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August 11, 2013

Auburn football: Ellis Johnson says Jake Holland has ‘edge’ over Kris Frost at middle linebacker

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. —There’s a new name at the top of Auburn’s middle linebacker depth chart, and he’s no stranger to the starting lineup.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday that senior Jake Holland, who has started 16 games over the last two seasons, has vaulted past sophomore Kris Frost at the position.

Auburn senior Jake Holland has moved back to the top of the middle linebacker depth chart since  fall camp began. He excited the spring as the backup to Kris Frost at the position. (File photo)

Auburn senior Jake Holland has moved back to the top of the middle linebacker depth chart since fall camp began. He excited the spring as the backup to Kris Frost at the position. (File photo)

“I feel like Jake Holland has had two really good scrimmages,” Johnson said. “Everybody else has been inconsistent. He’s certainly right now got an edge on that starting spot, but it’s still a very good competition between him and Kris.”

Frost’s level of play hasn’t dropped since the spring, heading into the offseason as the No. 1 “Mike” linebacker. Johnson said the bigger factor has been Holland’s improvement.

“Jake’s better than he was in the spring,” he said. “He’s making plays. He’s the most consistent linebacker I’ve got, but he’s also making tackles and he’s done a lot of good things.”

There hasn’t been any change at the weakside spot, though, as Johnson said Cassanova McKinzy remains the starter. But his day-to-day form during fall camp has fluctuated far too much for Johnson.

“(McKinzy) continues to make the best linebacker plays and do some things that you really can’t coach,” he said. “The outstanding physicality, technique and those type of things (are there), but he’s been very inconsistent. Got to get more consistent in assignments and run fits, coverages, all of the above.”

Johnson’s biggest concern with the linebacker corps is finding players to fill out the rotation, ideally identifying four or five who will challenge for playing time.

“Because it’s very seldom that you get through the season with all of them healthy, he said. “Right now, it’s still a little bit muddled.”

There are a few players trying to work their way into the argument, with Johnson mentioning that Kenny Flowers, LaDarius Owens and Javiere Mitchell have been “doing some pretty good things” since fall camp started. They’re still well behind McKinzy, however, and Johnson said it’s the same story at middle linebacker, where Anthony Swain is still far outpaced by Holland and Frost.

Johnson said that inexperience doesn’t excuse some lapses, though.

“I think a little bit of the over-installation has created some of the mental mistakes,but we’re not tackling as well as we should,” he said. “I don’t think we’re doing a lot of things in a lot of areas as well as we should.”

April 17, 2013

“STAR” IN THE MAKING: LB/S Justin Garrett continues to thrive in hybrid defense (w/ video)

Photo by Todd Van Emst

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – When he wasn’t running for daylight and gobbling up touchdowns in Saturday’s scrimmage, Auburn tailback Corey Grant couldn’t believe how he kept getting toppled by the same tackler out of nowhere.

The swooping star, Justin Garrett, has had that effect on his teammates and coaches throughout spring football practices.

“He may be on the other side of the field, but by the time you’re getting tackled, he’s the one tackling you, and you’re like, where did he come from?” Grant said. “He’s just a hard hitter. He never gives up. He’s all over the field, always working.”

It’s nothing personal. Garrett doesn’t even remember smacking Grant around a few days later.

“When they set the ball down, and the quarterback hikes the ball,” Garrett said with a shrug, “I just try to play all out. I just love to hit.”

Once a downtrodden backup on a team spiraling south, Garrett’s in position to become potentially the face of Auburn’s new-look defense, embracing the “star” position in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s unique 4-2-5 defense.

“I’m ecstatic about having an opportunity to play,” Garrett said. ““I just felt like if I was to be patient and keep working hard, in due time, my time will be able to come where I could be able to shine.”

Johnson once referred to that hybrid linebacker/safety position as the ‘spur’ at South Carolina. While the label “star” is quite literal, Garrett’s quickly becoming a metaphor.

“Justin Garrett is,” Johnson said last Friday, “probably the best football player we’ve had from day one until now at his position.”

There’s been plenty of that kind of praise. The soft-spoken Garrett is pleased with his progress, but isn’t beating his own chest on the field or in media sessions.

“I know deep down inside I have a lot of stuff I need to work on before I consider myself that type of player,” Garrett said, “before I can take on that stage.”

