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August 31, 2013

Auburn football: Last-minute notes prior to kickoff

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — You’ve heard just about everything there is to know about Auburn’s season opener.

The Tigers will try to run the ball a lot. Their opponent, the Washington State Cougars, will take to the air early and often.

Now, the only thing left is kickoff.

Here are a few last-minute notes before the Tigers’ finally begin their 2013 season:

  • A few changes to the starting lineup for the Tigers: Robenson Therezie will start in place of Justin Garrett at the hybrid safety/linebacker “Star” position. Another change on defense has Columbus native Gabe Wright replacing Jeffrey Whitaker at tackle.
  • Washington State had some lineup alterations, too: Marcus Mason will start at running  ahead of Teondray Caldwell, while Cyrus Coen will start at “Sam” linebacker. Also, safety Isaac Dotson will don jersey No. 36 instead of No. 31 which was originally listed on the Cougars’ roster.
  • The temperature was 86 degrees one hour prior to kickoff, with hazy skies and little-to-no wind.
  • Finally, for those bird-watching: Nova will fly from the flag pole in the northeast corner of the stadium at the 16:00 mark on the game clock.

And be sure to check out my first on-camera appearance of the season. Apologies in advance for any awkward pauses. I’m still working myself into midseason form.

August 21, 2013

VIDEO: Junior defensive tackles Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — The junior defensive tackle pair of Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright met with media members for the first time this fall following Tuesday’s practice. Each discussed their early impressions of Washington State, the physicality of this year’s camp and what Dee Ford’s knee injury means for the rest of the defensive line.

Blackson

Wright

August 20, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn looks back at first fall camp as Tigers coach, feels team covered ‘all of our situations’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s practice on Tuesday had a game-week feel to it.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn recapped his first fall camp at Auburn following the team's 21st and final practice on Tuesday. (File photo)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn recapped his first fall camp at Auburn following the team’s 21st and final practice on Tuesday. (File photo)

Following the Tigers’ 21st and final session of fall camp, head coach Gus Malzahn said his team is already “full force” into planning for the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31. But first, he recapped his first fall camp at the helm of Auburn’s program.

“When I look back on the whole camp, I felt we did improve,” Malzahn said. “I felt like we were able to cover all of our situations. I felt like we were able to put our guys into situations to evaluate.”

The Tigers’ offense also ended camp on a high note, with Malzahn noting the unit had its “best rhythm that we’ve had” since he took over as coach.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “It looked like we knew what we were doing today, and the timing was very good.”

When Auburn returns to practice on Thursday, it will start getting into a weekly regular season routine. And Malzahn couldn’t be more thankful to have more time to continue working with his team, especially since Nick Marshall is still becoming comfortable with the first-team offense.

“I think that’s very good with a starting quarterback who didn’t go through spring,” he said. “We need the extra time.”

Though Washington State went 3-9 last year, it beat arch-rival Washington in the season finale. In an early look at the Cougars, Malzahn came away impressed with what he saw on film.

“They have the majority of their guys coming back,” he said. “We’re expecting it will be a good team coming in here, and we’ll have to play well.”

However, making any comparisons between the two up-tempo offenses would be a mistake, Malzahn said, since he prefers to lean on a strong running game, while Washington State head coach Mike Leach passes at nearly every opportunity.

With that in mind, Auburn’s defensive line is already licking its chops.

“I think pretty much everyone knows that sacks equal moneymakers,” junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. “But definitely this whole technique, this whole change of defense and starting off (getting up the field) vertically, that’s going to set everything up. If it’s a run play, we’ve got stick it. If it’s a pass play, we’ve got to work off the pass-rush. I definitely can’t wait to get out there.”

Though the Cougars are so thin on the offensive line they could start as many four current or former walk-ons, Angelo Blackson isn’t underestimating his opponent.

“We’re not going to look down upon nobody,” the junior defensive tackle said. “Those guys are coming in here wanting to beat us with nothing to lose, so we’re going to prepare for them like we prepare for everybody else.”

