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August 27, 2013

Auburn football: No stranger to change, Alex Kozan focused on becoming part of ‘physical’ offensive line

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala.Alex Kozan has seen how quickly things change in major college football.

After redshirting last season, Alex Kozan has put himself in position to start at left guard this fall. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

After redshirting last season, Alex Kozan has put himself in position to start at left guard this fall. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn’s redshirt freshman guard recalled how intense the recruiting process was for him, one of the top players in Colorado in the Class of 2012. Now, many of the coaches who pushed hardest for his signature are no longer employed by the universities they once touted so strongly. One of them, of course, is Auburn, where Gene Chizik’s staff was let go after the Tigers’ dreadful 3-9 season.

Kozan said it’s just a sign of the times.

“Football is constantly changing,” he said, “and it just speaks to competition at this level.”

That’s why Kozan immediately began to acquaint himself with the techniques offensive line coach J.B. Grimes brought with him. Though they differ from the concepts Jeff Grimes — the Tigers’ former line coach and no relation to J.B. — taught, Kozan believes his skill set makes him equally adept at both.

“I think both schemes fit me,” he said. “I wouldn’t say one particular offensive style fits me best. It’s definitely good to learn different offensive styles because you never know who you could be playing for one day if you make it to the NFL.”

Kozan became accustomed to learning new offenses at the drop of a hat during his high school days in Castle Rock, Colo. Each year, he never knew what kind of system the team would lean on.

“We had an offensive coordinator who mixed it up every year based on our personnel,” Kozan said. “One year, we were straight veer-option, then the next year we were a spread offense. I’ve been around different offenses throughout my career.”

Sitting out last season gave Kozan the opportunity to take stock of himself. Upon arriving at Auburn, he immediately saw how many things he needed to learn. Used to being able to physically overpower nearly every player he faced off against in high school, Kozan quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to rely on strength alone.

“There’s different techniques you’ve got to use in order to block those three-techniques and nose guards, as big and strong as they are,” he said. “A big problem I had was not being able to stay low enough. I’d always played so high in school because I was strong enough to overcome that. Learning how to play with technique makes you a more sound a fundamental football player.”

Kozan said his improved flexibility was thanks to Ryan Russell’s strength and conditioning offseason program. But he believed sharpening his mental game was every bit as important as any physical gain.

“Well, I just tried to come out every day and try to get better,” he said. “The main thing I try to do is not make the same mistakes I made the previous day, so once you make a mistake, learn from it and keep progressing forward.  … If you make mental mistakes, the offense can’t function right.”

It didn’t take long for Auburn’s coaches to notice the progress Kozan has made since the end of last season. Grimes praised him during fall camp, and head coach Gus Malzahn did the same at Tuesday’s press conference.

“Alex Kozan’s a guy that (has) really improved since the first day of spring,” Malzahn said. “He’s getting more mature. He’s a strong guy. We were a little concerned about his mobility early, but he’s answered that question. He’s gotten a lot faster and quicker. He’s had a very good fall camp.”

The admiration was mutual. Malzahn simply sees the game differently than his peers, Kozan said.

To prove his point, the guard provided a detailed example of what he meant.

“For instance, if we were to run a zone play, most coaches would look at what their quarterback is doing, what are the running backs’ and receiver’s eyes doing — where are their eyes?” Kozan said. “(Malzahn) will notice what the right guard’s foot placement is. Things like that. A lot of coaches will leave that up to the line coach. He’ll pull you aside 15 minutes later and say, ‘Hey, on that play, what were you doing?’ That’s impressive, I think, for any football player who has the opportunity to work with him.”

A near-lock to start at left guard, Kozan has high hopes for those laboring on Auburn’s line this fall. His goal is to see it develop into a feared unit, one that will give Nick Marshall time to throw as well as pave the way for the Tigers’ stable of running backs.

Kozan and his fellow linemen will get their first opportunity to do so this Saturday.

“I’d say the biggest thing we’re trying to be is a tough, physical team that teams look at every week and say,’We have to get ready to play Auburn this week. They’re tough and they’re going to come strap it up against us every single play, (they take) no plays off and they’re going to execute.’”

