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August 27, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn ‘curious to see how’ Nick Marshall responds in season opener

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — When Nick Marshall takes the field for the first time on Saturday, his coach will look on anxiously.

Nick Marshall will start his first game as Auburn's quarterback on Saturday. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was 'curious' to see how the junior responds. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Quarterback Nick Marshall will make his first start at Auburn on Saturday. Head coach Gus Malzahn said he was intrigued to see how his new signal-caller will react upon taking the field. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Gus Malzahn’s apprehension is understandable. During his press conference on Tuesday, he noted that without the benefit of spring practice, it’s hard to predict how Marshall will react.

With that in mind, Malzahn said the coaching staff is going to do its best to “protect” the junior college transfer.

“I’ll be curious to see how he responds,” Malzahn said. “In practice, you put him through — it doesn’t matter if it’s quarterback or any other position — as many game-type situations as you can. But until you get him in that arena, that’s when everything becomes very clear.”

Marshall has shown no traces of the 20 interceptions he threw last season at Garden City Community College, as Malzahn trumpeted his signal-caller’s pinpoint precision.

“He’s very accurate, he really is,” Malzahn said. “He’s shown that he is accurate, not just in the vertical game but intermediate and short also.”

But as the well-worn cliche goes, doing it in practice is one thing. Doing it in a game — with live defenders waiting to pounce, which Marshall rarely faced in fall camp — is an entirely different story. To combat any nerves Marshall might have, Malzahn wants the quarterback to get comfortable before the Tigers start taking any chances.

“Then as the game goes on, you kind of get a feel when they come to the sidelines how they’re taking things in,” he said. “We’ll definitely keep that in mind early in the game.”

Malzahn was asked what the last thing he would say to Marshall before leaving the locker room Saturday. Getting Marshall to play without a hint of indecision is the goal, he said.

Not surprisingly, Malzahn’s hypothetical conversation will involve a generous dose of confidence-boosting advice.

“‘You’ve already done the work. You’ve already done the preparation,” he said. “It’s just a matter of, ‘Hey, you’re our guy. Just go out there and do your thing and have fun.’ That’s more or less the message that we’ll have for Nick.”

Tigers’ secondary prepares to battle Cougars’ ‘Air Raid’ attack

Malzahn’s take on the Tigers’ defense was concise: The coaching staff feels “as comfortable as we can” with five days remaining until Auburn hosts Washington State in the season opener for both teams.

“I know our coaches have worked extremely hard and our players really responded well,” he said.

No unit that will be tested more than the secondary, given Washington State’s penchant for passing; the Cougars had 624 attempts last season, more than any team in the nation. It doesn’t help matters that Auburn’s defensive backs have been thinned out by injury (cornerback Jonathan Jones) or dismissal (safety Demetruce McNeal). Regardless, the Tigers will have to press on, Malzahn said.

And it wouldn’t hurt if the defense is able to harrass Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday to alleviate the pressure on the secondary.

“When the quarterback had time (last year) they were very effective,” Malzahn said. “We’ve got to get a pass rush. They’re going to throw it a lot, so we’re going to have to have some depth in the secondary. It’ll be a good challenge for our defense.”

Quick hits

Aside from Jones and defensive end Dee Ford, Malzahn said he couldn’t rule any other players out for Saturday “right now.” … According to Malzahn, the Tigers have yet to choose their captains for the game. … Auburn will have three coaches in the booth this season: defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith and wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig.

August 23, 2013

Miss anything? Links to all recent Auburn content in one place

Auburn 31, ULM Louisiana-Monroe 28

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Some may remember a post on WarEagleExtra.com two weeks ago which linked to 19 different stories at one time.

Well, it’s the same deal here. There have been 22 additions to the blog since Monday (not including this post, of course), and with almost 48 hours remaining until we get to speak with any of Auburn’s players or coaches again — we’ll be speaking with coordinators, Ellis Johnson and Rhett Lashlee on Sunday evening, for those wondering — it would be a good time to get caught up on all the latest goings-on with the Tigers.

So don’t frustrate yourself by trying to scroll down to take in every piece of content that’s been produced in the last four days. That’s what this post is here for: to make it simpler for you, the reader, by having everything compiled in one place.

If you’re looking for a notebook, we’ve got it. A feature? That too. Videos? Yes sir. Whatever you want, you should be able to find below. (And as per usual, each item is sectioned accordingly.)

