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September 3, 2013

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee disappointed with offense, Ellis Johnson discusses Justin Garrett’s status

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Rhett Lashlee didn’t offer any false praise Monday night.

Auburn’s offensive coordinator said his unit has a long way to go. About the only positive he could take from Saturday’s season opener was that the Tigers came out on top of a 31-24 decision against Washington State.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn't close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said his unit isn’t close to playing to the level the coaching staff expects this fall. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

Other than that, Lashlee said looking at the film was rough.

“I just felt like every time we had a chance to really put some distance between us and them (we didn’t do it), whether it be missing a deep ball or having a touchdown called back for a penalty,” he said. “We could have gone up 11 or 14, but we just sputtered and didn’t take advantage of those moments. That’s not good enough. We have to be in those positions in the future where we’re in a position to kind of separate ourselves. We have to press forward and get some distance between ourselves and the opponent.”

Yes, Lashlee conceded the offense “made enough plays” to seal the victory. Yes, some of the mistakes could be attributed to first-game jitters. That didn’t excuse a late turnover by Tre Mason, however, which gave Washington State one last chance to tie the game following Robenson Therezie’s interception in the end zone on the Cougars’ previous possession.

Those are the types of miscues, Lashlee said, that must be corrected soon.

“We’re not where we want to be yet. There’s no doubt about that,” he said. “We’re making strides.”

To get to where Lashlee and head coach Gus Malzahn want them to be, the Tigers will have to meet the coaching staff’s goal of running at least 80 offensive snaps per game. Saturday, Auburn had just 65. Multiple factors played a hand in that, Lashlee said.

Take the Tigers’ one-play drive in the second quarter, when running back Corey Grant dashed 75 yards for a touchdown. Or take another play earlier in the same period when the offense never had a chance to take a snap, since Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score.

There was another area the Tigers controlled where they simply didn’t produce.

“We’ve got to stay on the field and convert third downs more,” said Lashlee, alluding to Auburn’s 4-for-13 showing. “If you don’t convert third downs, you’re not going to stay on the field and get more plays. If you don’t get those third downs converted, you’re (not) going to get your tempo going.”

Johnson talks about Garrett’s absence

Ellis Johnson was disappointed “Star” Justin Garrett wasn’t able to play Saturday.

But he was far from surprised the junior didn’t suit up.

“His foot has been just sort of a strange thing,” Auburn’s defensive coordinator said. “It’ll feel good one day and all of a sudden he’ll turn on it the wrong way and the strain on it comes back in.”

If it was necessary to play him, Johnson said Garrett would have been on the field. That being said, Johnson acknowledged it meant Garrett likely wouldn’t have been “full-speed” physically or mentally to play at the level expected of him.

That’s why the coaching staff was more than happy to give Garrett more time to heal.

Besides, they had the utmost faith in his backup, Therezie.

“We just felt like Robenson was playing really well,” Johnson said. “The only problem is he probably had to play too many snaps.  He was on every coverage team in special teams, and he played every defensive snap almost to about the end of the fourth quarter. We had to try to get him off the field, give him a blow. That was the only thing.”

As to when Garrett will return?

Johnson had didn’t announce a timetable, deeming the Georgia native’s status as “day-to-day.” Given how well Therezie played Saturday — hauling in two interceptions and tying for the second-most tackles (seven) on the team , which earned him the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week award on Monday — Johnson was asked whether the two “Stars” could eventually see the field together in the team’s base 4-2-5 formation.

“We’re probably not at a point of figuring something out like that right now,” he said. “We’d just like to get (Garrett) healthy. It’s been frustrating. We talked about the player being one of our most dynamic players in the spring, and there’s no production on the game film, and it’s been going on for two years now. So we’d like to get him healthy, get him on the field and find out if he can play. We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Johnson: Frazier has ‘leveled off’ at safety

Quarterback-turned-safety Kiehl Frazier has earned nothing but high marks since switching to defense during fall camp. Coaches and teammates alike noted how quickly he had picked up the defensive’s schemes and concepts. He had even progressed to the point he was listed on the Tigers’ two-deep depth chart entering last Saturday’s game, pegged as the backup to Josh Holsey at boundary safety.