August 6, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

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

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

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

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

August 5, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/5: Demetruce McNeal sits out fourth straight practice

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see about 20 minutes of practice on Monday, which marked Day 4 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins on of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn gives his players directions before it begins one of its fall practices. (File by Todd Van Emst)

  • Safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be the headliner during the media’s short stay at practice. For the fourth time in as many days of fall camp, the senior did not participate in drills while reporters were in attendance. Including the final five sessions of the spring, it marks the ninth consecutive time the College Park, Ga., native missed an Auburn practice. As he did Saturday, McNeal had a helmet on. However, with the team practicing in “shells” (helmets and pads), the safety was sans shoulder pads. In his post-practice meeting with media member’s on Sunday, Gus Malzahn said McNeal was “getting better.” But apparently not good enough to be cleared to practice just yet.
  • Avery Young was with the first-team offensive line, working at right tackle. Young and Patrick Miller have seemingly been going back-and-forth at the position (in the first-team lineup) during the first few days of fall camp.
  • The defense was working on its “dime” package, which included two of the hybrid safety/linebacker “star” position players on the field at the same time in Justin Garrett and Robenson Therezie. Other members of the first-team defense (in that particular formation) had Dee Ford and Kenneth Carter manning the two ends and Angelo Blackson and Gabe Wright inside. The linebackers were Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy and the secondary consisted of cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathon Mincy and Jermaine Whitehead and Josh Holsey at safety.
  • Malzahn stayed around the quarterbacks for a few minutes, but then drifted over to watch the defense running through its various formations. The quarterbacks once again practiced their footwork today as well as executing proper handoffs. Jonathan Wallace and Nick Marshall worked with Cameron Artis-Payne, Tre Mason and Corey Grant, while Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson were paired with Johnathan Ford, Peyton Barber and Patrick Lymon.
  • Punt returners were mostly the same as it was during the portions of practice reporters saw Friday and Saturday. Wide receivers Quan Bray, Trovon Reed and Marcus Davis were back, as well as cornerback Chris Davis. There was one new member, however, as another receiver — true freshman Tony Stevens — joined the fray. Kick returners mostly stayed to form, too. Mason, Grant, Ford, cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Ricardo Louis were seen fielding kicks, with one new addition in Therezie.
  • Right guard Chad Slade got an earful from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes during one drill. As the line was practicing its footwork once the ball is snapped, Slade didn’t have his feet in the proper position — and Grimes let him know it. “Check your splits!” said Grimes, before moving the junior’s feet where they needed to be. “I’m trying to help you!”
  • The media once again walked out as the team finished up its stretching drills with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell. If there’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate while Russell leads drills, it’s that he has an incredible amount of energy. It’s no wonder the team has touted his offseason workout program at every opportunity.

August 3, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/3: Demetruce McNeal back at practice in limited role

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to see roughly 20 minutes of practice on Saturday, which marked Day 2 of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short time at practice.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was hands-on with his unit on Saturday. Here, he watches redshirt freshman Shon Coleman attacks a tackling sled. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was hands-on with his unit on Saturday. Here, he watches redshirt freshman Shon Coleman attacks a tackling sled. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • Demetruce McNeal’s lack of participation was the biggest story of Friday’s practice. The senior safety was back on Saturday, but didn’t look much different than he did the previous day. He appeared to be favoring his left leg as he watched teammates run through drills and occasionally glancing down at a piece of paper in his hands. Unlike Friday, he donned a helmet for the first time. Gus Malzahn would only say that McNeal has a “medical issue that he’s working through,” declining to lend any insight as to when the Tigers’ top returning tackler will be cleared to practice without any limitations.
  • Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes had a lot of instruction for his group Saturday. “Get that second step!” he said. “(You’ve got to) get vertical push on that down guy!” The drill involved two linemen lining up with their hand on the ground across from a defender. The goal (obviously) was to get leverage on the player acting as the defensive lineman and move him out of the way. Grimes had them working in alternating groups.
  • Four players who fielded punts on Friday were back at it Saturday: wide receivers Trovon Reed, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis along with cornerback Chris Davis. The only one missing Saturday was running back Jonathan Ford. He was still in a return capacity, however, as he was working with kick returners. The other four kick returners were running backs Corey Grant and Tre Mason, wide receiver Ricardo Louis and defensive back Jonathan Jones.
  • The four quarterbacks jockeying for position at the top of the depth chart tossed the ball back and forth to each other. Newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson paired up together, while Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier did the same. Offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Rhett Lashlee gave each of them feedback, while Malzahn watched silently in the background chewing on a wad of bubblegum.
  • To reiterate something repeated by nearly every other media member on Friday: Yes, Johnson is quite tall. He’s every bit of the 6-foot-5 he’s listed at on the team’s official roster.
  • Avery Young, who started three games at right tackle last season as a true freshman, looked fine during every drill he took part in Saturday. The sophomore was sidelined most of last season with a shoulder injury, and surgery on it forced him to miss most of the spring. But through two days of fall camp, it looks like he is fully recovered.
  • Malzahn runs a tight ship in nearly every aspect of his program. One area where he seems to be lenient, however, is a dress code for the coaching staff. Few, if any, matched with each other Saturday. Malzahn had on a long-sleeve orange Auburn shirt and khaki shorts (along with his signature visor), Lashlee wore a short-sleeve orange Auburn T-shirt and blue shorts. The winner of the day was defensive line coach Rodney Garner, who was wearing at least two, possibly three shirts. He had an orange Auburn pullover and another long-sleeve blue shirt underneath. The lesson here: The heat don’t bother Rodney Garner, y’all.

