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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 9, 2013

VIDEO: Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith discusses his emphasis on tackling and how his DBs ‘have always intercepted passes’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith and the rest of the assistants (sans coordinators) on Gus Malzahn’s staff met with reporters following the team’s picture day at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday. Smith said that “tackling is the most unnatural thing a human does,” and couldn’t quite explain why his teams have so much success picking off passes — they just do.

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 2, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/2: Demetruce McNeal sits out first day of fall camp

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to view a little more than 15 minutes of practice on Friday, which marked the first day of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short time at practice.

Tyler Nero runs through drills with the rest of the defensive linemen on the first day of Auburn's fall camp on Friday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Tyler Nero runs through drills with the rest of the defensive linemen on the first day of Auburn’s fall camp on Friday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • The biggest news from the practice centered on a player who didn’t participate. The Tigers’ top returning tackler, safety Demetruce McNeal, did not take part in any portion of today’s practice. He was off to the side for all defensive back drills, as well as when the entire team gathered together to begin stretching and running with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.
  • There were five players back fielding punts: wide receivers Trovon Reed, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis; cornerback Chris Davis and running back Johnathan Ford.
  • Defensive line coach Rodney Garner ran his unit through a drill where each player was forced to stay low in an attempt to get off the ball with better positioning. They did this by practicing under a trampoline-like mechanism that forced them to stay low, lest they come up too quickly and hit the top of the bar. “Explode, roll your hips and meet the contact!” Garner told his players. When Kenneth Carter didn’t get back to the line quick enough, his coach tersely reminded him he had to pick up the pace. (There’s no doubt head coach Gus Malzahn would be proud to hear one of his coaches on defense keeping his unit to the same up-tempo standard as the offense.)
  • Speaking of Malzahn, he refrained from hands-on coaching as far as this reporter could see. Instead, he was content to stay in the background chewing bubblegum.
  • The position under the most scrutiny entering fall camp did little to mesmerize spectators on Friday. Quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson were all present and accounted for. (Yes, walk-on Tucker Tuberville also took part, but obviously he’s not a legitimate candidate to win the starting job.) Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who doubles as the quarterback coach, mainly had his signal-callers working on footwork. They dropped back, planted their feet, threw off their back foot, worked on handoffs, etc. Again, far from captivating stuff.
  • Wide receivers and defensive backs lined up against each other, too. This had more to do with “installation” than it had to do with specific plays, however. Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith took special care to make sure each of his players lined up correctly, noting the exact distance they needed to be apart from each other at the line of scrimmage.
  • The viewing portion ended as the stretching and conditioning drills began. Russell, full of energy and yelling out every instruction, let the players know that “Every step needs to be a stretch!”

July 20, 2013

Jonathon Mincy ready to change things around this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala.Jonathon Mincy plans on this fall being a season of change.

LSU 12 Auburn 10 Mincy Shepard

After a disappointing 2012 season both team-wise and individually, junior cornerback Jonathon Mincy is ready to make amends this fall.

It should go without saying what he wants altered most — an improvement upon Auburn’s 3-9 (0-8 SEC) record in 2012. But there’s another number that was every bit as disappointing to the Tigers’ cornerback: one. That single digit stands for the number of interceptions tallied by Auburn’s secondary last season.

And it’s a stat that has driven Mincy and the rest of Auburn’s defensive backs every day of the offseason, especially during the ball drills brought in by cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith.

“That’s something that we work every single day — ball drills,” Mincy said on Friday. “That’s something that we’re going to take pride in as a defensive back. Me, Chris (Davis) and Ryan White, that’s something that we stress to the whole group. We definitely can’t wait to go out there and make plays and definitely get some interceptions and change it around.”

Mincy has already had to make a slight adaptation since the spring.

After donning jersey No. 6 in his first two years as a Tiger, he started wearing No. 21 during spring practice. It was the same number he wore in high school. When he arrived in Auburn, however, it was already accounted for. Then, after taking it on this spring, Mincy found out he and running back Tre Mason would “be on a lot of special teams together.” Since Mason also sported No. 21, push came to shove.