NEWS & NOTES

8/19 — Injuries to keep Dee Ford and Jonathan Jones out of season opener

8/20 — True freshman Johnathan Ford switching from running back to cornerback

8/20 — Former Tigers Demetruce McNeal and Ricky Parks find new schools

8/20 — Gus Malzahn looks back at first fall camp as Tigers coach, feels team covered ‘all of our situations’

8/21 — 2014 schedule has Tigers hosting Arkansas in opener, traveling to Georgia and Alabama

8/22 — Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

8/22 — Demetruce McNeal officially enrolled at West Alabama

8/22 — Kiehl Frazier ‘in the mix’ for playing time in season opener, Justin Garrett returns to practice

VIDEO INTERVIEWS, POST-PRACTICE

8/19 — Gus Malzahn: Head coach says Nick Marshall ‘was a lot more vocal’ in first practice as starting QB

8/19 — Nick Marshall feels ‘blessed’ to start at quarterback for Tigers

8/19 — Rhett Lashlee says Nick Marshall ‘taking it and running with’ quarterback responsibilities

8/20 — Ellis Johnson has seen improvement ‘with past four practices’ after spate of injuries disrupt cohesiveness

8/20 — Auburn offense finds ‘best rhythm that we’ve had since I’ve been back’ in final practice of fall camp

8/21 — Junior defensive tackles Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright

8/23 — Gus Malzahn pleased to see Nick Marshall ‘just as disappointed as the coaches’ when he makes a mistake

PLAYER/POSITION PROFILES

8/19 — Jonathan Wallace ahead of Jeremy Johnson in fight for backup QB spot

8/22 — Cassanova McKinzy believes weakside linebacker spot will showcase ‘everything I can do’

8/23 — Tigers not lacking for options in the backfield

MISCELLANEOUS ANALYSIS & SUCH

8/21 — Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

8/22 — Replay Thursday’s live chat

8/23 — 4 at 4: Links to help the day pass by

August 21, 2013

Auburn football: Five questions (and five predictions) as Tigers head into regular season

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn wrapped up its fall camp on Tuesday, the first since Gus Malzahn took over as head coach.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn found his starting quarterback during fall camp, but the Tigers still have question marks heading into their season opener Aug 31. (File by Todd Van Emst)

The Tigers were able to solve what Malzahn considered “the No. 1 priority” heading into the regular season — settling on a quarterback. That four-man race concluded last Saturday, when Nick Marshall was named the starter. But with just 10 days left before Washington State comes into Jordan-Hare Stadium for the season opener, Auburn is still looking for answers at other positions.

Here are five questions (in no particular order) the Tigers will try to figure out prior to squaring off against the Cougars on Aug. 31, with (bold) predictions on what the outcomes will be:

Who starts at right tackle?

For the duration of fall camp, it appeared Avery Young and Patrick Miller were neck-and-neck at the position, as both saw time with the first-team offense. Earlier this week, however, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Miller had “been working there a lot” in recent practices. During the same interview session, Lashlee said Young had moved inside and started taking snaps at both guard spots, though he saw more time on the left side, which has been manned by Alex Kozan.

Malzahn refused to shed any more light on the situation following practice on Tuesday, but expect a decision by the beginning of next week — even if the coaching staff doesn’t make its choice public.

Bold prediction: Miller becomes the right tackle, and Young, who Lashlee said is “talented enough to play all five positions,” steals the left guard spot from Kozan.

Who is the team’s go-to receiver?

One of the biggest unknowns heading into fall camp remains the same at its closure. The Tigers have a lot of options at receiver, but none has stood above the rest. Just see what Lashlee had to say earlier this week. “I’ll be honest right now,” he said. “I don’t know who our leading receiver is going to be.” Lashlee lauded juniors Quan Bray and Jaylon Denson for their consistency, but didn’t rule out tight end C.J. Uzomah possibly developing into the best pass-catcher the Tigers will have this fall.

Bold prediction: Sophomore Ricardo Louis, who was the “most explosive” player in camp according to teammates, establishes himself as the Tigers’ top receiver this season (and beyond).

What happens at defensive end without Dee Ford?

The Tigers certainly would have liked to have some semblance of a rotation in place by now. Injuries have made that difficult. The starter at left end, Ford has already been ruled out for the opener due to a ligament injury in his knee. But he’s far from the only player who dealt with an affliction during camp. Fellow ends Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae have missed time, while Keymiya Harrell has yet to practice after having surgery knee surgery this spring. To combat their lack of healthy bodies, the Tigers also moved LaDarius Owens back to end after he had shifted to linebacker during spring practice.

