especially confusing for a guy like five-star defensive tackle Montravius Adams, who saved his final official visit for Auburn this past weekend.

“I got close to both coaching staffs — I probably was a little closer to the last one, because I’ve been over here and I met them a lot,” Adams said. “But I like (this) coaching staff.”

Adams’ interest in Auburn was saved by new associate head coach Rodney Garner, who was close with Adams when recruiting him to Georgia on the other side of Christmas.

“Yeah, I think anytime a completely new staff comes in, you’re going to play catch-up,” Malzahn said Jan. 19. “But our coaching staff’s done a great job of identifying the guys and really recruiting them hard, so I’m very pleased.”

Knowing he couldn’t be wavered, Toney began his own recruitment efforts — trying to keep this class together and strengthen the group much as possible.

“There’s a couple guys I know that committed to Auburn just because of the coaching staff,” Toney said. “But I always told them, college football is a business, they come and go … you never know, this might be the best thing. Everything happens for a reason, and a coaching change could help in the long run.”

It didn’t work on everybody. It never does.

Half the Auburn class of commits the morning of Nov. 25 are expected to sign somewhere else, as linebacker Reuben Foster, defensive tackle Dee Liner and seven others decided to withdraw their commitment.

So there will be a certain sense of pride for Toney, Johnson and the others when they affirm their wire-to-wire commitment, through thick and thin, with pen to paper.

“The true colors come out when things go wrong, when things go bad,” Toney said. “And the nine guys that stayed committed are letting their true colors come out.”