So, back to square one: No. 6.

Though it was a small concession, it’s all a part of Mincy’s refusal to be content with any aspect of his game.

“I definitely have to step up, play a more leadership role for this defense and that’s something that motivates me,” he said. “Personally, I don’t really feel I (had) a great season last year. Definitely not having interceptions and just being that ball hawk on the defense, that’s something that I’m hoping to change this year.”

Individually, the Decatur, Ga., native said he had a few goals he wanted to reach, listing stats like collecting 60-plus tackles and at least four interceptions this season.

But any individual accomplishments or strides made by the defense will likely be for naught if the Tigers’ offense doesn’t do the same. Head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have repeatedly expressed the need for one receiver to develop into the team’s “go-to” option. Practicing against them every day, Mincy can speak to the receiving corps’ progress better than most.

And Mincy can recall few, if any, drops during most practices and drills, “a good sign,” as he was quick to note.

“That’s something offensive-wise that we have to take pride in because we got to catch balls,” he said. “Point blank, period.”

But what of the Tigers’ most-discussed battle offensively, that of the team’s starting quarterback? Like any other interested observer, Mincy can’t wait to see who wins the job.

He just hopes it happens as soon as possible.

“It’s something that’s competitive and that’s something that we need at every position,” he said. “That’s something that we’re looking forward to. (A) lot of great young boys just came in and we’re just looking to see how they can play.”

Of course, being ready to play could be applied to any player on the team. In the meantime, Mincy has gotten a head start on the season, already breaking down film of Auburn’s first three opponents in Washington State, Arkansas State and Mississippi State, respectively. With that trio of foes likely to put the ball in the air often, Mincy knows there will be plenty of opportunities for the Tigers’ secondary to snag interceptions and leave last season’s dismal showing far behind.

Until the Tigers tee it up against the Cougars at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Aug. 31, all Mincy and his teammates can do is push themselves when fall camp begins Aug. 2, as anticipation for the new season builds by the day.

“(We) really just want to get better at all times in all phases and really start camp at a high level,” he said. “We definitely have high expectations on every aspect of the ball.”

April 16, 2013

McCOMEBACK KID: Instead of leaving Auburn, McNeal chose to leave his mark

3Auburn11

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – Slumped on his couch, taunted by his television, bummed out watching bowl games kick off without him or his team last winter, Demetruce McNeal thought seriously, again, whether he was in the right place.

“I’m always ready to just get back on the field and hit the ground running,” McNeal said. “It was just tough, sitting at home and thinking about it — ‘Man, am I coming back? What am I going to do?’”

Not for the first time, the hard-hitting safety wearing his heart on his sleeve concluded his heart remained with Auburn.

“I thought to myself, okay, we were 3-9,” McNeal said back on the first new day of spring football practices. “Let me come back and try to be a leader for this defense, and just change what people keep saying about the Auburn defense.”

McNeal repeatedly pointed to Auburn’s 2004 team, which went undefeated thanks to the nation’s stingiest scoring defense – 11.3 points allowed per game.

The Tigers haven’t finished in that category’s top 50 since 2008, and were far less consistent than last year’s No. 65 ranking (28.3 points) would indicate.

“That’s basically why I came back, to get this team on the right track before I leave,” McNeal said. “I’ve been down like that before. … It’s motivation because now we know how it feels to have a season like that, and we don’t want to feel that way again. We let so many people down.”

Statistically, McNeal was pretty good amidst the misery – in fact, he’s probably Auburn’s best returning defender. As a junior, he was Auburn’s No. 2-leading tackler (trailing only linebacker Daren Bates), leading the squad with 53 solo takedowns and tying defensive tackle Angelo Blackson with seven tackles for a loss.

But McNeal was just as noteworthy for his behavior behind closed doors – he twice was benched for the opening series in non-conference home games (in favor of Trent Fisher), and Ryan Smith started the opener against Clemson and the finale at Alabama.

“I made mistakes last year. Everybody made mistakes,” McNeal said. “I’m just trying to limit those mistakes and keep playing and go on about my career.”

McNeal knew he was meant to stick around when he started working with new safeties coach Charlie Harbison, who recruited him out of high school when at Clemson.