The absences allowed true freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel to audition for a possible starting spot, and they have done their part to impress defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, saying the duo already comprises “two of our best pass-rushers.”

Bold prediction: Though Johnson said he would prefer to have his “veterans prepped up to be the starters,” Lawson is on the field at one of the end positions with the first-team defense versus Washington State.

Who holds the edge at middle linebacker?

Kris Frost entered the fall No. 1 on the depth chart, but he didn’t stay there long. Time and again, Johnson said Jake Holland has been the steadier player during practice, and as such, moved him ahead of Frost. Johnson explained the difference between the two on Monday.

“Kris had two or three days where he kind of went backwards, had some missed assignments and some things that were uncharacteristic and shouldn’t have done,” he said. ” … The two legitimate scrimmages that we had, Jake just had more production, had more tackles, more plays, had a pick (and) hasn’t had as many missed tackles.”

That should tell people all they need to know.

Bold prediction: Frost continues to fight the good fight, but Holland is in the starting lineup come game time.

What’s the deal with the secondary?

Much like the defensive line, injuries have taken their toll on the Tigers’ back end. Jonathan Jones will miss the opener (and possibly more) after breaking a bone in his ankle in an off-field mishap. That means the No. 3 corner on the Tigers will come from a trio of first-year players: redshirt freshman T.J. Davis and true freshmen Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford, who switched from running back this week.

Demetruce McNeal’s decision-making didn’t help matters, whose arrest last Saturday led to his dismissal and weakened an already-lean unit at safety. Originally a cornerback, Josh Holsey has been at the strong (or boundary) safety position since the end of the spring, when McNeal missed the last five practices for undisclosed personal issues. McNeal then sat out the first 10 practices of camp following an infection that required minor surgery, which forced Holsey to remain at safety. Many thought he would finally move back to corner after McNeal regained his health, but the senior was dismissed before the Tigers ever reached that point. If anything were to happen Holsey or fellow safety Jermaine Whitehead, it would be down to Ryan Smith and quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier.

Bold prediction: The two former offensive players — Ford and Frazier — see more action on defense than they ever would have imagined one month ago.

August 20, 2013

VIDEO: Ellis Johnson has seen improvement ‘with past four practices’ after spate of injuries disrupt cohesiveness

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson discussed his unit’s injury woes at length in his post-practice interview with reporters Monday night. He also talked about the rotation at defensive end as well as the “sad” way he felt former safety Demetruce McNeal’s career at Auburn ended.

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He knows a gifted player when he sees one.

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

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

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

Lashlee will welcome him back with open arms.

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

August 19, 2013

Auburn football: Injuries to keep Dee Ford and Jonathan Jones out of season opener

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Injuries have wreaked havoc on Auburn’s defense during fall camp.

Now, those wounds will sideline two of the unit’s key pieces for the season opener against Washington State. Ellis Johnson confirmed that both starting left defensive end Dee Ford and cornerback Jonathan Jones won’t play when the Tigers take the field Aug. 31.

Senior defensive Dee Ford will miss the season opener against Washington State after suffering an injury in the Tigers' second scrimmage of the fall. Defensive coordinator (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior defensive Dee Ford will miss the season opener against Washington State after suffering an injury in the Tigers’ second scrimmage of the fall. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said the injury dealt with one of the ligaments in Ford’s knee. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“I don’t know (exactly) how long Dee is out, but he’s certainly out for an extended time,” the defensive coordinator said following the team’s practice on Monday. “Jonathan Jones had an accident off the playing field. That was a heartbreaker because he was doing such a good job and was going to see a lot of playing time. That was a critical loss to us.”

Ford was injured during Auburn’s second scrimmage of the spring, Johnson recalled.

“First series, freak thing,” he said. “Someone’s leg swung around and hit him in the side. Not real, real bad. No surgery required.”

When asked to specify what knee ligament Ford hurt, Johnson wasn’t sure.

“It’s one of those CLs,” he said. “ACL? One of those CLs.”

Jones’ affliction, however, had nothing to do with football. Johnson said the sophomore corner slipped on some “wet steps” and broke a bone in his ankle. It required surgery, but the coordinator wasn’t aware how it went.