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Garrett admitted he wasn’t quite familiar with this “star” role when Johnson was hired Dec. 6 to replace Brian VanGorder. The backup to Jonathan Evans last year, Garrett showed the ability to roam the field both in rush defense and pass coverage, thus finding his way onto the first unit this spring.

Decision-making on the fly will be key to Garrett’s success.

“I play in space a lot and I come into the box. So I just have to be able to do multiple different things,” Garrett said. “Play some linebacker, safety, sometimes play as a corner out in space. And play some defensive end sometimes.”

Backups, or other candidates in the “star” search, have included JaViere Mitchell, a defensive end out of high school, and Robenson Therezie, who’s bounced around at cornerback, running back and punt returner.

Johnson is beginning to install some dime packages putting Garrett and Therezie on the field at the same time. Those two were each four-star recruits, yet combined for just 16 tackles in 2012 as sophomores.

“It’s like a dynamic duo,” Garrett said, “for both of us playing out there together.”

Therezie’s also taking kindly to his chance at the “star” job.

“I feel like physical is my middle name,” Therezie said. “That’s what I like about it.”

Compared to last year’s inconsistent defense, Garrett is confident knowing the fresh unit focuses on reacting, not thinking.

“The calls we make, we play off what the offense does,” Garrett said. “It makes us play a lot faster to know what we’re doing before the offense gets lined up.”

It’s a “see ball, hit ball” mentality, which is why Garrett doesn’t take note of any specific instances he’s laid the hit stick on his teammates.

He just tries to do it routinely, which leaves some bruises on his teammates in the spring. But Grant doesn’t mind, knowing Garrett’s preparing to be step up as a big hitter in the fall.

“Especially when they’re on your team,” Grant said, “that’s great.”

Auburn notes: Pat Sullivan stops by practice, QB race “status quo”, top DBs are no-shows

17Auburn1 (3)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Now two of the three men who’ve brought a Heisman Trophy back to Auburn have attended a spring football practice under the new coaching regime.

Following Cam Newton’s lead from last week, 1971 Heisman-winning quarterback Pat Sullivan was the most famous spectator at Wednesday morning’s practice. Sullivan, 63, was seen spending a few minutes chatting separately with head coach Gus Malzahn and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson.

Now the Samford head coach, Sullivan was one-third of the university-assigned committee who recommended Malzahn for the position last fall.

“That’s a pretty big deal. I’m a big fan of his,” Malzahn said. “It was not only big for me. It was big for our coaches and our players. He’s a true class individual that was a great player.”

While Sullivan represented past Auburn quarterbacks, incoming freshman Jeremy Johnson stopped by as well, one of the three future passers to join the program this summer.

Bo Jackson, who’s been busy promoting Bo Bikes Bama at the end of this month, would be the third and final Heisman winner to catch practice.

No separation: Through 11 practices, quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace have yet to distinguish themselves in the race to start opening day – a race which could be muddled next month by the arrival of Johnson, Nick Marshall and Jason Smith.

“Each practice, we grade the guys and we try to keep up, but right now everything is status quo. They’re getting equal reps with equal groups,” Malzahn said. “We’re getting to a point where we’re actually getting guys in the right position so we can properly evaluate them.”

Competitive spirit: Auburn hopes to reveal the A-Day scrimmage format sometime Thursday, but Malzahn has twice said there will be a certain element of competition missing from previous open-to-the-public spring scrimmages under ex-head coach Gene Chizik.

“We’re going to make this thing as close to a game as possible for our fans, and also for our coaches and players,” Malzahn said. “It’ll be great for us to evaluate the guys in front of a crowd and see how they react.”

Malzahn continues to insist there’s no first-team or second-team units, though from brief media windows a pecking order has been taking place over the past week and a half.

The fear of serious injuries – for instance, Clemson lost a backup quarterback and starting tight end to ACL tears in its spring game Saturday – won’t deter the Tigers.

“You put the ball down, that’s part of the deal,” Malzahn said. “Any time you’re evaluating guys and playing game-type situations, that is a factor, but we’re not going into that thing thinking that way.”

McNeal, Therezie no-shows: The most notable void from Wednesday’s practice was starting safety Demetruce McNeal, the Tigers’ No. 2-leading tackler in 2012.

Malzahn would only say McNeal “took care of some things off the field,” but expected his return Friday.