“The coaches are embracing us, and we’re embracing the coaches. Because in the past, I felt there was a lot of players vs. coaches. Now it’s more free and so much fun,” McNeal said. “I’ve got coaches that interact with me and I can interact with them with a playful mind, but still playing football at the same time.”

In particular, McNeal didn’t appreciate how old coaches demanded precise, stagnant technique – to the point where McNeal said he felt like a “robot” under 2012 defensive backs coach Willie Martinez.

Harbison, however, is different.

“I like him because he’s really the only coach I’ve had since I’ve been here that really allows me to feel comfortable about myself back there,” McNeal said. “In the past, a lot of coaches had me bending my knees so far down, I felt so uncomfortable. Coach Harbison, he’s more of laid-back type of dude. Play at your comfort level, because I’m going to coach off you.”

McNeal played last year as a gangly 6-foot-2, 187-pounder, but he already put on 12 pounds by the start of spring and hopes to weigh in between 210-215 pounds for the fall.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson refers to McNeal’s position as a “boundary safety” – which requires physicality, closing speed and a nose for stopping the run, suiting McNeal.

“I’ve had some times, like at (South) Carolina, our big hitter back there was a free safety, (D.J.) Swearinger. But he wasn’t the biggest and strongest,” Johnson said. “He made big hits in the open field. But we had to have a 200-pound kid at the boundary corner and boundary safety to fit the run.”

McNeal’s gung-ho about the opportunity. He admires the work Harbison did with Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins in the 1990s, and the same of cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith turning Johnthan Banks into an All-American at Mississippi State last year.

“They feel that I can fill that void and just get a lot of interceptions and make a lot of tackles,” McNeal said. “Now that my mind is made up about what I want to do, it’s basically just learning the whole defense and how fast can I learn it.”

As his team enjoys its new day, McNeal has adopted a new attitude.

“I just want to go out with a bang, man,” McNeal said. “That’s basically it. Leave with a bang, get my name up in the (NFL) draft, try my best to be an All-American.”

March 30, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #3: Practice video, Malzahn comments blog

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The first Auburn practice of the spring where sunscreen was necessary, Jordan-Hare Stadium reopened for business in the Tigers’ third session in four days.

- An official referee crew was on hand, indicating there’s going to be a scrimmage later on. Closed to the media and general public, though.

- At the tail end of the media’s viewing window, we saw the first 11-on-11 hurry-up drill. While it’s been well-documented these mean very little, the first units remained the same as previously reported … while keeping in mind Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace are swapping chances with the first unit.

- This 11-on-11 drill including some physical contact, mainly in the tackle box. Nothing outside, nobody lighting up any receivers or anything.

- Every coach was somewhere inside the sidelines coaching up the drill, obviously keeping a supersonic tempo. Primarily, it was Gus Malzahn right on top of the quarterback and overall offense, making calls and keeping the pace.

- If you live in the Jordan-Hare Stadium neighborhood, you’re probably hearing a booming voice all morning. That would be Malzahn himself, wearing a microphone and announcing period numbers and the next drill to echo throughout 80,000 empty seats.

- Immediately following stretching was a fast-paced field-goal drill, setting up kicker Cody Parkey from straightaway and both hashes. The multiple attempts would trend back 5 yards at a time, going back as far as a 47-yard attempt (which Parkey missed wide left). Ryan White’s still the main holder, but punter Steven Clark did some work as well.

- Stretching is coordinated with about 30 players at a time moving forward. When the final 30-man line of one exercise didn’t see everybody start at the same time, S&C coach Ryan Russell and safeties coach Charlie Harbison made them do it again

- “Great body language in everything you do!” – CBs coach Melvin Smith, during stretching

- Speaking of body language, Russell walks and stalks like Peyton Manning doing his crazy audibles during a frantic 2-minute offense. This definitely sets the tone in terms of being fast. There’s a reason Malzahn canned Kevin Yoxall for Russell.

- Lots of schmoozing by director of high school recruiting Al Pogue with high school coaches on the side. This is his job.