His growth has finally hit a wall, though, as Johnson said Frazier has “leveled off” in the last week.

“Right now, he’s not comfortable where to line up and what to do,” Johnson said. “It’s not  a physical issue. He’s shown in drills and a couple of scrimmages he can tackle when he gets in the right place, but right now it’s not coming too clearly for him. Hopefully, another week of practice that light will turn on and he’ll get better.”

Quick hits

Johnson wasn’t ready to say whether defensive end Dee Ford could be back for Auburn’s SEC opener, which will see them host Mississippi State on Sept. 15. “That’s a medical decision. We’re certainly not good enough to hold anybody that can be a great player on a given day,” he said. “But right now it’s all on rehabilitation and when they’re ready physically.”

September 2, 2013

Auburn football: Despite three interceptions in opener, Tigers’ secondary far from satisfied

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Football isn’t a game that lends itself to correcting failures overnight.

Auburn's Robenson Therezie (left) celebrated with running back Tre Mason (right) following the Tigers' victory on Saturday. But Auburn's secondary wasn't pleased snagging only three interceptions on Saturday. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Auburn’s Robenson Therezie (left) celebrated with running back Tre Mason (right) following the Tigers’ victory on Saturday. But Auburn’s secondary wasn’t pleased snagging only three interceptions on Saturday. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Normally, it’s a process, taking multiple games — if not a whole season — before one can fairly judge a team’s merit in any single area.

Consider Auburn’s secondary an exception, then.

The Tigers’ defensive backs heard about their paltry 2012 interception total (one) nearly every day of the offseason. That single pickoff came from safety Trent Fisher, who returned it for a touchdown in Auburn’s effortless 51-7 victory against Alabama A&M. The Tigers had only one other interception last season, courtesy of linebacker Daren Bates.

Auburn’s secondary showed how last year was where it should be in its season opener on Saturday: in the past.

Auburn came up with three interceptions against Washington State signal-caller Connor Halliday, eclipsing last year’s total in the span of a single contest.

The sterling performance served dual purposes: It was a weight lifted off the shoulders of the entire unit as much as a needed shot in the arm.

“It was great,” said safety Josh Holsey, who had one of the three thefts. “It makes us feel more comfortable about ourselves and it lets other team know you can’t just come over here and toss the ball around on us.”

The sophomore then explained how the play unfolded from his vantage point.

“I tried to go get it as high as I could,” he said. “I really didn’t think (Halliday) was going to throw it because I was right there. When I saw it, I just ran up and tried to get it at its highest point.”

Holsey’s one interception was doubled by Robenson Therezie, who picked off a pair of passes, both at crucial times for the Tigers. His good work didn’t go unrecognized, as the SEC named him the league’s Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

And to think he accomplished the feat in his first start as a collegian.

Despite being asked to replace A-Day MVP Justin Garrett at the the Tigers’ hybrid “Star” position, Therezie didn’t blink.

In fact, he said didn’t even think about it.

“Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all,” he said. “I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field.”

On his first pilfer and Auburn trailing 7-0, Therezie grabbed a tipped pass at the Tigers’ 48-yard line and returned it to the Cougars’ 28-yard line. Four plays later, Auburn was in the end zone for the first time in 2013.

His second interception was even more critical. With the Cougars just eight yards away from the end zone and down 31-24 with 4:57 to go in the final quarter, Halliday threw a fade route toward the right corner of the end zone. It never made it to his intended receiver, as Therezie jumped up and snatched the ball out of the air, dashing Washington State’s last scoring threat in the process.

Head coach Gus Malzahn was visibly pleased with Therezie, highlighting the Fairburn native’s effort in his postgame press conference.

“He played really good,” Malzahn said. “He played a lot of snaps out there and he was tired but he found a way, especially with that one in the end zone late.”

Once a team tastes success, though, greed tends to set in.

That’s why the Tigers couldn’t care less about the three interceptions they collected.

Instead, disappointment reigned supreme.

“They’re in the frame of mind now they’re not frustrated that they didn’t get any,” defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. “They’re frustrated that they didn’t get more, which is the way you want it.”