Personal reasons was also the reason given for cornerback/”star” safety Robenson Therezie’s absence. Running back Tre Mason tweeted Tuesday night a photo and message congratulating Therezie on the birth of his daughter.

Receiver Melvin Ray was held out with an ankle injury and linebacker Jake Holland missed his fourth practice due to a mandatory class, while Mason, defensive tackle Angelo Blackson, offensive tackle Avery Young, offensive guard Devonte Danzey and “star” safety Javiere Mitchell continued to work their way back in from assorted ailments.

Respect for Toomer’s: Malzahn plans to stop by the post-scrimmage block party Saturday celebrating the final rolling of Toomer’s Oaks, and is expected to speak sometime that evening.

“It’s one of the best traditions in college football,” Malzahn said. “For the Auburn family, it’s really unbelievable. I’m looking forward to being a part of that after the A-Day game. I know that will be very special.”

April 14, 2013

TALK OF THE TOWN: Take note of five Tigers turning heads with one week left in spring

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – The winds of change have blown across the Plains since the day of head coach Gus Malzahn’s hiring.

With a new day comes new faces, new contributors who might have been patiently waiting their turn or old standbys reinventing themselves as this coaching staff pinpoints who they’ll rely upon to officially relegate the misery of 3-9 to ancient history.

Take a look at five Auburn Tigers who have been consistently lauded for their efforts this spring. Coincidentally, they’re all entering their junior season:

AUBURN FOOTBALLWR JAYLON DENSON

Old dog: One of those guys who gets into games (25 in two years) but rarely gets named (one catch, 12 yards.)

New tricks: The tallest of the current crop of receivers at 6-foot-3, Denson looks like one of those multi-tool players who could catch the ball some and be a force as a downfield lead blocker.

Don’t take our word for it: “I think Jaylon Denson’s been extremely consistent for us … he’s not only making plays with the ball, he’s doing what he’s supposed to do when he’s not getting the ball.”
- Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee

Fall forecast: Watch out when the incoming freshmen arrive. Good thing for Denson and his understaffed mates, they’re getting overloaded with practice reps

10Auburn2 (1)C REESE DISMUKES

Old dog: Although he played well last year, the argument can be made the 2011 all-SEC freshman teamer lit the fuse for Auburn’s implosion by getting suspended for public intoxication the week before the 2012 opener.

New tricks: Ask pretty much anybody who the offensive leaders are, and Dismukes’ name keeps coming up. In his one interview this spring, he seemed contrite with a chip on his shoulder.

Don’t take our word for it: “I’ve seen him grow up. He’s not that same Reese. He’s a good person now. He’s got his mind right. He’s mentally, physically tough. He’s one of the leaders out there.”
- OL Chad Slade

“Reese has been solid … We say it’s a new day – everything in the past, I don’t care. From what I know right now, that’s a guy I can trust.”
- Lashlee

Fall forecast: His starting spot is unquestionable. We’ll see if he truly takes command when times are tough.

AUBURN FOOTBALLRB COREY GRANT

Old dog: Nobody thought much of the fourth-stringer last year, mopping up just nine carries – all in blowouts of New Mexico State and Alabama A&M.

New tricks: Because Tre Mason’s been hurt all spring, Grant’s learning curve has accelerated, and he punctuated his presence with two long TD runs in Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage.

Don’t take our word for it: “Ah, yeah, Corey had a couple of breaks. You really got to see his speed out there. He’s really fast, very explosive, makes explosive cuts and things like that. Corey’s a really good guy. He’s a really good running back for us, and just looking forward to seeing him more.”
- QB Jonathan Wallace

Fall forecast: Mason won’t relinquish his starting spot easily upon regaining his health, but maybe Grant transforms himself into a mini-Onterio McCalebb.

Photo by Todd Van Emst

“STAR” JUSTIN GARRETT

Old dog: Disappointed by lack of playing time, Garrett wasn’t able to overcome the likes of Jonathan Evans – who wasn’t a three-down ‘backer – or Anthony Swain on the depth chart.

New tricks: Square peg, meet square hole. Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system with a “star” hybrid player who has a linebacker’s size and safety’s speed is perfect for Garrett.

Don’t take our word for it: “I just think he found a position that really works for him. With his body type and his speed, he really is going to help that star position. Mentally, it’s encouraging for us and him.”
- LB Jake Holland

Fall forecast: Nobody’s been praised more than Garrett. If he hits as hard as offensive players say he does, he’ll be a household name by Labor Day.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 TherezieATH ROBENSON THEREZIE

Old dog: Those who read the message boards know Therezie was long-rumored to be considering a transfer from Auburn University. Other than a cameo against LSU, he was a non-factor.