- The QBs worked on pre-snap calls, 3-step drops and keeping their eyes up. Footwork’s going to be an ever-persistent process.

March 29, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice No. 2 plus Malzahn, Johnson, Lashlee comments

AUBURN, Ala. – The first-day luster is wearing off. Now we’re into the grind of every-other-day sessions, and we’ll see what can be ascertained from a 30-minute window.

Today, we saw mostly stretching, special-teams work and a slice of team drills.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

Take it for what it’s worth, but in the one drill I saw involving the entire defense, this was the first unit working together Friday:

Safeties: Jermaine Whitehead, Demetruce McNeal. Cornerbacks: Jonathan Mincy, Chris Davis. Star LB/S: Justin Garrett. Linebackers: Jake Holland, Cassanova McKinzy. Defensive tackles: Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson. Defensive ends: Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae.

Garrett would be the interesting name to watch there. A potential hybrid linebacker/safety.

Top defensive end recruits Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel were on hand, closely watching the defensive line drills. I blogged yesterday that J.B. Grimes was my pick for which coach yells the loudest – and he might still be the pick pound-for-pound pick – but defensive line coach Rodney Garner is going to be in those linemen’s ears all spring and summer long.

Well, Grimes does have competition in the little-guy-loud-yeller department from a support staffer. Strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell has an unmistakable bark.

The Charlie Harbison and Melvin Smith storyline is those two are like brothers. They’re basically twins when they stand 30 yards away opposite each other, leading the same drill, coaching the same techniques to Harbison’s safeties and Smith’s corners.

Take it for what it’s worth, but in the one drill I saw involving the entire offense – which was that two-minute drill with no subbing – this was the first unit working together Friday:

QB Jonathan Wallace, RB Corey Grant, H-back Jay Prosch, WRs Ricardo Louis and Melvin Ray (again, grain of salt, people), TE/slot Brandon Fulse, LT Greg Robinson, LG Jordan Diamond, C Reese Dismukes, RG Chad Slade, RT Patrick Miller.

It appears four-star recruit and redshirt freshman Alex Kozan is getting a look at center, but he’ll need to work on shotgun snaps. A high delivery was tipped by his quarterback, Kiehl Frazier, and tailback Cameron Artis-Payne grabbed it instinctively, which meant the flow of the drill wasn’t interrupted.

A number of players are getting chances to return punts. Quan Bray, Ricardo Louis, Tre Mason and Corey Grant are the usual suspects. Scott Fountain wants a playmaker back there, it might take up until the season begins to find one specifically at that position.

A balance of guys wore short-sleeved jerseys, and guys wore long Under Armour shirts or leggings. It was still chilly, but warming up from Wednesday’s early-morning frost.

Guests from Montgomery, Florida and Georgia were on hand. (I’m sure there were from other locations too.) Former Florida State assistant Dameyune Craig was shaking hands with some Florida guests.

Later today: coach Gus Malzahn, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson address the media at 10 a.m. CT.

March 28, 2013

7 at 7: How we’ll cover spring football | plus Weight Watchers; Kris Frost is ready to fly

Auburn spring football

AUBURN, Ala. – I got away from this ‘7 at 7’ habit during the fall. I swear, I won’t let that happen again.

Because you’re unbelievable fans, and you crave the important news on this football program. Your interest in Auburn football is at its apex, as well it should be for many reasons.

So let’s get into some housekeeping notes along with a few funnies from Wednesday’s inaugural Gus Malzahn-governed spring practice. But first, a pep talk between you and me.

1) There are many ways to approach covering any sports team. Could be the Yankees, could be an SEC college, could be the 2A volleyball powerhouse from Littletown High down the street.

The way my mind’s been molded, the way my work ethic’s been trained, I can best sum up my strategy in two words:

Quality assurance.

I’m not a volume shooter. I’ve never been one, specifically at my previous post when game stories were routinely no longer than 400-450 words. (For comparison, this first portion of the 7 at 7 will be within that length.) Short and sweet was the way it went, whether we liked it or not.

Believe me, as long as this post and others are, it’s only the tip of the iceberg of the information available to spill. Not necessarily all of it is significant, though.