Auburn football: Robenson Therezie named SEC Defensive Player of the Week

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — No one can say Robenson Therezie didn’t make the most of his first career start.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn's 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. On Monday, the SEC selected him as the league's Defensive Player of the Week.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. On Monday, the SEC selected him as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Replacing the injured Justin Garrett at Auburn’s “Star” hybrid linebacker/safety spot, the junior snagged two interceptions against Washington State. Not only did they mark the first two pickoffs of his career, but they matched the Tigers’ total from all of last season.

On Monday, the SEC recognized Therezie’s accomplishment, selecting him as the league’s Defensive Player of the Week.

Therezie’s first interception came on a tipped pass at Auburn’s 48-yard line in the opening period. He returned it to Washington State’s 24-yard line, and four plays later, the Tigers scored their first touchdown of the season.

His second interception was an even bigger grab, as he made a leaping catch of Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s pass from the Tigers’ 8-yard line with 4:46 to play to maintain Auburn’s seven-point lead.

Therezie had seven tackles (six solo, one assisted), tied for second-most on the team with Ryan Smith.

It’s the first time an Auburn defender has been honored as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week since defensive end Corey Lemonier was honored for his performance against Florida in October 2011. In that game, Lemonier had a team-best six tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks and four quarterback hurries, helping the Tigers hold the Tigers to just 194 yards of total offense. He shared the award with South Carolina free safety D.J. Swearinger, who had 12 tackles and an interception.

September 1, 2013

VIDEO: Postgame reaction from Auburn’s players

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Due to some technical difficulties with my flip camera — which I won’t detail here — we sadly have no video of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn’s postgame press conference with media members.

Let’s look on the bright side, though: He didn’t say anything particularly interesting, which you’ll see when I post my “quote roundup” later. I know that might not suffice for some, but that’s how it is.

Not to worry, since we still recorded video of five different players, consisting of quarterback Nick Marshall, running back Tre Mason, wide receiver Sammie Coates, “Star” Robenson Therezie and cornerback Chris Davis.

Marshall

Mason

Coates

Therezie

Davis

Auburn notes: Robenson Therezie plays like a ‘star,’ Montravius Adams impressive in debut

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Robenson Therezie was a late entry into Auburn’s lineup on Saturday, being inserted at the team’s hybrid safety/linebacker position known as the “Star.”

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn's 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night.

Junior Robenson Therezie had the best game of his career on Saturday, intercepting two passes (one seen above) and tallying seven tackles in Auburn’s 31-24 victory over Washington State on Saturday night. (ROBIN TRIMARCHI/Ledger-Enquirer)

Therezie then went out and played like one.

He picked off two passes in Auburn’s 31-24 victory on Saturday, becoming the first Tiger since Josh Bynes in 2010 (against Arkansas) to tally two interceptions in a single game. What made the feat even more impressive is that the junior didn’t have an interception to his name prior to kickoff.

And he didn’t just excel in the passing game, also finishing as the Tigers’ second-leading tackler — behind only Jonathon Mincy’s eight takedowns — on Saturday, tallying seven tackles (six solo, one assisted).

Though he was tasked with filling the void left by Justin Garrett — the team’s A-Day MVP — Therezie said he didn’t place any additional expectations on himself to perform.

“Oh, I didn’t feel the pressure at all,” he said. “I knew we had to execute. We have really good backups, and I just wanted to stay in the game. It was my first start, ever, in college football, and I just wanted to stay on the field.”

Therezie pilfered his first pass in the opening period off Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday, snagging the ball at the Tigers’ 48-yard line and taking it back to the Cougars’ 28-yard line.

The only thing Therezie didn’t do right when recalling the play?

He forgot what number teammate Jake Holland wore.

“I was trying to get to the flats, but No. 2 didn’t spot (it),” he said, though Holland sports jersey No. 5. “It was fast and I ended up right by him and there was a tip ball and I got to it.”

Auburn didn’t let the turnover go to waste, as it scored a touchdown four plays later.

His second interception was perhaps even more important. With 4:57 remaining, the Cougars were on the Tigers’ 8-yard line, looking to score a touchdown to knot the contest at 31-all. Halliday took the snap and fired the ball toward the right corner of the end zone.