That’s where it helps to have quarterback Tucker Tuberville, whose knowledge of Leach’s system — with many elements remaining in place after his father Tommy Tuberville replaced Leach as Texas Tech’s coach — will be a boost when he’s running the scout team offense.

“He gets the ball out of his hands quick,” Malzahn said, “and that’s good.”

The divergent offensive schemes of the two teams stretched to their base defenses as well, since Malzahn could find few, if any, similarities.

“They are unique,” he said. “They do a little bit of everything. You’ve got to be prepared for the different fronts. They bring a lot of pressures.”

Those are the kinds of things Cassanova McKinzy hopes to see his unit apply when they get the chance to mix it up with the Cougars. The sophomore linebacker believes the defense isn’t that far away as long as it stays healthy, since he’s seen his teammates “progressing” every practice.

“We’ve all got to stay consistent and do a lot of working out on our own,” he said. “Overall, I think we’re doing better. Now it’s got to carry over to the game field.”

Notes

Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett, who is dealing with a foot sprain, did not practice Tuesday. “I hope he’s close,” Malzahn said. “We’re hoping we’re getting him back by next week.” … Malzahn was terse when asked if he had ever shared information with Leach. “No, I haven’t,” he said. … Marshall’s newfound leadership has continued to please Malzahn, as Tuesday marked the third day he repped with the first-team offense as the unquestioned starter at quarterback. “Since we’ve named him the starter he’s been a lot more urgent,” Malzahn said. “He’s taken more of a lead, and the offensive guys are listening to him. That’s very important.”

August 5, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/5: Demetruce McNeal sits out fourth straight practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see about 20 minutes of practice on Monday, which marked Day 4 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins on of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins one of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

  • Safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be the headliner during the media’s short stay at practice. For the fourth time in as many days of fall camp, the senior did not participate in drills while reporters were in attendance. Including the final five sessions of the spring, it marks the ninth consecutive time the College Park, Ga., native missed an Auburn practice. As he did Saturday, McNeal had a helmet on. However, with the team practicing in “shells” (helmets and pads), the safety was sans shoulder pads. In his post-practice meeting with media member’s on Sunday, Gus Malzahn said McNeal was “getting better.” But apparently not good enough to be cleared to practice just yet.
  • Avery Young was with the first-team offensive line, working at right tackle. Young and Patrick Miller have seemingly been going back-and-forth at the position (in the first-team lineup) during the first few days of fall camp.
  • The defense was working on its “dime” package, which included two of the hybrid safety/linebacker “star” position players on the field at the same time in Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie. Other members of the first-team defense (in that particular formation) had Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter manning the two ends and Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright inside. The linebackers were Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey at safety.
  • Malzahn stayed around the quarterbacks for a few minutes, but then drifted over to watch the defense running through its various formations. The quarterbacks once again practiced their footwork today as well as executing proper handoffs. Jonathan Wallace and Nick Marshall worked with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason and Corey Grant, while Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson were paired with Johnathan Ford, Peyton Barber and Patrick Lymon.
  • Punt returners were mostly the same as it was during the portions of practice reporters saw Friday and Saturday. Wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis were back, as well as cornerback Chris Davis. There was one new member, however, as another receiver — true freshman Tony Stevens — joined the fray. Kick returners mostly stayed to form, too. Mason, Grant, Ford, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Ricardo Louis were seen fielding kicks, with one new addition in Therezie.
  • Right guard Chad Slade got an earful from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes during one drill. As the line was practicing its footwork once the ball is snapped, Slade didn’t have his feet in the proper position — and Grimes let him know it. “Check your splits!” said Grimes, before moving the junior’s feet where they needed to be. “I’m trying to help you!”
  • The media once again walked out as the team finished up its stretching drills with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate while Russell leads drills, it’s that he has an incredible amount of energy. It’s no wonder the team has touted his offseason workout program at every opportunity.

July 15, 2013

7 at 7: Seven questions about the Tigers this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Yes, there is still one major event to get through — this week’s SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala. — before Auburn players report back to campus and preseason camp gets underway. Until that happens, however, here are seven questions (and answers) about the Tigers in the style of the War Eagle Extra’s “7 at 7″ format, as the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31 gets closer by the day.

