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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

4 at 4: Links to help the day pass by

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — We’re on Day 1 of a two-day hiatus from media availability with Auburn’s players and coaches.

We have to fill in the gap somehow, so here are a few links for everyone to read before you head off for the weekend.

1. If you didn’t get a chance to read it earlier this week, Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com traveled to Wilcox County, Ga., the home of Auburn’s new starting quarterback, Nick Marshall. (Of course, the writer and quarterback are not related.) A lot of great background info on the Tigers’ signal-caller here.

graphics42. Give yourselves a pat on the back, Tiger fans: Yahoo! named Auburn the top school in the country for tailgating Friday. The site had three other SEC schools — Ole Miss, Alabama and LSU — holding down spots in its top five. Sounds pretty similar to the BCS rankings, doesn’t it? (And yes, I know this article isn’t the be-all, end-all of tailgating rankings, as fans of other teams who didn’t make the list — or those that didn’t land higher — are vehemently disagreeing with this poll. Still, somebody has to be No. 1, and here, the Tigers took the title.)

3. Auburn is far from the only team in the Southeastern Conference dealing with transfers. The Tigers have already seen two players safety Demetruce McNeal and tight end Ricky Parks move on to other schools since fall camp began.

At Texas A&M, redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Davis, one of Johnny Manziel’s backups, announced Thursday he has decided to ply his trade elsewhere. Alabama will be down one player on offense, too, as wide receiver Marvin Shinn is heading to South Alabama. Interestingly, he’s the second former Crimson Tide wideout to transfer to South Alabama recently, joining Danny Woodson Jr.

4. Once more, we’ll end on a clip of a classic Auburn game. Scott Scroggins, a statistician in Auburn’s athletic department, has continued his countdown to the 2013 season opener, now just eight days away. Eight also happened to be the yardage on Patrick Nix’s touchdown pass to Frank Sanders against Florida in 1994, which lifted the Tigers to a 36-33 victory over the top-ranked Gators.

(One note: This video is quite long, running more than 41 minutes. But if you need a help for your football fix, this should do the trick.)

(Another note: This game took place on my fifth birthday: Oct. 15, 1994. No, I can’t say I remember it — the game or what happened on that particular birthday. I might have gone to a Discovery Zone, though, for those who might have visited those kid-centric places.)

Anyway, the video of Auburn’s upset of Florida is below.

August 20, 2013

Auburn football: Former Tigers Demetruce McNeal and Ricky Parks find new schools

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — It didn’t take long for Demetruce McNeal to land on his feet.

Former Auburn safety Demetruce McNeal (12) tweeted that he would be transferring to West Alabama on Tuesday. (File photo)

Former Auburn safety Demetruce McNeal (12) tweeted that he would be transferring to West Alabama on Tuesday. (File photo)

The former Auburn safety revealed he has already found a new school after being dismissed from the Tigers on Saturday following an arrest for possession of marijuana earlier that morning. McNeal took to his personal Twitter account Tuesday to announce the news.

“I’m officially transferring to The Univ. of West Alabama to finish up my senior campaign and still keep my dreams alive,” McNeal tweeted.

McNeal was the Tigers’ leading returning tackler, as he collected 90 takedowns last season.

However, he had a string of issues prior to his dismissal, missing the final five practices of the spring for undisclosed personal reasons. The College Park, Ga., native also sat out the first 10 sessions of fall camp after developing an infection that required minor surgery.

Though he’s no longer a member of the program, the senior had kind words for the Tigers as they prepare for the 2013 season.

“I appreciate everything (A)uburn did for me and I wish my former coaches and teammates the best this year,” he tweeted. “(I)t has been fun these past 3 years.”

When reached Tuesday morning, a spokesman at West Alabama said McNeal had “not enrolled yet,” but expected it to be “sooner rather than later” given that the school’s fall semester began on Monday.

Since West Alabama is a Division II program, McNeal can play immediately. The Tigers are the defending champions of the Gulf South Conference and begin the season ranked No. 16 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll.