“Have not gotten a report,” he said. “(Head) Coach (Gus Malzahn) may have, but I have not.”

With Jones out for an unknown period of time, running back Johnathan Ford volunteered to move to corner. Johnson said the true freshman will practice with the defense “full-time” for the foreseeable future.

But Ford and Jones are far from the only defenders dealing with injuries.

Hybrid safety/linebacker Justin Garrett hasn’t practiced in the last week after suffering what Johnson termed a “foot sprain.” Unlike Jones and Ford, there are no worries about him sitting out against the Cougars.

“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” Johnson said. “We’re going to make sure he gets a full week of practice. He could have come back a day or two ago, but it’s still a little tender. Missing a few days right now, for his sake, is the best thing. For our football team, it probably puts us into a herky-jerky process. We want to make sure when he does come back that he’s full speed and there’s no threat of recurrence on that thing.”

The defensive line has been hit hard as well. Keymiya Harrell hasn’t practiced this fall, still recovering from a knee surgery performed this spring. Defensive end Kenneth Carter returned to the field after suffering a concussion, while fellow defensive end Nosa Eguae also practiced Monday after being sidelined for a short period of time.

Johnson admitted the absence of so many integral players has hampered the unit’s ability to establish cohesiveness. Last week, Johnson said the defense “stall out and hit neutral” due to the rash of injuries.

“So it is what it is. It’s real, and it’s something that’s going to affect our ability of how well we play,” he said. “But somebody is going to have to step up. Somebody else is going to get a chance, and they’re going to have to answer the bell.”

Besides, the “injury bug” is going to happen at some point every season, Johnson said.

The more important thing is figuring out a way to overcome it.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “You can’t try to sit there and say it doesn’t matter. But you can’t try to sit there and say it’s not going to give us an opportunity because you’ve got to work through it. Everybody has this happen and football players have to step up when they get the opportunity.”

Johnson rested easy, knowing that as bad as it seems for the Tigers’ defense right now, it’s not something insurmountable.

Nothing surprises the 30-plus year coaching veteran anymore.

“I’ve been in situations where it’s extremely worse and I’ve been in situations where we just had a horseshoe and never lost a guy,” he said. “(I’ve) been in one season where we played with the same 11 defensive starters in every game but two. It’s just one of those things.”

August 6, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/6: Tigers don full pads for first time, Demetruce McNeal inactive once again

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to approximately 20 minutes of practice on Tuesday, the first time the team donned full pads during practice. It also marked Day 5 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

This wide-lens photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn's practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

This wide-angle photo of strength and condition coach Ryan Russell working the team through stretching drills was about as interesting as it got at Auburn’s practice on Tuesday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • This was the least-interesting practice reporters have had a chance to see thus far. And that’s being generous. Due to rain, most of the Tigers’ drills were forced to take place inside, and the ones on display likely wouldn’t enrapture the fan base. But we’ll forge on nonetheless.
  • Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson finally lifted the curtain on what’s been ailing Demetruce McNeal on Monday: The senior safety had an infection that required a minor surgery. Johnson figured McNeal would be out for “several more days,” and his prediction was right. Safety No. 16 at least seemed to be moving around well on Tuesday, bobbing his head and twirling a football on his fingertips. He also had some fun with right tackle Avery Young during stretching drills. After Young finished one of his steps, McNeal jogged by and tapped him on the helmet with a football. “You know I got you, dog,” Young told him.
  • The quarterbacks didn’t throw any passes while media members were present. Jonathan Wallace was a holder on field goals, with the rest of the quarterbacks off to the side running with ropes tied to them. Jeremy Johnson paired up with Tucker Tuberville and Kiehl Frazier did the same with Nick Marshall.
  • The first-team offensive line stayed the same, with Greg Robinson at left tackle, Alex Kozan at left guard, Reese Dismukes at center, Chad Slade at right guard and the aforementioned Young at right tackle. There was a change on the second-team line, however, as Will Adams replaced Jordan Diamond at right guard. The rest of Auburn’s second-team offensive line: Shon Coleman at left tackle, Devonte Danzey at left guard, Tunde Fariyike at center and Patrick Miller at right tackle.
  • The only contact that took place during the viewing portion was courtesy of the defensive backs. Coach Melvin Smith had his unit working on jamming drills.
  • The punt returner group was identical to Monday, consisting of wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis and Tony Stevens as well as cornerback Chris Davis. The punt returns were also the only unit adversely affected by practicing indoors, as many of Steven Clark’s kicks reach the roof of the facility. (Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a running tally, though I saw at least five bounce off the ceiling.) Wide receiver Sammie Coates was a new face among the kick returners on Tuesday. He joined a trio of running backs in Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Johnathan Ford, wide receiver Ricardo Louis and cornerback Jonathan Jones.
Read more here: http://www.wareagleextra.com/#storylink=cpy

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.