Therezie was there, though, making a leaping grab on a pass intended for receiver Ricky Galvin to thwart Washington State’s last scoring opportunity of the game.

The magnitude of the moment wasn’t lost on the Miami native.

“I had to make a big play there,” he said. “We knew as a defense they were going for the end zone right there and we communicated the right read and I made the play.”

Coming off his best game as a Tiger made Therezie appreciate Saturday even more, especially in the light of his career up to this point, which has seen him shift around from position to position without a real home.

“It was very different. I felt great,” he said. “I felt like I got back to my old self, because I was kind of lost for two years. Now I feel good.”

Adams ‘thankful for the opportunity to make an impact’

Montravius Adams didn’t have an inkling he would be on the field for so many snaps on Saturday.

The true freshman defensive tackle showed out, ending with two tackles (one for loss) and notching the first sack of his career in a pasting of Halliday in the second quarter.

“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to make an impact this first game,” he said.

He introduced himself immediately, as the sack was his first play of the game.

“I didn’t want to let the team down,” he said. “At the snap of the ball, my only focus was to push down the quarterback, and I did.”

In a statement that will likely induce headaches for opposing offensive coordinators later this season, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn believes Adams only scratched the surface of his abilities on Saturday.

“Montravius is a big athlete, but he’ll improve each game,” he said.  “You know freshmen — what usually happens is they’ll improve each game.”

A first half full of ‘firsts’

“First” stood for far more than the opening 30 minutes of play at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

It also was a statistical achievement for many of Auburn’s players. Along with Therezie, four other Tigers made their first career start: quarterback Nick Marshall, left guard Alex Kozan and defensive ends Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens.

Like Therezie, safety Josh Holsey notched his first career interception on Saturday, making a leaping grab of a wayward Halliday pass on the final play of the opening period.

The Tigers’ special teams had its share of firsts as well: Ryan White pulled off a feat that hadn’t occurred for Auburn in seven years in the first quarter, as he scored on a two-point conversion. It was the first time the Tigers had successfully converted a two-point try since doing the same against Alabama in 2006.

Junior Corey Grant scored his first touchdown as a Tiger in emphatic fashion, scampering 75 yards in the second quarter, which gave Auburn a 22-21 lead with 6:18 remaining before halftime.

Injury updates

Malzahn updated the status of both Garrett and defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker in his postgame press conference — to an extent, anyway.

He didn’t get into specifics of either player’s absence, but explained the reasoning that was behind each of them sitting out Saturday.

“You know it’s kind of been one of those things where it was a game-time decision,” Malzahn said of Garrett, who sprained his foot in the Tigers’ second scrimmage of fall camp and was initially expected to play Saturday. “We decided to hold him out, but Therezie came through and played well. ”

While Garrett should be back soon, the same couldn’t be said of Whitaker. The senior from Warner Robins — who was replaced by Gabe Wright in the starting lineup — was seen on crutches prior to kickoff.

“Jeff’s going to be out for a while,” Malzahn said. “He had a procedure done last week and so he wasn’t able to play. … We’ll see when he gets back.”

Quick hits

With the win, Auburn improved to 93-26-2 in season opening games all-time and 96-15-3 in home openers. … The Tigers have now won 78 consecutive games when scoring 30 or more points and 294-4 overall. Auburn’s only loss against a non-SEC foe when scoring 30-plus came in 1979, when it lost to Wake Forest 42-38. …  Washington State scored two rushing touchdowns on Saturday. In 12 games last season, they totaled just six scores on the ground. … Cody Parkey’s 47-yard field goal in the second quarter was a career-long for the senior from Jupiter, Fla. … Auburn’s undefeated 1993 squad was honored in a pregame ceremony as part of its 20-year reunion.

August 31, 2013

Auburn ekes out 31-24 win over Washington State in season opener

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. Auburn’s season opener against Washington State on Saturday was in doubt until nearly the final minute.

But when Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s fourth-and-five pass from Auburn’s 27-yard line sailed out of bounds with just over two minutes remaining, the outcome was sealed.