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!”

Quan Bray: Auburn’s receivers embrace doubters ‘sleeping on us’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — It’s not fun being ignored.

Quan Bray isn't surprised Auburn's wide receivers are being overlooked entering the fall. The junior's goal now is to change people's minds.

Quan Bray isn’t surprised Auburn’s wide receivers are being overlooked entering the fall. The junior’s goal now is to change people’s minds.

But Quan Bray is well-aware why people have little regard for he and his fellow receivers heading into the fall. How highly are people supposed to think of a team coming off a 3-9 season, after all? Throw in the fact the Tigers lost Emory Blake and Philip Lutzenkirchen, their top two options in the passing game last year, and the minimal buzz surrounding the wideouts is to be expected.

Bray wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I feel real good,” he said. “I think a lot of people are sleeping on us and that’s what we need.”

Bray devoted much of his time this summer to develop his leadership skills. Along with fellow receivers Trovon Reed and Sammie Coates, Bray believes there is a core group the rest of the unit can look to for advice.

“It’s time for us to step up and be the guys everyone expects us to be,” he said.

Newcomers Marcus Davis, Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker have infused the receiving corps with a burst of energy as well.

“They came in and are real hungry right now,” he said. “Playing behind guys like T-Reed and Sammie and knowing we’re ready to eat, I think they’re real competitive.”

For any problems the new wideouts might have with the offensive playbook, they have a veteran in Bray as familiar with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense as any player on the Tigers’ roster.

“We can let (the young receivers) know what’s coming so when it hits them it won’t be a surprise,” he said. “It’s definitely a big asset to help us to do the right things for them.”

Bray certainly feels more at home with Malzahn’s scheme than the one he was in last year. He made no bones about feeling out of place in offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s pro-style attack, noting that when he was originally recruited to play for the Tigers, it was in a high-octane spread offense.

“We had to adjust to things (to Loeffler’s offense),” he said. “We did in some sense, but it didn’t show off. For (Malzahn) to come back with the spread offense and the players that we have, it’s the right fit.”

The sense that things have been recalibrated and are as they should be was embodied during the Tigers’ summer workouts. Bray said there was a stark difference between this summer and the year before. Everything moved “a lot faster,” not a surprising bit of information given Malzahn’s up-tempo tendencies. But the easiest way to differentiate between this summer and last was to simply look at attendance.

For one reason or another, players didn’t put forth more than the bare minimum during last summer’s workouts.

“The difference in ordinary and extraordinary is ‘extra,’ right? I don’t think a lot of guys bought in,” Bray said. “We’ve bought in to what Malzahn is doing. And definitely (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell. He’s definitely motivating a lot of guys to be the best they can be.”

Russell’s approach with Bray had two emphases. First, Bray worked on his strength as part of a strict weight-lifting regimen. Secondly, he wanted to get quicker, perfecting his footwork through ladder drills.

In those endeavors, Russell succeeded, as Bray believes he’s in the best shape of his career. And he’ll need to be, as the junior expects to once again be back fielding punts in addition to his pass-catching responsibilities. He might even add some kick return duties on top of that.

“I’m trying to be the all-purpose back of the year,” he said.