But McNeal isn’t the only ex-Auburn player settling in at a new school.

Backup tight end Ricky Parks, who was dismissed on Aug. 2 — the first day of Auburn’s fall camp — for what head coach Gus Malzahn called “a violation of team rules,” will play for Northeast Mississippi Community College this year. A spokesman at the school confirmed on Tuesday that Parks was “enrolled and attending class” at the junior college. He began Aug. 8, which marked the first day NEMCC held classes this semester.

Ricky Parks has enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College. (File photo)

Ex-Auburn tight end Ricky Parks has enrolled at Northeast Mississippi Community College. (File photo)

The redshirt freshman has also been practicing with the football team, though the school hasn’t released its official 55-man roster at this time. The spokesman said that should take place “within the next few days.”

Parks was expected to contribute for the Tigers at both the tight end and H-back positions this season. He was lauded by the coaching staff during the spring for his improvements after sitting out last year.

Parks exited the spring as part of the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart, settling behind Jay Prosch at H-back for the second-team offense. The Hogansville, Ga., native played at Callaway High School, where he was a four-star prospect in the 2012 class.

August 3, 2013

Auburn notes: Gus Malzahn addresses depth at H-back, updates quarterback race

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — After Ricky Parks was dismissed for a “violation of team rules” on Friday, Auburn’s depth at H-back took a hit just one day into its fall camp.

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Following the second day of fall camp on Saturday, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said both the H-back and tight end positions will have to be reshuffled to address depth issues. (File photo)

Parks came out of the spring as Jay Prosch’s backup at H-back on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart. Gus Malzahn isn’t worried, though.

Auburn’s head coach said they’ll just have to move some players around a bit more.

“Right now, we’ve got C.J. Uzomah doing a little bit,” Malzahn said Saturday. “Obviously Brandon Fulse has done that before. We’re kind of playing around with Gage Batten and a couple of other guys. They’ll be more defined probably in the next two or three days, because that position is also a position that when you have pads on, you can properly evaluate better than you can with just helmets.”

Uzomah and Fulse also are expected to share snaps at tight end. Malzahn said the position was something the team is “still working through.” Like H-back, the tight end spot will have various players shuffled in and out to bolster the unit.

“There’s three or four guys that we’re talking about,” said Malzahn, though he declined to name specific players.

No separation in quarterback battle

Those hoping to see much of an update in the Tigers’ four-way quarterback battle will have to keep waiting. Malzahn said Saturday’s proceedings were “similar” to Friday’s, though he noted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson looked more comfortable on Day 2.

“We’re throwing a lot at them, just from the sideline,” he said. “They’re feeling more comfortable with (the) sideline (calls). They were able to relax a little bit more and play football.”

Meanwhile, veterans Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace continued to show their command of the offense, much the way they did during spring practice.

“Any time you’re comfortable doing something and you’ve been through a spring and you kind understand what to expect and different looks (it helps),” Malzahn said. “There’s nothing like experience.”

Sunday’s practice will take on a different look than the first two days, as Malzahn said the signal-callers will “mix and match” more.

But the coach cautioned they’re still in the early stages of what figures to be a long race to decide who starts against Washington State on Aug. 31.

“We won’t throw them into the fire until we think they’re ready,” Malzahn said, “but it’ll be very quick.”

McNeal inactive for second straight practice

Safety Demetruce McNeal made progress in one area on Saturday: He put on a helmet for the first time this fall. However, just like Friday’s practice, he sat out team and position drills for the second straight day. Malzahn said he expects the team’s top returning tackler to be back at full speed “fairly soon.”

“It’s not anything major,” Malzahn said. “We just want to make sure he’s 100 percent before we get him back out there. He’s a veteran guy and has a lot of experience.”

Despite his inactivity thus far, Malzahn was confident the senior won’t miss a beat when he rejoins the secondary and attempts to capture the starting spot at boundary safety.

“He’ll have a chance to compete for playing time, just like the rest of them,” Malzahn said. “But he does have experience, and that usually helps.”