Gus Malzahn was able to celebrate in his first game as Auburn's head coach, as the Tigers pulled out a 31-24 win over the Washington State Cougars. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Gus Malzahn was able to celebrate following his first game as Auburn’s head coach, as the Tigers pulled out a 31-24 win over the Washington State Cougars on Saturday night.
(Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

The Tigers (1-0) had done just enough to hold on for a 31-24 victory to make Gus Malzahn’s debut as head coach a successful one.

“They found a way to win,” Malzahn said in his postgame press conference. “We’re committed to getting better each practice and each game, and we are.”

To say the contest went according to script would be a bit too easy, though.

The pregame thought was the Tigers would pound the ball on the ground while the Cougars would take to the air, each following their coach’s preferred method of moving the ball.

On Saturday, Malzahn’s scheme reigned supreme, as the Tigers’ 297 rushing yards proved to be more effective than the Cougars’ 344 passing yards. In an ironic twist, however, Washington State matched Auburn in terms of rushing touchdowns, with each team scoring twice via the running game.

And though the teams combined to put 55 points on the board, the second half was notable for its paucity of scoring. The final two quarters saw just nine points scored, all coming courtesy of each team’s placekickers.

The pedestrian pace of the second half scoring was a far cry from the frenetic tempo of the opening 30 minutes.

“Our coaches did a good job of adjusting,” Malzahn said. “But give (Washington State) credit. That’s a really good team.”

Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Tigers. Washington State (0-1) received to open the game, and promptly marched down the field for a touchdown. The Cougars covered the 75 yards in 12 plays, capped by Jeremiah Laufasa’s touchdown run from four yards out.

Auburn failed to match Washington State on its own opening drive, as the Tigers went three-and-out. The Tigers next possession was equally unfruitful, picking up just five yards before punting once more.

Needing a spark, a “Star” provided it. Robenson Therezie — pushed into the starting lineup in the place of starter Justin Garrett — came up with an interception on the Cougars’ ensuing drive, helping the Tigers set up shop at the Washington State 24-yard line.

Four plays later, Auburn had its first touchdown of the season, as Tre Mason ran up the middle for eight yards, dragging Washington State defenders along with him into the end zone.

But the Tigers didn’t settle for just getting an extra point: Malzahn wanted more — and the Tigers got it. Senior defensive back Ryan White ran it in for a two-point conversion to put Auburn ahead 8-7 at the 2:26 mark of the opening period.

As soon as the second quarter began, the game finally started to resemble the quick-strike scoring attacks both coaches desire. The lead changed hands four times, with two Tiger touchdowns covering 50 yards or more.

The first score went for double that, as Mason returned a kickoff 100 yards, the second such touchdown of his career and first since he had a 97-yard touchdown return against Utah State in the 2011 season opener.

Corey Grant scored on a 75-yard touchdown run later in the quarter, which was the first of his career.

Auburn football: Last-minute notes prior to kickoff

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

Now, the only thing left is kickoff.

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

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

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

August 16, 2013

Auburn notes: Receiver Ricardo Louis using fall camp to ‘show the coaches what I could do’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Ricardo Louis has arguably been Auburn’s top player since fall camp began.

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn's most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Sophomore receiver Ricardo Louis has been Auburn’s most explosive pass-catcher since fall camp began. (File photo)

Teammates have praised his play during the Tigers’ scrimmages, none more than last Saturday’s scrimmage, where he had what fellow receiver Quan Bray called multiple “explosive plays” in the passing game and at least one touchdown reception.

Louis is glad to see the fruits of labor during the offseason have paid off thus far.

“I just felt like I had to show the coaches what I could do,” he said. “I had to make a lot of plays. They told me before the scrimmage that they were going to try to get me the ball, and they got me the ball, and I made plays.”

The sophomore said he’s trying to make up for lost time. Last season, he believed he arrived on campus with much expected of him — and acknowledged he didn’t hold up his end of the bargain.

“Everybody was thinking I was going to be a good receiver for the quarterbacks to throw to,” he said. “Now, what they were expecting from last year is what they want to (see) for me. It’ll be a good starting spot to produce in this offense.”