But above all else, Bray wants to force people to recognize him as a formidable threat at receiver, and for that to extend to the rest of the unit. People haven’t afforded the Tigers that respect on reputation alone. It’s something that will have to be earned this fall.

All that’s needed is for one of them to set it in motion.

“Us as receivers, we’re like brothers,” Bray said. “This really is a brotherhood. In that room, if one of us is working, all of us are working. If one of us is catching balls, we’re all watching balls. We stick together.”

August 1, 2013

‘Winning my spot back’ drives Jake Holland entering fall camp

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn players never got tired of hearing the bell in the locker room this summer.

Senior linebacker Jake Holland was excited to see many of his teammates set personal records in the weight room this summer. Now he's ready to win wrest the starting middle linebacker spot away from Kris Frost. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Senior linebacker Jake Holland was excited to see many of his teammates set personal records in the weight room this summer. Now he’s ready to wrest the starting middle linebacker spot away from Kris Frost. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

When the bell rang, it meant good things were happening, signifying that someone in the locker room achieved a personal record. The player doing the honors of ringing the bell, of course, was the same one who set a new high.

“When somebody rings the bell, it fuels the emotions in the weight room,” linebacker Jake Holland said Thursday. “Everybody gets pumped up and cheers everybody on. It makes it more of a unit instead of just one guy getting better.”

Strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell’s program has done wonders for the Tigers, Holland said. Not just from helping them get into better shape, but due to the spirit of competition it fostered.

“He gives us goals, the PRs (personal records), that we like to hit,” Holland said. “A lot of people have hit that. That gives you a goal, a platform, to get better every week.”

Holland will similarly have to use fall camp as a platform to state his case for increased playing time. After starting 16 games over the last two seasons, Holland enters fall camp as the backup to Kris Frost at middle linebacker. In his four years at Auburn, Holland said he couldn’t recall a time when there was so much competition among the linebackers unit.

The Pelham, Ala., native welcomed the challenge it presents.

“I’m looking forward to getting better, going out there and learning from Coach (Ellis) Johnson and winning my spot back,” he said.

As tough as it is for an experienced player like Holland to crack the starting lineup, it’s even tougher for an incoming freshman joining the fray. It’s not just about learning what to do on the field. It means adapting to living on your own for the first time and dealing with the rigors of college-level classes.

So what advice does Holland have for true freshman Cameron Toney?

“Cameron and I are good friends,” he said. “I’m looking forward to passing it along to him, teaching him what I know. I’m looking forward to this camp to see what he has to offer. Coming from high school, it’s a big step. You’re living on your own. You’re having to go by a schedule everyday. It’s a little different. If you have guys ahead of you to show you the ropes like I did, it makes it a lot easier.”

July 24, 2013

Despite missing time in the spring, Jake Holland where he ‘wants to be’ headed into fall camp

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — At the beginning of the summer, Jake Holland set a goal for himself.

Auburn senior Jake Holland enters fall camp as the backup to Kris Frost at middle linebacker.

Auburn senior Jake Holland enters fall camp as the backup to Kris Frost at middle linebacker.

Tipping the scales at 245 pounds, he wanted to trim off five pounds to get to 240. After a summer full of workouts, he can consider that goal reached. And in addition to cutting five pounds from his figure, he also decreased his body fat from 14 percent to 12 percent.

Most of the credit, he said, is due to the strength and conditioning program of coach Ryan Russell, who held a similar position with Gus Malzahn last year at Arkansas State.

“Coach Russell’s strength program is very, very good,” Holland said Tuesday, which marked the last day of Auburn’s summer workouts. “We’re enthusiastic in the workouts. Each, to a man, I believe, we all got stronger and faster. I really enjoyed his system.”

Of course, the senior linebacker didn’t get into better shape for no reason. He wants to see the field more this fall after starting 10 games last season, when he collected 73 tackles. Holland believes he’s now at his optimum playing weight.

And he pointed out it doesn’t hurt that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme complements the Tigers so well, since they boast a wealth of quick-twitch defenders.

“It’s definitely a high-tempo defense,” he said. “I would say that it gives us more of an edge because it matches up with the speed offenses in the SEC.”

Holland has worked at both the “Mike” (middle) and “Will” (weakside) linebacker spots during the team’s “captain’s practices,” but said his preference is to play in the middle. There’s only one problem: Kris Frost stands in his way at the moment, heading into fall camp as the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker.