1. Who will start at quarterback?

Ah yes, the topic du jour surrounding the Tigers heading into the season. There are four candidates vying for the position, with two having an opportunity to stake their claim to the job in the spring (junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace) and two arriving this fall (junior college transfer Nick Marshall and true freshman Jeremy Johnson). Frazier and Wallace were unable to create any separation amongst themselves, exiting the spring as co-No. 1s on the depth chart. They both hold an advantage over the newcomers in the regard that they at least know some of the playbook already, but will that be enough to stave off either Marshall or Johnson?

Largely due to being the best runner of the quarterback quartet, many believe Marshall is the front-runner to capture the job. That, of course, is nothing more than pure speculation at this point. Besides, the quarterback battle will be settled where it should be — on the field — and only when the coaches believe they know which signal-caller gives them the best chance to win in 2013.

2. What’s the status of the backfield?

Tre Mason Auburn A-Day

Tre Mason headlines a deep stable of Auburn running backs headed into the fall. Photo by Todd Van Emst

When it comes to the running back position, the Tigers should be able to rest easy, with Tre Mason coming off a 1,000-yard season and both Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant having great springs. Still, it was a huge surprise when head coach Gus Malzahn revealed his two-deep post-spring depth chart and Mason was not listed as the unquestioned starter. Instead, Mason, Artis-Payne and Grant all had “OR” separating their names, being listed that way on both the first-team and second-team offense.

Then again, there are worse problems to have than worrying about how to divvy up carries between multiple talented ball carriers.

3. Who will assume the role of lead receiver?

It’s possible that the Tigers may be one of those teams without a go-to option at wideout. That’s not to say one won’t develop eventually. Between Jaylon Denson, Trovon Reed, Quan Bray, Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis, Auburn has a nice pool of hopefuls to choose from. One thing is certain: The receiving corps isn’t lacking for heirs to the throne Emory Blake vacated. (And to show just how reliant the Tigers were on Blake last season, his 789 receiving yards accounted for a whopping 42 percent of Auburn’s 1,879 receiving yards.)

4. Who replaces Philip Lutzenkirchen at tight end?

No single player will be asked to replicate the production of Lutzenkirchen. Instead, it will be a shared assignment between C.J. Uzomah and Brandon Fulse. The two complement each other well, as Uzomah is more noted for his pass-catching ability while Fulse is known as a hard-nosed blocker. But both have made it a point to shore up their perceived weaknesses, with Uzomah working on his blocking and Fulse practicing his route running. Jay Prosch (normally a fullback) may also see time at tight end as a utility blocker, and expect fellow H-back Ricky Parks to get a few reps at the position, too.

5. Can the secondary make some much-needed strides?

It’s still a shocking number any time you see it: one. That’s the number of interceptions Auburn’s secondary came away with in 2012. But there is reason to believe the secondary will be vastly improved when it steps back on the field this season. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy are firmly entrenched with the first-team defense at the two corner positions, and there are a handful of players — notably Joshua Holsey, Jonathan Jones, Robenson Therezie and Ryan White — behind them to lend depth to the unit.

Questions still remain at safety, though, as Holsey was moved from cornerback to boundary (also known as strong) safety in the last week of the spring after Demetruce McNeal missed the final five practices due to an undisclosed off-the-field matter. Free safety, or “field safety,” as it is referred to in coach speak, should be capably manned by junior Jermaine Whitehead.

6. What player is primed for a breakout season on offense or defense?

If you haven’t prepared yourself for it, here’s an advance warning: Justin Garrett, who shined in the hybrid safety/linebacker position created by defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson specifically for his 4-2-5 scheme, will have plenty of terrible headlines centered around his spot’s name — “Star.” As corny as it sounds, the junior is truly a “star” in the making. He drew rave reviews for his progress during the spring, and Johnson has put him in a position where his hard-hitting talents can be put to best use. Expect a few highlight-worthy hits from Garrett to make the rounds this fall.