May 2, 2013

7 at 7: Depth chart players on the radar

Quan Bray

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – So now that Auburn’s made their post-spring depth chart as official as official gets – other than Joshua Holsey as the No. 1 boundary safety, nothing else is particularly shocking – we wait to see what it all means.

In the meantime, let’s run through seven guys you should take note of based on head coach Gus Malzahn’s assessments.

****

#5 Quan Bray, jr., first-team WR. Redemption year for Bray, who fumbled a costly LSU punt and then was suspended for a game for an off-field arrest. But Bray’s back in a familiar role by Malzahn’s standards, which means this could be a major bounceback year.

Gus says: “Quan is one of those real versatile guys. To take you back a couple years ago, he was actually playing the tailback positions. He’s got some running back skills. You’ll see us try to get the ball to him in space and let him do his thing as far as that goes.”

****

Auburn Football#92 Kenneth Carter, sr., first-team DE. Four defensive ends, four seniors. That’s the only position teeming with experience in the college years department, and Carter will be one to watch who didn’t have particularly great success as a defensive tackle.

Gus says: “A guy that’s played inside in the past. Coach (Rodney) Garner moved him outside. Very physical guy. He improved his pass rushing as the spring went on.”

**** 

#72 Shon Coleman, fr., second-team LT. That’s right. Freshman. The NCAA granted the leukemia conqueror a sixth year of eligibility, so if Coleman’s ascension continues and his resolve remains, he’ll be one of the feel-good stories in college football sometime between now and 2016.

Gus says: “We were very curious how Shon Coleman would come on. He got better and better. You can see his body is starting to react in a very positive way. We’re very proud of Shon and his progression.”

****

Jaylon Denson, Jonathan Jones#21 Jonathan Jones, so., second-team CB. Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy aren’t giving up their jobs anytime soon, but Jones is, put simply, a player. He’ll keep improving and learning at corner, while contributing on special teams.

Gus says: “He’s not a very big guy, but he really laid some big hits. You saw him in the spring game. Made an outstanding hit.”

****

#10 LaDarius Owens, jr., second-team WLB. Like Carter, it didn’t work out at his position. So we’ll see if he someday makes an impact at one of those two linebacker spots; at the very least, Owens gave Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy a breather every now and then in practice when Jake Holland was in class or JaViere Mitchell was working his way back from a concussion. (Note that Owens is on the two-deep, and not Harris Gaston.)

Gus says: “You’re talking about a guy that’s played defensive end the last couple of years and is moving back to the back end. He’s a guy that really gave great effort and coach (Ellis Johnson) was high on him. So he’ll be in the mix at those linebacker positions also.”

****

Photo by Todd Van Emst

#35 Jay Prosch, sr., first-team H-back. Y’all love him. So do the coaches. As I noted Wednesday, he’s the only senior on the entire offensive two-deep, unbelievable as that sounds.

Gus says: “He was one of the highlights of the whole spring. Talk about a hard-nosed guy: that’s a dirty-work type position for us. It takes a smart guy.”

****

#9 Jermaine Whitehead, jr., first-team FS. Safety, like linebacker, is a thin position, so Whitehead’s dependability was crucial this spring.

Gus says: “Jermaine Whitehead was probably the safety that had just an excellent spring. Coach (Charlie Harbison) was very high on him, and (he) really did a solid job.”

April 2, 2013

7 at 7: Louis working hard on his own, Ray raising eyebrows, Dismukes speaking up with mates, an Auburn recruit’s April Fools’ prank

AUBURN FOOTBALL

1) Talk about cross-training: Ricardo Louis is using tennis balls in a common hockey drill to help himself catch footballs.

Louis will take two tennis balls and fire them rhythmically at the wall – think a fast-paced juggling motion – working on catching the balls and releasing them as quickly as possible. It helps specifically with hand-eye coordination.

“The faster I throw it on the wall, it comes back and I look it in, tuck it in, find the tip of the ball,” Louis said. “It helps with everything.”