He doesn’t consider last season a failure on all levels, however. Thanks to the guidance of the Tigers’ elder receivers, Louis felt he improved even if his numbers didn’t back it up.

“I just took it in,” he said. “It was a learning experience, learning what they do, putting it into my game and producing when I get a chance.”

Tigers split on importance of scrimmage

Corey Grant is treating Auburn’s scrimmage Saturday like it’s the last day of summer.

Which, in a roundabout way, it is, since the Tigers won’t have another scrimmage before school begins Wednesday.

“Everybody’s excited,” he said. “Last chance to show what you can really do for the coaches and everybody.”

Not everyone shared Grant’s enthusiasm, though. Just ask Shon Coleman.

The redshirt freshman offensive lineman put it plainly: “It’s just a scrimmage,” he said.

“We just need to keep working on the things we’ve been trying to work on this week,” Coleman said. “(Now we’ve) got to go out there and put it together. That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about tomorrow.”

While Grant was ready to play within the confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium for the last time before he hits the books, he didn’t feel the scrimmage was the be-all, end-all in regard to positional battles.

“It could be, possibly, but we’ve already had three scrimmages,” he said. “So this is just another day to show what you can do.”

Whether the scrimmage will do much to settle the team’s ongoing battle at quarterback is also up for debate.

Once more, Coleman was the voice of the apathetic.

“It really doesn’t matter,” he said. “The whole team is going to be supportive of whoever it is.”

Besides, Grant said he doesn’t even know which signal-caller is on the field half the time as it is.

“Because of the way the coaches teach them, if you had to run it with your eyes closed, you wouldn’t know who’s back there giving you the ball,” he said.

Quick hits

Louis said he’s working behind Tre Mason on the kick return depth chart heading into the scrimmage. “We’re just rotating a lot, different sides, learning new kick routine schemes,” he said. Louis said he expects it to come down to Mason, Robenson Therezie and himself as the starters at the position.

August 11, 2013

Auburn notes: Ellis Johnson confirms Justin Garrett injury, unsure of status going forward (w/video)

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn’s defense will have to do without one of its best players for an unknown period of time.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson confirmed hybrid linebacker/safety Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage, though he was unsure of the nature or extent of it.

Junior Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday's scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday he was unsure how long Garrett will be out. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior Justin Garrett suffered a left foot injury during Saturday’s scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said Sunday he was unsure how long Garrett will be out. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

“I don’t know if he got stepped on or got kicked. They’re definitely evaluating that now,” Johnson said Sunday. “I don’t know anything in detail about it. He obviously didn’t practice today, but don’t know anything about the seriousness other than the timeframe.”

Garrett was healthy heading into Saturday, though Johnson noted the defensive MVP of this spring’s A-Day game missed one day of practice earlier this week due to a knee bruise. When the coaching staff noticed he had no push off from his left foot on Saturday, they pulled him out immediately.

Johnson wouldn’t even begin to contemplate what a long-term injury to Garrett could mean for his defense.

“I don’t want to get into hypotheticals,” he said. “He’s had a great camp. He had a great spring. We obviously know he’s one of our impact players. I don’t think any team in the country can lose an impact player and not have some issues.”

Regardless of how much time Garrett has to miss, it will mean an increased role for Mackenro Alexander. The true freshman has been No. 3 at the star position behind Garrett and Robenson Therezie since he stepped on campus.

Johnson said Alexander is going through the peaks and valleys many would expect from a first-year player, which manifested itself in the scrimmage.

“He struggled,” Johnson said. “He made some really bad mistakes but he made a couple of good tackles and some plays on the ball. It was good that he got a shot to get in there.”

Quick hits

Demetruce McNeal will likely be back in some capacity this week. The senior safety has yet to participate in fall camp, sidelined by a minor surgery caused by an infection. “It’s slowly getting better,” Johnson said. “We’re pretty optimistic right now that he’ll be on the field next week.” … After getting a chance to view the film from Saturday’s scrimmage, Johnson was left wanting far more from his unit. “It was very, very iffy,” he said. “They’re still in the learning process, and there are a lot of mental assignments.”