7. Which true freshmen — if any — will push for major playing time?

It’s a toss-up between two stud defensive line prospects, with Montravius Adams at tackle and Carl Lawson at end. The pair of Peach State products were two of the top players in the country at their respective positions, and their talent may be too great to keep them from playing significant roles from Day 1. If forced to choose one as the “most likely to steal a starting job,” I’ll go with Lawson barely. It’s mainly a function of the depth chart: While the Tigers can mix-and-match between Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson, Jeffrey Whitaker and Ben Bradley inside with relatively little drop-off, the same can’t be said at end.

Dee Ford has the left side starting spot locked down, but right end is still up for grabs. Nosa Eguae began the spring as the starter at right end, but when he wasn’t developing fast enough for the coaching staff’s liking, tackle Kenneth Carter was moved outside in the hopes that it would push Eguae to step it up.

With that in mind, don’t be surprised if Lawson comes in and nails down a spot in the starting lineup opposite Ford by the end of preseason camp.

May 8, 2013

Wright-Garner relationship goes back to high school, when Carver alum considered Georgia

Gabe Wright

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – The numbers 3 and 4 changed the course of Gabe Wright’s college football career.

Because Auburn reversed those numbers – in your traditional 4-3 base defense – Wright chose the Tigers. As a Carver (Ga.) standout in the trenches, Wright didn’t feel he was specifically built to handle nose tackle duties in his home state Georgia’s 3-4 modern scheme.

Halfway through his stay in the Loveliest Village, Wright didn’t mind pondering (only for a brief few seconds) what could have been. His sophomore year of high school, he very nearly committed to Georgia to play for defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who’d been whipping the Bulldogs in shape for over a decade.

Life has a way of sorting itself out.

“Coach Garner let us know there was no place he would have left Georgia for, except Auburn. He’s an Auburn man,” Wright said. “We’ve got one of the best coaches in college football.”

Wright’s proud to say he’s only played for an “Auburn man” – Garner’s predecessor of two years, Mike Pelton, was also a former Tigers defensive lineman.

There was a fine relationship between Garner and Wright during the recruiting process; no surprise, considering Garner’s made a living off of mining the best pass-rushing, run-stuffing talent the state of Georgia has to offer.

But now the prospect-recruiter connection has, three years later, evolved to player-coach, and there’s a fine line between the two.

Rodney Garner

“The guy that recruits you and the guy that coaches is a little bit different guy. And that’s the way it’s got to be,” said Garner, who officially returned to Auburn on Dec. 21 after spending 15 years with Georgia. “(They) probably didn’t know how to take me at first, but you spend a little quality time with them.”

That quality time is spent on practice fields, hearing Garner’s constant barking ring through their ears, which Wright and his mates did for 15 practices this spring. A different view than when Garner’s in living rooms, convincing recruits and their loved ones to play for him.

“Yeah, I’m demanding, but I love them, and I care about them, and I want them to know that,” Garner said. “But at the same time, loving them, to me, is not letting them get away with stuff. Loving them is holding them accountable, being demanding. It’s just like raising a child. You love your child, you discipline them.”

Wright remembering feeling close to Garner and his wife, Kim, who have five daughters but no sons of their own.

“Coach Garner, him and his wife have always been good to me and my family,” Wright said. “He was always polite, up-front. The thing I liked about him the most, it wasn’t always happy-happy. He told me the real side of recruiting.”

Of course, once Garner takes his whistle and Wright dons his pads, it’s even more of the tough love.

“He’s probably the most intense guy … high-level, energy guy. It fits this team well,” Wright said. “I think this team needs that, this team likes that. I want a guy to be on me all the time.”

As far as Wright’s place on the defensive line, he’s currently listed along with Jeffrey Whitaker as the first-unit tackles. Angelo Blackson and Ben Bradley expect to play plenty, and then there’s blue-chip commit Montravius Adams arriving this summer.

“Gabe would probably say this all the time: I’ve got to change his mindset,” Garner said. “You know, mentally he’s a white-collar guy, but playing defensive tackle in the SEC, you’ve got to be a blue-collar guy. So it’s a little bit nastier than it can be at end. He wants to be out there with the white collar on the end, but that’s not where he is, and that’s not what he does.”