New tricks: Therezie wishes he had the football more often, and he’s certainly getting an opportunity as a returner. With JaViere Mitchell sidelined with a concussion, Therezie’s currently backing up Garrett.

Don’t take our word for it: “He seems more comfortable up near the line of scrimmage … he’s a speed player. He’s a contact player. You like to have a 6-1, 215-pound Star, but right now he fits it perfect and I’ve really been tickled to death with his progress.”
- Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson

Fall forecast: The best players find a way to get on the field. If Therezie keeps his mind right, he’ll make an impact somehow, someway.

TAKE FIVE

The best of the rest of the breakouts and newsmakers:

WR Quan Bray, jr. – Like Dismukes, refocused following 2012 adversity

DE Kenneth Carter, sr. – Making the move outside from tackle

OL Jordan Diamond, fr. – Still battling with Alex Kozan for starting guard

LB Kris Frost, so. – Tantalizing talent might be harvested soon

TE Brandon Fulse, jr. – Known for his blocking, showing some solid hands

April 13, 2013

Notebook: Offense has upper hand, banged-up Tigers return, Jake Holland cool with school

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Intrasquad scrimmages aren’t privy to reporters or the general public, but from the sound of it, Auburn’s offense was ahead of the defense in Saturday’s final Jordan-Hare Stadium tuneup a week before A-Day.

“We didn’t do as well as we wanted,” senior linebacker Jake Holland said. “I would say the offense probably won today, if we were keeping score.”

According to head coach Gus Malzahn, the 86-play scrimmage was evenly distributed between rushing and passing plays.

While quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace were only briefly available for questions afterward, and neither offered much insight to their performance, the running game took off with a couple of long touchdown runs by junior Corey Grant.

Effective blocking continues to be the prime emphasis.

“That’s who we’re going to be. That’s who Auburn is,” Malzahn said. “We’ve been very physical up front, and that’s been by design. I’m sure our guys, their bodies are probably talking to them, but we’ve got to get our hard-nosed edge back, and that’s where it starts.”

After its third three-practices-in-four-days stretch of the spring season, Malzahn announced Monday’s practice would be rescheduled for the second straight week.

That means A-Day will be the team’s 13th practice, giving the Tigers two final wrap-up field meetings after April 20.

Speaking of which, the spring scrimmage’s format is expected to be unveiled Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We’re going to try to make it as game-like as possible,” Malzahn said, “not only for ourselves but for our fans.”

From the infirmary: “Star” safety JaViere Mitchell missed multiple practices with a concussion, but he was back out there Saturday. Running back Tre Mason, defensive tackle Angelo Blackson and offensive lineman Devonte Danzey were also in uniform.

“Nothing serious. Nothing that’s going to stop me,” said Blackson, hampered by his shoulder after starting 10 games last year. “I was pretty much feeling good today. I’m going to finish the spring out and get ready for A-Day.”

Mitchell and Mason did not play in the scrimmage, but Blackson did return to live action. The only obvious scholarship player not in uniform was defensive end Keymiya Harrell, who remains out for the rest of the spring and attended Saturday’s practice on crutches.

Staying in school: Holland didn’t seem bothered by Ellis Johnson’s comments a day prior, when the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach was disgruntled about Holland’s multiple absences from practices and meetings due to a can’t-miss class.

Holland takes a mandatory construction sciences course within his major on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, a direct conflict with practices. He’s missed three so far, but isn’t more than mildly frustrated.

“I just put in more time at home with the playbook. If there’s anything I need to come back for during the day, I’ll do that,” Holland said. “It’s really not a huge issue – I’m a veteran, I pretty much have this defense down as far as the installs go.

“I had no other choice but to take this class, so I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do.”

Coates sings Kumbaya: Sammie Coates made headlines three times his redshirt freshman season, and two of them were negative.

He was beloved for catching a Hail Mary pass from Frazier to end the first half against Louisiana-Monroe, but fell out of the fans’ favor the next week for dropping a catchable deep ball the first series against LSU.

His most significant moment of the year came Oct. 9 in the team auditorium, when Coates stood before reporters and challenged the team’s veterans, saying, “They put it on the older guys, but they aren’t showing much. Coach always talks about leadership, and nobody’s trying to be a leader. They talk about it all the time, but you don’t see it.”