So here’s the deal: I’ll continue to post solid Malzahn quotes as he’s speaking through our live chat – which was wildly popular Wednesday, more than we expected. (Bored at work much? Kidding! Kidding. Again, props to y’all for the audience.) Probably won’t have many player quotes, since they’re spreading them out around the room.

Then for the rest of the day – remember, these sessions are all Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays through A-Day – my job is to sort out the generic rah-rah from the critical analysis. Let’s not forget: this is spring football. It builds a foundation, but certainly doesn’t dictate how the actual football season will unfold. So I’ll pass along the most essential of developments, while also going in-depth on particular players (see: Quan Bray) and tossing in some fun facts along the way, like what you’ll see below on Kris Frost.

I’ll try to post practice videos in a timely fashion much as possible. I’ve yet to put it together, but the first video is a compilation of quarterback work. Ideally, I’ll be cutting and editing clips by keeping position groups together. Simpler that way, I say.

Don’t expect 10 stories from me a day. I’m one guy. I’ll see as much as I can, talk as much as I can, but my commitment is to quality over quantity. What multiple pieces I do produce daily will likely be spread out over the course of that day, so as not to let anything get swept under the rug.

By the way, the reason I lay all this out? It’s kind of my plan for the fall, too; granted, there’s more ‘breaking’ news in the fall, but it’s a plan nonetheless.

The reader support on this web site and on my Twitter feed has been really cool. And yeah, I do read the criticism, usually answering back to the well-worded, correctly-spelled retorts. (Especially if they’re clever.) Of course, any feedback from you guys and gals is also appreciated. Much as I’m fond of giving advice, I doubly enjoy getting it.

Thanks for making the hard work well worth it.

AUBURN FOOTBALL

2) OK, enough of that. Let’s talk about Robenson Therezie maybe beating Onterio McCalebb in a footrace!

Therezie briefly switched from cornerback to running back last year, never latching on permanently at any position. Offense, according to Therezie, isn’t out of the picture.

“It will be a possibility,” Therezie said. “I spoke with coach Malzahn and it seems like a plan. I won’t mind at all playing (Onterio’s) position.

Therezie was flat-out asked if he’s faster than McCalebb, a noted speed demon whose unofficial NFL Scouting Combine 40-yard-dash time (though later trounced by the electronic time) was 4.21 seconds, a would-be combine record.

“In my opinion, yeah,” Therezie said. “We never did (race), but I believe I could beat him … by a foot.”

3) WEIGHT WATCHERS: I took a copy of the season-ending roster in November, and one of the spring roster released Wednesday, comparing all the returning scholarship players’ listed weights then and now based on their work with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. (By the way, I didn’t catch anybody who grew or lost an inch. Sometimes that happens on measurements.)

Twenty-seven players have gained weight.

Twenty-six players have lost weight.

Six players – WR Trovon Reed, P Steven Clark, DT Jeffrey Whitaker, DE Nosa Eguae, FS Trent Fisher and DB Anthony Swain – weigh exactly the same as in November.

AUBURN FOOTBALLHere are the interesting players of note from the scale, and of course, we won’t know exactly what the changes mean … for now:

- Quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier (was 226, now 234) and Jonathan Wallace (was 197, now 209) each have bulked up. Frazier particularly has larger calves. However, Malzahn said Wednesday Frazier was initially even heavier than 234 when winter workouts began.

- The offensive linemen have shifted a bit. From left to right: Greg Robinson 311 -> 314; Reese Dismukes 296 -> 293; Chad Slade 301 -> 308; Patrick Miller 293 -> 288; Avery Young 295 -> 314, which comes with an asterisk; he was recovering from shoulder surgery most of the late fall/early winter. As far as backups, Tunde Fariyike (301 -> 307) and Will Adams (289 -> 293) are slightly beefier, while Jordan Diamond (323 -> 314), Shon Coleman (302 -> 294) and Robert Leff (289 -> 284) are noticeably slimmer.

- Brandon Fulse (249 -> 264, up 15 pounds) could be a blocking monster, clearly. Just gotta make sure that’s 264 healthy pounds.