May 6, 2013

Garner still keeps up with old Georgia mates, but focused in on restoring Auburn football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Rodney Garner’s not about to wipe away 15 years of memories at Georgia. But he always was an Auburn man, and once again he’s got the appropriate windbreaker to prove it.

The featured speaker for the Columbus Phenix City Auburn Club’s spring meeting Monday night, Garner took time out from his never-ending duties as Auburn recruiting coordinator to visit the Green Island Country Club – settled close to the Georgia-Alabama border, and thus the SEC West-SEC East boundary.

Before he shook hands, shared smiles and delivered his remarks to a few hundred guests over dinner, the Tigers’ new defensive line coach and associate head coach reflected on why he made his move to his alma mater – less than a month after Auburn completed a 3-9 season.

“Me as an Auburn man, I didn’t like what they experienced last year, because whether you’re actually going through it or not, if you’re an Auburn person, you do experience it,” Garner said. “Even though I was at a rival school, it still hurt me to watch my school have the struggles that it did last year.”

Make no mistake: Garner’s still got Georgia on his mind. He’s got to, after a continuous stint since 1999 in Athens – an eternity in coaching circles to spend in one place.

Leading up to the NFL Draft April 25-27, Garner spoke to former Bulldogs Alec Ogletree (a first-round pick to the Rams), John Jenkins (third, Saints), Abry Jones and Kwame Geathers. On the recruiting trail last week, Garner caught up with Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend, who’s not considered the enemy.

“I really care about those guys and care about the coaches,” Garner said. “You develop relationships. I was there 15 years, which is a long time.”

Whereas many coaches bounce around from job to job a few years at a time, and can zone in on the present day, Garner’s fine with reflecting on where he spent the last nearly third of his life.

“It’s a good place, a special place. Definitely, I enjoyed my time there, left on really good terms,” Garner said. “It’s no animosity or anguish against them. I’ll definitely pull for them, except when we have to play them. It’s a bunch of good guys on that staff, a bunch of good guys on that team.”

In a separate line of questioning, Garner was quick to point out he’s got a bunch of good guys in his current position group. The rigors of spring football behind them, the Tigers are hoping to make swift and sweeping improvements from 2012.

“By no stretch of the imagination did we feel like we’ve arrived. But I really felt like our kids bought into what we were trying to do, what we were trying to teach,” Garner said. “I think they’ve bought into the culture.”

Senior pass-rusher Dee Ford and other defensive linemen are using their precious few days off to visit Chuck Smith, who played defensive end for the Falcons in the 1990s and is now a personal trainer based in Atlanta.

That’s the Garner-Georgia connection at work; an Athens native, Smith trained Bulldogs under Garner’s watch. Now Auburn players capture the offseason edge.

“The perception is they underperformed, for whatever reason. That’s why change came,” Garner said. “I think they are prideful young men, and I think they want to reach their expectations. I think they have high expectations of themselves.”

Junior defensive tackle Gabe Wright produced a light-hearted moment leading up to spring practices, when he joked Auburn’s got no nice coaches. Garner doesn’t take that personally – not with his no-nonsense style going from one SEC outpost to another.

“It’s not a nice league. I mean, it’s not. That’s why they chose to come to it. It’s a demanding league. I know these guys don’t like what they experienced last year,” Garner said. “So we’re going to do everything in our power to change that. The only way I know how to do it is through hard work, not taking shortcuts, being disciplined, being fundamental, and being tough.”

April 21, 2013

A-Day follow-up notes: McNeal’s mysterious absence leaves Auburn thin at safety

Auburn A-Day

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Demetruce McNeal has missed the last three practices – including Saturday’s A-Day scrimmage – and remains out indefinitely for undisclosed reasons.

“He’s dealing with some things off the field, and it’s day to day,” head coach Gus Malzahn said Saturday. “That’s really all we know at this time.”