Louis is also setting up his own cone drills to improve his footwork, and throwing on the side with quarterback Jonathan Wallace, a fellow true sophomore, before and after practice.

“As hard as everybody works, I feel like whoever’s worked the hardest will get that job,” Louis said, referring to the starting wide receiver derby. “I’ve been working hard – I think I’ve been working the hardest because I do stuff on my own.”

He’s also focusing on returns, though most those reps have gone to Quan Bray, Trovon Reed, Jonathan Jones and Jonathon Mincy. The first time Louis ever took a kick return in high school (his junior year), he says he took it back 80 yards for a touchdown.

“The more reps we get,” Louis said, “the more comfortable we get catching the ball and running it smoothly.”

2) Of the clear top five receivers on the depth chart is one walk-on: Melvin Ray, who technically is not on athletic scholarship in his return to football after trying his hand with the Los Angeles Dodgers and unable to return to his scholarship with Alabama.

“He’s a big, athletic guy,” head coach Gus Malzahn said. “I think if you ask him, he’s thinking a lot about where to line up and his assignment instead of just playing football. At times, he’s made some plays.”

3) Redshirt freshman Alex Kozan sort of stumbled into a position to play backup center, moving over from offensive guard. He’s struggling so far to learn the position, but there’s less competition at center.

“Coach (J.B.) Grimes called me into his office and kind of explained the situation, how they need to figure out what everybody can and can’t play,” Kozan said. “He just said he thought it would be a good fit for me because of my intelligence. Also, when you look at our line, a lot of guys are 6-foot-6, 6-foot-7 – longer bodies. It’s a lot harder for those guys to bend down and be low enough to play center … versus a guy who is 6-4 like me who can bend and be able to get good leverage on the D-tackles and the noses in the SEC.”

4) There’s a clear leader at the forefront of Auburn’s offensive line: center Reese Dismukes.

“He’s got the most experience,” Malzahn said. “Those guys will listen to him.”

Of course, Dismukes has played and started 23 games in college. One of the two games he didn’t play or start is the reason Dismukes hasn’t addressed the media since before the 2012 season began: a one-game suspension following his arrest for public intoxication nine games before the season.

Yet Dismukes is speaking up, around the team.

“Reese has always been a vocal leader as long as I’ve been here,” Kozan said. “Not everybody sees that necessarily, but Reese has always been a leader on our offensive line.”

AUBURN FOOTBALL

5) Monday’s practice also included some intrasquad scrimmaging with referees on hand, just like Saturday’s – except no tackling this time.

Malzahn was more encouraged by Monday’s session than the one over the weekend.

“The great thing is we have a lot of room for improvement and we felt like our guys were trying to do what we asked. It’s just a matter of fighting through fatigue and being more disciplined with our assignments,” Malzahn said. “It did look like we improved … the guys know what to expect and they should be better about the execution of their drills and assignments.”

6) Obviously, Teammate A competing with Teammate B for a particular starting spot won’t make for a completely cordial relationship. Obviously, Teammate A and Teammate B will rarely say anything bad about the other – that’s how football players are trained.

In the case of Patrick Miller vs. Avery Young for right tackle, they actually are friends rooting for each other.

“We come from the same hometown, so we’re like brothers,” Young said. “Anything I mess up on, he lets me know. If I see him not stepping right or doing something wrong, I help him. We know it’s a team effort.”

Indeed, Miller attended Dwyer High School and Young came from Palm Beach Gardens in West Palm, Fla. They squared off their junior year of high school in 2010, with Miller’s Dwyer garnering an easy 35-0 victory.

Miller’s also got the upper hand in this right tackle battle, while Young works back into playing shape from a torn labrum.

“He’s doing real good,” Young said. “It looks like he’s been doing it already. So everything’s going real well for him. I’m proud of him.”

Said Miller on Saturday: “There’s guys that are not even playing right now: like for instance, Avery, he’s going to be an awesome offensive lineman.”

7) And finally, athletes and figures across Twitter found a number of ways to dupe unsuspecting, gullible individuals on the first day of April.

@GregJennings and @WarBlogle each freaked out a few followers when announcing their “retirement from Twitter.

As for incoming Auburn punter Jimmy Hutchinson, well, he found about the simplest way to tweak Tigers fans.

Tweeted @Kicker_88 Monday afternoon: “Rolllllll Tide! #AprilFools #WDE”