- Jay Prosch (260 -> 247, down 13 pounds) is moving from fullback to H-back. More running.

- LaDarius Owens (260 -> 248, down 12 pounds) is moving from defensive end to linebacker. More running. Could Craig Sanders (257 -> 242, down 15) be next?

- Dee Ford’s been preaching his health kick. He’s down to 238 from 246, but still toned the way a grown man who chases around quarterbacks should be.

- Good boys, Joshua Holsey (188 -> 195, up 7) and Jonathan Jones (166 -> 172, up 6). I said all offseason the rising sophomore corners needed to bulk up, and they did. Jones is still 10 pounds lighter than any other smallest scholarship player on the roster, though.

- Looks like Tyler Nero (277 -> 266, down 11) might be thinking more along the lines of playing defensive end, not tackle. It would also appear JaBrian Niles (297 -> 305, up 8) is clearly an interior lineman now.

4) Linebacker Kris Frost majors in aviation (or ‘Professional Flight Management’, to be technical), and is taking two-hour classes simply observing and absorbing information on how to fly a four-passenger Cessna 172 airplane, which he’s had a few chances to operate.

Watch Auburn LB Kris Frost talk here

“When I found out (Auburn) had a flight program, it was a big say-so in me coming here,” Frost said. “I’m taking advantage of it, academically. It’s a cool little twist in my life, and I’m enjoying it every step of the way.”

5) Coach tweets following practice today (the handles should speak for their identities). Melvin Smith’s is the most interesting:

@CoachGusMalzahn: Great to be back on practice field with our players and coaches!! Focus today learning how to practice at the tempo and pace we expect.

@AU_CoachMelvin: We’ve got a long way to go but these men are visibly better than when we started. #wareagle

@RhettLashlee: Had a blast on the practice field today with our team ! Just the start…14 more chances to build on today

@CoachSFountain: Day 1- Our Team came to work. Very proud of our Focus as an AU Football team

@coachharbisonAU: We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Some words to live by.

6) A video interview with tailback Corey Grant, who talks about that hurry-up drill with less than three seconds to snap the football. Enjoy.

7) All right, one more message from the writer to his readers. (Sorry! The other five items were loaded today.) I’m skipping the normal Thursday live chat today, but just today – between baseball, women’s basketball and a Columbus trip, life’s a little too busy this afternoon. But I promise, live interactive chats are a go for April 4, 11 and 18. Hope to see you in there.

March 20, 2013

Positional battles to watch: Defensive backs

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

Arkansas Auburn Football

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

@WarEagleExtra

AUBURN, Ala. – A healthy mix of talented veterans and tasty youngsters who got plenty of playing time? Not a bad start for a couple of long-time coaching buddies to work with.

Charlie Harbison has the safeties, which means he’ll guide two entrenched starters in Demetruce McNeal and Jermaine Whitehead along with role players Ryan Smith and Trent Fisher.

Melvin Smith takes cornerbacks, leading upperclassmen Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy while hoping to craft sophomores-to-be Joshua Holsey and Jonathan Jones into the next Johnthan Banks-Darius Slay type of pair.

As long as Harbison and Smith can do something about the Tigers’ 101th-ranked pass efficiency defense – not to mention start creating some turnovers – they’ll get along famously with fans.

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

Who’s been playing: CB Chris Davis (sr.), CB Joshua Holsey (so.), CB Jonathan Jones (so.), FS Demetruce McNeal (sr.), CB Jonathon Mincy (jr.), SS Ryan Smith (sr.), SS Jermaine Whitehead (jr.)

Who’s in waiting: CB T.J. Davis (r-fr.), S Trent Fisher (jr.), S Erique Florence (jr.), DB Jordan Spriggs (jr.), CB Robenson Therezie (jr.), CB Ryan White (sr.)

Who’s out the door: CB T’Sharvan Bell, DB Ikeem Means

Who’s in the door: DB Mackenro Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.), S Khari Harding (Edmond, Okla.), S Brandon King (Alabaster, Ala.), CB Kamryn Melton (Dothan, Ala.)