McNeal’s absence combined with Trent Fisher nursing a bad ankle leaves the Tigers painfully thin at safety. Walk-on Blake Poole was called upon to work with the first unit Saturday.

Clearly, Auburn could use the painless return of its leading returning tackler. Whether McNeal is on the roster in 2013 or not, reinforcements in the fall include junior college transfer Brandon King and high-schooler Khari Harding.

Auburn A-Day

Winning them back: Three times in October and November, the turnstiles at Jordan-Hare Stadium were spinning around and around like a broken carousel.

In people flowed by kickoff. Out they fled by halftime.

See, fan support is everything to major-college head coach job security, which is why Gene Chizik’s perch was officially in jeopardy Oct. 6 when the fans decided they’d had enough well before the end of a 24-7 loss to Arkansas, treating a cherished Saturday SEC game like a bad movie.

It was even worse weeks later vs. Texas A&M (63-21) and Georgia (38-0), ushering Chizik out and leading to Malzahn’s return as head coach.

So for Auburn senior associate athletic director for external affairs Scott Carr – a man whose job relies heavily on public perception – and other high-ranking officials to hear the mind-boggling number “83,401” rattle the record books at Saturday’s A-Day was, well, vindicating.

“There’s been so much positive energy built since we hired coach Malzahn and the staff he put together, and the recruiting class we had,” Carr said. “We knew there was a lot of that positive momentum building. To have it culminate with A-Day, this type of crowd shows that the feedback we’ve been hearing from people about their excitement level is accurate.”

Added Malzahn, “We had a tough year last year, but for them to come out and support our team, it’s overwhelming. I know our players had big eyes, and they really appreciate it.”

Clash of titans: After 13 practices of knocking heads against each other, Auburn’s offensive and defensive lines share a common goal.

In defensive tackle Gabe Wright’s own words: total domination.

“It starts up front. There’s no bigger slogan than that,” Wright said. “So if we can get that tenacity back up to par, and learn how to flip that switch, that’s what we’re trying to bring back.”

Shake it off: After quarterback Jonathan Wallace made a bad decision throwing behind Quan Bray and getting intercepted by Ryan Smith, he didn’t sulk. His teammates noticed.

“If you make a bad play, you have to hold your head high on the next play. Jonathan Wallace threw a pick and he was on the sideline getting us ready for the next series,” tight end Brandon Fulse said. “He was telling us not to get down. He told us to be winners and we were winners today. He inspires us.”

Wallace was 18-for-26 with 191 yards and two touchdowns against the two turnovers.

In their ear: Throughout Saturday’s scrimmage, Malzahn stood about 10 yards behind the quarterbacks, so he could get a front-row view of Kiehl Frazier’s and Wallace’s command of the offenses.

They wore orange no-contact jerseys, which might have been different if the health of Frazier and Wallace wasn’t such a precious commodity.

“I wish we could be live, but we only have two scholarship guys going through spring to evaluate them a little bit better,” Malzahn said. “But today gave us some good information, especially with them.”

Malzahn restated every position – from quarterback to kicker – will be won by the best player available, meaning the competition will be infused with Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith for the fall.

20auburn20

Mincy mistake: New rules dictate that players can be ejected for targeting a defenseless receiver above the head.

Because the refereeing crew Saturday is asked to treat A-Day like a real game, first-team cornerback Jonathon Mincy got the boot for pasting Dimitri Reese on a screen pass, causing Reese to stay down for a few minutes before walking off woozy.

“I have to say 15-yard penalties are unacceptable,” Malzahn said. “We have asked our guys to play hard, but I promise you, that will be corrected. That was not good, no doubt.”

Mincy remained on the sideline but did not return to the field.

Hold on: The seven touchdowns were encouraging for a previously stagnant offense, but four turnovers – including three lost fumbles, all unforced errors by offensive players – were troubling.

“Yeah, that’s definitely a concern,” Malzahn said.

April 3, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #5 | Check in on Gus Malzahn’s live comments

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. — As we go through each practice, notes will probably get shorter since I don’t want to repeat myself. It also depends on how much “new” material we see. Here’s a few nuggets from this morning, and as usual I’ll live blog Gus Malzahn‘s comments at or after 11 a.m. ET.