Quick hitters

Wide receiver Trovon Reed has been one of four players fielding punts at practice the first two days of fall camp. He said there haven’t been any muffs — yet. “I don’t want to jinx us,” he said. … Defensive back Joshua Holsey said he picked off a pass during practice. Wallace was the unlucky victim. “It came off a tipped ball, so I was fortunate to get a good one today,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll probably get some more to try and catch them slipping.” … Prior to Saturday’s practice, two Tigers received their bachelor’s degrees in commencement ceremonies. Defensive back Ryan Smith majored in Public Administration, while defensive end Craig Sanders was a Human Development and Family Studies major.

August 2, 2013

Auburn notes: Tigers divvy up quarterback reps ‘pretty equal,’ tight end Ricky Parks dismissed

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — The only pause of Gus Malzahn’s press conference on Friday spoke volumes.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team's quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team’s quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Much like his hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the head coach breezed through every question of his media briefing following Auburn’s first practice of the fall. That is, until he was asked how well the four quarterbacks battling for the starting position fared on Friday.

Malzahn paused for six seconds before he finally responded.

“There were a few mishaps,” he said, “but that’s to be expected.”

The reps were divvied up “pretty equal,” with Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace taking the snaps in the first portion of the practice. In doing so, Malzahn wanted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson to “sit back and watch and see how everything went.”

They got their turn soon enough, however.

“The second part, the two new guys got all the reps in the rotation,” Malzahn said. “So I’d say overall, it was very equal between the four of them all day.”

Making sure every member of the quartet receives approximately same number of snaps is quite a challenge, Malzahn said, but he’s comfortable with the strategy the coaching staff designed.

“There’s a lot that has to do with our offense (that involves) communication from the sideline before the play starts,” he said. (So) it’s good for them to get the reps.”

The Tigers divided the whole of their first fall practice much the same way they allocated quarterback reps, breaking it into two parts. In the first half, the team’s experienced players took precedence, as coaches wanted them “to show the younger guys the pace, the expectations.”

At the halfway point, the team slowed things down to allow the coaching staff to spend more time with younger players at every position.

“It just felt like we needed to do that, and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow,” Malzahn said. “Then we’ll see where we’re at.”

All in all, Malzahn believed it was a successful first day of fall camp. He wasn’t surprised by anything that occurred — and that’s exactly how Malzahn wanted it.

“It was hot out there outside early, (so) it was good to be out in the heat to see how they reacted,” he said. “I really expected them to be ready to practice and for the most part, they were.”

McNeal sits out practice, Parks dismissed

Safety Demetruce McNeal, the team’s top returning tackler, was at practice Friday but did not participate. Malzahn said the reason for the senior’s absence could be blamed on an undisclosed illness.

Auburn’s coach downplayed the severity of it, though.

“He’s got a medical issue he’s working through,” Malzahn said. “It shouldn’t be much longer and we really expect him to make a full recovery.”

While McNeal will return at some point in the near future, Malzahn announced that another player is no longer a member of the Tigers. Tight end/H-back Ricky Parks was dismissed for what Malzahn called “a violation of team rules.”

“It’s like I’ve said before — we have high expectations for our players on and off the field,” he said. “We wish (Parks) nothing but the best.”

Another Tuberville on the Plains

Malzahn was pleased to have walk-on quarterback Tucker Tuberville make his Auburn debut Friday after redshirting at Texas Tech last season. He’s the son of former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the Tigers from 1999-2008.

“He wants to be a coach. He’s a coach’s son,” Malzahn said. “Great kid and loves Auburn. We’re glad to have him back.”

July 15, 2013

7 at 7: Seven questions about the Tigers this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

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

1. Who will start at quarterback?

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

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

2. What’s the status of the backfield?

Tre Mason Auburn A-Day

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

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

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

3. Who will assume the role of lead receiver?

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

4. Who replaces Philip Lutzenkirchen at tight end?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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