Who’s coaching ‘em up: Cornerbacks – Melvin Smith, 23rd year (18th in SEC); Safeties – Charlie Harbison, 21st year (11th in SEC)

Who’d they replace, where is he now: Willie Martinez, Tennessee

9.16p mcneal

Thoughts and musings:

- “Clown show.” It was the most entertaining, and perhaps iconic, quote of the year, coming from the mouth of Demetruce McNeal in reference to the Tigers’ 2011 defensive effort at LSU. It turned out characterizing the entire 2012 season – while McNeal was probably Auburn’s most consistent defender (when he wasn’t in the doghouse), he was rarely allowed to speak with the media, for fear of sound bites like that one.

- Jermaine Whitehead was one of just four Tigers (LB Daren Bates, WR Emory Blake and OL Chad Slade) to start all 12 games last fall.

Clemson_Auburn25_9-1-12- Erique Florence and Robenson Therezie have long been rumored to consider transferring from Auburn. Neither have done so – they’re each on the pre-spring roster and participating in winter workouts. Each were four-star recruits who would be ripe to benefit from a change of scenery in terms of the new coaching staff. So they’ll be two prospects to watch in April, especially in the spring game.

- Florence missed two 2012 games for undisclosed personal reasons, and Therezie briefly switched to running back – a move he swore was his decision and was permanent – before returning to corner.

- Chris Davis battled concussions the second half of the season. We’ll be asking him how he’s doing medically, being a hot topic in this era of competitive football.

- Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 system requires a ‘star’ defender, who requires the speed of a safety and the size of a linebacker. Look for incoming junior college recruit Brandon King to compete for that spot immediately.

- Which true freshman could play right away? Head coach Gus Malzahn said he needs a “vicious”-hitting safety, and that’s how, on Signing Day, he described Khari Harding.

Statistically speaking:

65.6 – Auburn opponents’ completion percentage in 2012, the 10th-highest mark in Division I football.

358 – passes attempted by Auburn opponents in 2012 – the 20th-least nationally.

20 – touchdown passes by Auburn opponents in 2012 – tied for 57th-least nationally.

2 – interceptions by Auburn players in 2012, tied with South Florida for the least in the country. One was by linebacker Daren Bates, the other was by occasionally-used safety Trent Fisher.

19 – interceptions by Mississippi State in 2012, led then by Melvin Smith. In the SEC, only Florida had more (20).

3 – sacks by Auburn defensive backs – one each for McNeal, Whitehead and Mincy.

6 – double-digit tackle games by McNeal, leading the Tigers. He did not register any tackles in three games – Clemson, Alabama A&M and Alabama.

90 – tackles by McNeal, just four off of Bates’ team-leading pace.

7 – tackles for a loss by McNeal, tied with Angelo Blackson leading the team.

37 – career games played for McNeal, who at times clashed with the former coaching staff. If he plays every regular season game plus a bowl game his senior year, McNeal hit the 50-game mark, one more than Daren Bates, John Sullen and Onterio McCalebb totaled.

159 – the number of solo tackles attributed to McNeal, Whitehead, Mincy and Davis, the four frequent secondary starters. That’s exactly one-third the entire team total by just those four defensive backs, which does not include another 89 by other DBs. Four of the team’s top six tacklers were in the secondary.

Good Twitter follows: The football field isn’t the only forum for a friendly rivalry between Josh Holsey and Jonathan Jones. Holsey’s @HeyItsJHolsey (4,431 followers) currently has the best of Jones’ @Jonathan_Jones2 (2,800), and both accounts showcase their owner’s personality: Holsey’s fun-loving and feisty, while Jones is more laid-back, cerebral and even philosophical when the moment strikes.

Say what? “With a 4-2-5, you’re wider. By relocating that third defensive back, it changes the dynamic of the corner … it’s all about leverage. If you’re in a 4-2-5, and you make a living in it, you’re going to play some man coverage. The reason people play the 4-2-5 is because of personnel matchup vs. the offense. The 4-2-5 allows you to cover whatever shows up.” – Melvin Smith, describing the role of cornerbacks in a true 4-2-5 package

Joshua Holsey