The final 5-minute period we saw was more screens, continuing to integrate cadences and blocking schemes. The passes we saw were 7-for-7 (four for Kiehl Frazier, three for Jonathan Wallace), spreading it out to, in order: RB Tre Mason, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates (twice), RB Cameron Artis-Payne, walk-on RB Patrick Lymon, WR Melvin Ray.

Getting more punt return reps Wednesday were cornerbacks Robenson Therezie and Chris Davis, under the watchful eye of … running backs coach Tim Horton, not special teams coach Scott Fountain. Mason, Grant, Trovon Reed and Quan Bray also were back there, but not Ricardo Louis.

Cody Parkey went 8-for-8 in the fire-drill field-goal session, starting from 20 yards out and steadily moving back as far as 46 yards. Ryan White continues to be his primary holder, and most the usual offensive and defensive starters are lining up to block and rush in the drill.

Scout teamers pulled on green recreational jerseys for some special teams drills.

If you see Gabe Wright, wish him a happy 21st birthday.

April 1, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #4: Grimes, Garner won’t tolerate Monday fatigue (Watch video of slant/screen throws)

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – Sounds like some guys have got a Case of the Mondays.

Remember what Gabe Wright said about not having any nice coaches? Especially on the offensive and defensive line? J.B. Grimes and Rodney Garner were nowhere near a tranquil mood to kick off the second week of spring practices bright and early Monday morning.

It was hot and humid coming off Easter Sunday – it rained overnight – which had to be difficult for the big boys between 250 and 320 pounds. Grimes and Garner weren’t interested in fatigue playing a factor.

Playing the part of drill sergeant Monday, Grimes in particular really took second-team center Alex Kozan to the cleaners for poor technique in a basic blocking drill. Over at the five-man sled, Grimes forced Kozan, Tunde Fariyike and Devonte Danzey to redo a push three times, impelling them to block lower.

Garner also asked a couple D-linemen for a do-over going under “The Chute”, one of those trampoline-looking structures that keeps ends and tackles low to the ground.

I even heard a specific mention out of Grimes’ mouth of “3-9” followed by “wake your (rear ends) up”. Yeah, you know the coaches are using that as fuel. It’s a new day … doesn’t mean yesterday didn’t happen.

More news and notes from our 30-minute window: 

-       Our last five-minute viewing session was an 11-man offensive session with quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace alternating quick slants and screens. Tailbacks catching balls in the backfield were Tre Mason, Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne; receivers were Sammie Coates, Melvin Ray and Jaylon Denson. (Reed and Bray were returning punts at the time.)

-       Of the dozen passes we saw, pretty much all throws were on point and there were no drops. Walk-ons were serving as scout-team defense.

-       First-team offensive line has remained the same for a week: LT Greg Robinson, LG Jordan Diamond, C Reese Dismukes, RG Chad Slade, RT Patrick Miller. Three returning full-time starters, plus Miller keeps his job over the healed Avery Young and Diamond has been tabbed to replace John Sullen.

-       Second-team offensive line left to right: LT Shon Coleman, Fariyike, Kozan, Danzey, Young. Both units are still in pencil, but no other unit values chemistry and cohesion more than offensive line. This matters.

-       Punt returner candidates ranked numerically: Trovon Reed, Jonathan Jones, Quan Bray, Jonathon Mincy.

-       Cody Parkey was a little off-target Saturday outside at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but the senior kicker was much polished indoors Monday during the fire-drill field goal kicking. He connected from 36, 39, 42 and 45 yards, tucking the longest try inside the right upright.

-       Try walking by any of the booming loudspeakers on the practice field when the air horn signaling a new session blows. That’s reeeeeeeeally pleasant at 8 a.m. when you’re not expecting it.

-       It’s possible the three junior college transfers already enrolled – RB Artis-Payne, OL Danzey and DT Ben Bradley – are a little behind the rest of their groups. Nothing’s guaranteed to jucos. Remember that when QB Nick Marshall gets here this fall.