August 5, 2013

Auburn notes: Ellis Johnson explains finer points of the star position, Rhett Lashlee says receivers showing ‘inconsistency’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

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AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson didn’t mind teaching a little “Football 101″ on Monday.

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was happy to explain to reporters how the "star" position functions in his 4-2-5 scheme following Monday's practice. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was happy to explain to reporters how the “star” position functions in his 4-2-5 scheme following Monday’s practice. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

During its limited viewing window at practice, media members saw Auburn’s defense working on its dime package. On a few of the run-throughs, the Tigers had two of their hybrid safety/linebacker “stars” — Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie — on the field simultaneously.

Not surprisingly, Johnson was asked about it after practice.

And the defensive coordinator was more than happy to enlighten those not “in the know.” He explained that the star functions, for all intents and purposes, as a weakside linebacker.

“There’s a lot more carry-over to what the star does every day fundamentally and his zone drops,” Johnson said. “He can take it to the other side of the ball and it’s almost a mirror in zone coverage techniques. Then you’ve got a faster guy who skill-wise can matchup on a decent wide receiver.”

One of the benefits of the hybrid position is that nearly any linebacker or bigger defensive back with “football intelligence” can learn to play it.

“I’ve had guys be the extra back that played corner as a starter,” Johnson said. “Guys that played free safety drop down there and play the nickel and bring in a new free safety.”

But there can be drawbacks to moving someone to the star as well, Johnson said.

Sometimes players used to playing outside don’t do well on the inside, since they tend to struggle with zone coverage. Or taking a player who has spent a majority of his career on the back end of a defense doesn’t respond well to moving closer to the line of scrimmage.

“He’s not always a great blitzer or a a great guy that can play the draw or the lead draw and get in the box and those types of things,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t always mean it’s (good).”

That’s why Johnson is thankful to have both Garrett and Therezie manning the hybrid spot.

“I don’t know how many more talented kids we have on the football team, physically,” he said, “and they’re learning a position that has a lot of transition advantages.”

Lashlee sets record straight on Denson’s position

Tight end C.J. Uzomah caused a bit of a stir on Sunday when he said receiver Jaylon Denson was seeing time at tight end. Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee put that rumor to bed quickly.

Melvin (Ray) and Jaylon have really been working at our slot receiver spot,” he said on Monday. “They haven’t been playing hand-down tight end any.”

Lashlee said Uzomah and Gage Batten have “been getting a lot of reps” at tight end, though, and that he feels fine about the depth of the position.

Lashlee couldn’t say the same about the team’s wide receivers, saying there has been “a lot of inconsistency” since fall camp started.

“I do see improvement,” he said. “We’ve got guys that are playmakers. Now it’s just a matter of those guys deciding they want to be playmakers every day.”

Johnson sheds light on McNeal’s absence

Johnson revealed that safety Demetruce McNeal has missed the first four days of practice due to an infection which required minor surgery, saying the senior is still day-to-day.

“I don’t want to say anything more than that because I don’t know,” he said. “We’ve been told we won’t have him for several days.”

Johnson hopes the Tigers get the senior “back as soon as we can.” And it’s not just for the benefit of the position, where Johnson acknowledged depth is still a concern.

If McNeal misses too much time, it would put him in jeopardy of missing the season opener against Washington State on Aug. 31.

“If you can’t put on a game jersey, you can’t play,” Johnson said. “And I don’t mean that facetiously, but obviously, he can’t play right now, so we’ve got to have a plan. But we fully expect him to be ready soon enough to get ready to go before the first game. I don’t know all the medical details, but it’s something that’s got to heal up.”

Quick hitters

Through the first four days of practice, Johnson admitted the coaching staff has “probably overloaded” the younger members of the defense. “But there’s just no way around it,” he said. “A lot of times when the defense can’t hit without pads, one thing you like to do is really put your focus on install. Once you get the pads you go back to fundamentals. We’ll slow down a little with that part on the mental overload and hopefully kids will start to polish things up.” …  Lashlee wasn’t sure whether the team would do any full-contact, 11-on-11 drills on Tuesday, which marks the first practice the Tigers will put on full pads. “I know it’s possible,” he said. “But I haven’t seen the (final) practice plan yet, so I don’t know.”