Six months later, Coates is more concerned with running his routes and exploding out of the breaks, rather than calling out teammates.

“I just let that go, let the past be the past, and look forward to this new day, this new beginning,” Coates said. “I want everybody to be together and be a family.”

April 12, 2013

Auburn notes: Ellis Johnson rejuvenated by return to coordinating, prefers Holland balance football & school; Lashlee says Mason’s fine

AUBURN FOOTBALL

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This is the fourth time Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has segued back from head coaching into a defensive coordinator role.

He’s using the same system and playbook language as he has in other stops, and has experience coaching with safeties coach/co-coordinator Charlie Harbison and cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith to further smooth the transition.

“I’m probably sticking my foot in my mouth, but there are actually times in ball games as a head coach where if you’re not calling both sides … boredom isn’t the right word, but you find yourself having to pull the reins in and stay out of the way,” Johnson said. “It’s almost a self-control thing.”

Johnson seems more comfortable as a top assistant than the main man – his 17-40 college head coaching record but constant coordinator success would support that.

“Going from a head coach who didn’t coordinate either side of the ball,” Johnson said, “it’s been a shot in the arm and kind of energizing.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

Mason on the mend: Junior tailback Tre Mason was catching kick returns Friday during Auburn’s ninth spring practice, but he remains very limited with a left leg injury. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said it’s nothing major.

“You don’t want to ever have anybody miss time because the reps are critical… but at the same time he’s fine,” Lashlee said. “We’re not playing a game on Saturday. So we don’t have to rush guys back. It’s really been good for Cameron (Artis-Payne) and Corey (Grant) to get more reps, and to see how they handle it when the load increases.”

Class conflict: It’s a good thing linebacker Jake Holland has the maturity to multitask, because younger players wouldn’t be so much in Johnson’s good graces with this predicament.

Holland, a building sciences major, takes a mandatory Monday-Wednesday-Friday morning course, Construction Sciences, which has forced him to miss three practices and several position meetings.

“It can’t help but affect a player. I think that can hamper your progress as much as anything,” Johnson said. “His level of experience and knowledge with football and the fact that he’s played for three years, that helps him overcome that, but it’s not a good situation.”

Johnson has voiced trust in Holland, who’s working out at both mike and will linebacker. But Johnson also told the senior, who’s on track to graduate May 2014 in four years of work, he’s got to clear his schedule this fall if he plans on being the heart of this defense.

“We’ve got to get it to where we don’t have guys missing meetings in classes,” Johnson said. “That’s very important, that’s why they’re here – but when the game’s over on Saturday, nobody asks you what classes they went to the week before. We’ve got to get it to where they’re going to be on the practice field, they’re going to be in the film sessions and they’re going to be there on Saturday ready to play winning football in the Southeastern Conference.”

Holland, who has started 16 of his 31 career games, was present Friday.

New kids on the block: While Lashlee couldn’t detail what materials can be shipped to incoming freshmen, he intends on having all his new players on campus as soon as they graduate from high school and can move to Auburn.

“We just try to do everything we can within the rules,” Lashlee said. “Nowadays, most of the guys come in in the summer and that helps them get a head start.”

Particularly at quarterback, Lashlee will have three new candidates to evaluate in junior college transfer Nick Marshall and preps Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith.

“Quarterback, it’s a unique spot,” Lashlee said. “To play as a true freshman, you’ve got to be mentally tough, first of all, in this league. And you’ve got to love it. You’ve got to love football and study like crazy to learn everything and to get up to speed that quick.”

Outside dog: Formerly a defensive tackle, Kenneth Carter is settling in on the edge, and lined up with the first-team defense in Friday’s pace vs. defense drill.

“I don’t know that he’s a natural end, but he’s played extremely well for his first time moving out there,” Johnson said. “I think (DL coach) Rodney (Garner’s) been pleased with him. At this point in time, he’s holding down the No. 1 spot at the right end.”

Knocked out: Javiere Mitchell remains out of action, which Johnson revealed to be the cause of a concussion. Mitchell had been working at the ‘star’ safety spot with the second unit, an opportunity cornerback Robenson Therezie has seized in the interim.

“Those things now, as of a couple of years ago, they’re certainly handled in a different manner – wisely so,” Johnson said. “He’s kind of rounding second base and headed for third.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

April 10, 2013

Unhappy Gus Malzahn calls Wednesday’s step back “a red flag”; seniors demand better effort (plus Jay Prosch video, more notes)

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – This isn’t third-grade field day. Nobody’s getting gold stars for effort, especially when even the effort goes missing at Auburn spring practice.

“This was probably the first time that I wasn’t pleased overall with attitude, effort, our approach to practice,” head coach Gus Malzahn grumbled after Wednesday’s session. “And I told the guys afterwards, we’ve got to do better.”

The Tigers appeared sluggish, and perhaps a bit rusty, during the media’s 30-minute viewing window. Auburn took Monday off, leading to its longest layoff of the spring to date of three days – though Malzahn wasn’t using that as a pardon.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with the break. If anything, we should have been a little fresher,” Malzahn said. “The midway point (is) when you find out about leadership, and that’s really good today, because we’ll find out how we respond next practice.”

Senior safety Trent Fisher, one of 14 scholarship seniors on the roster, said the team had a decent off-field workout Monday, but insisted the Tigers bounce back this weekend.

“It starts right now. You’ve got to go home, you’ve got to eat and hydrate and make sure you’re body’s right on Friday to get after it,” Fisher said. “The second we hit the field during the warm-up, we have to be on. We have to be getting after it.”

Malzahn was somewhat surprised by the step back, given how happy he was when reviewing Saturday’s scrimmage on film.

“We’ve still got deficiencies, and we’ve still got a long way to go. But we improved up to that point,” Malzahn said. “So that’s why today, as a coach, you’re wanting to keep improving, and we didn’t do it today. So that’s definitely something that’s a red flag right now.”

Mental toughness was a post-practice topic, especially with Wednesday’s temperatures rising toward the 80s into the late morning.

“I think we just had an off day,” senior fullback Jay Prosch said. “It’s just going to make us come back harder for the rest of the spring.”

‘Star’ safety Justin Garrett, one of the spring’s breakout players, tweeted simply, “Bad practice no excuses” Wednesday afternoon.

10Auburn7

Waiting game: Auburn pulled at least two individual from the high school coaching ranks on board to aid with recruiting during the winter, but that was before the NCAA Division I Board of Directors suspended two amendments allowing unlimited recruiting efforts by off-field support staff on March 18.

Ex-Carver coach Dell McGee is now on the Auburn payroll, looking to bank a base salary of $84,000 according to Open Alabama Financial Reports. Chip Lindsey, formerly of Spain Park, will make $95,000 annually – provided both men stay with the university through some uncertain times.

Neither McGee nor Lindsey has been formally announced as an athletic department employee. An Auburn spokesman declined an interview request for McGee.

NCAA schools have until May 17 to request an override of the suspended regulations, meaning Auburn, Alabama and any other schools who added parts of this arms race are in wait-and-see mode.

“Right now, we’re just going day by day. They’re taking care of our players,” Malzahn said. “We’re not thinking about the future right now as far as that goes.”

Tre Cooled off: Junior tailback Tre Mason did not participate in any drills except for stretching in front of the media. He appears to be limited by a left leg injury, which he has fought throughout spring.

“Nothing serious, put it that way,” Malzahn said. “At the same time, a little banged up, there’s no doubt. Just want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before we put him back in there.”

Mason rushed for 1,002 yards last season, so his absence gives more reps to junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne and former Alabama player and walk-on turned scholarship back Corey Grant.

“At the same time, (Mason’s) a little bit ahead of the others as far as knowing the offense,” Malzahn said. “So it’s probably not a bad thing that the guys are getting the majority of the reps right now.”

Beat up, banged up: Defensive tackle Angelo Blackson is still out, while ‘star’ safety Javiere Mitchell is also hurting, which allowed cornerback Robenson Therezie some run with the second unit.

“He’s a very good athlete,” said Malzahn of Therezie, who’s also worked in as a returner. “Just trying to find ways to get our athletes on the field.”

Loud noises! It’s not too soon to simulate the atmosphere at Tiger Stadium or Kyle Field. That’s why Auburn’s piping in sound for a few drills in April.

“You know, that’s crowd noise, attention, hand signals, communication where you can’t talk,” Malzahn said. “You go on the road in this conference, and that happens every week. It’s just a discipline that makes them concentrate just a little bit more.”