But Holland said there was “no tension” between he and Frost, and that the only thing he cares about is the entire team getting better.

“We’re all here together,” he said. “Whoever Coach Johnson decides to start, that’s what he decides. But, as far as there being a nice rotation, that’s what I like because any time you’re playing 80 to 90 snaps a game your body is going to wear down. The rotation is going to be a huge help for us with all of the depth at linebacker, because now we’ll have two instead of three.”

Holland isn’t just playing behind Frost at the moment, either.

He is literally playing from behind after missing some practices and numerous meetings in the spring because of a class conflict.

But what he may have missed in the spring is balanced by the seasoning he’s had the last three years.

“I don’t necessarily feel mentally behind because I have some SEC experience playing in the past,” he said. “With the time during the summer I’ve been able to study and know the defense. I’m ready to go. It’s just about getting reps and making sure that I get to the position I want to be.”

Besides, with a new coaching staff, Holland noted “you have to prove yourself” more than once to show you”re worthy of playing time. Johnson, the man who will ultimately dictate how much Holland gets on the field this fall, knew it was “hard” for the Pelham, Ala., native to “no-show” for practices and meetings this spring, especially when trying to learn a new system.

College football can be cruel that way sometimes.

“Had he been in the same system going into his senior year after four years, I probably wouldn’t hardly rep him,” Johnson said. “Putting in a new system and a new defense, it wasn’t a good situation for him. He’s close to already graduating and he’s in his last year. It’s something that could not be moved. We had to leave it where it was. We practiced and met in the mornings. It was very unusual that he had that class conflict.”

Even if he was an unquestioned starter, however, Holland said he would still practice with the same intensity.

“Just because you have to be ready for the season and you’re coming off the summer ready to go,” he said. “As far as where I stand, everything is right where I want to be.”

And the place Holland wants the Tigers to be is in a bowl. Yes, the team is “excited to get started” and “ready to move on” from last season. Those mantras will be repeated to nigh infinity until Aug. 31 rolls around and Auburn tees it up against Washington State.

Holland said it should go without saying that winning championships — both of the SEC and BCS variety — is what the Tigers are striving to achieve in 2013. A bowl, however, is the “minimum” that would be acceptable for Holland to deem the season a successful one.

Good thing Holland believes the Tigers are primed to make a run to the postseason, then.

“From what I see, going off past years, this team is probably the closest we’ve been in a long time,” he said. “Bowl capability? There’s no doubt in my mind.”

July 19, 2013

Auburn notes: Rhett Lashlee Quotes

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke with reporters for over 20 minutes on Friday at the Auburn Athletic Complex.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee spoke with reporters for over 20 minutes on Friday at the Auburn Athletic Complex.

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee met with media members on Friday morning in the Rane Room of the Auburn Athletic Complex. He spent six minutes (out of what amounted to a nearly 22-minute interview) discussing the team’s quarterback situation. Since all of those comments on the quarterbacks couldn’t (reasonably) be fit in today’s notebook, why not include them elsewhere?

The following is a roundup of some Lashlee’s other quotes, of the quarterback and non-quarterback variety.

On the start of the season:

“I know I’m excited. The coaches are excited. We’re starting to get into the football meetings as a staff — talk more ball, talk more install, talk more fall camp, which, when you get to that point, you know it’s close. I know our players are ready, just talking with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Ryan) Russell. They’ve worked extremely hard this summer from what he’s told us, but they’re even getting to the point, ‘All right, we’re ready to put the helmet on, put the pads on and be out there and start getting ready to play somebody.’ But we’re excited. The guys have worked hard and we’ve had great participation from what we’ve been told. We’re just ready to get started.”

On giving more reps to Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson since they’re the newcomers in the quarterback race:

“I don’t know if it’ll necessarily be more reps, but like I said, I’m going to have to get creative in maybe the way we put them in certain situations, just to make sure. At the same time, in fairness to Kiehl (Frazier) and Jonathan (Wallace), from what I hear they worked extremely hard this summer. I would think they’ve made great strides since the spring. So all four guys are going to get a fair and equal shot. That’s just the way it is.”

On Arkansas coach Bret Bielema’s remarks at SEC Media Days, where he reiterated his view that up-tempo offenses like Auburn runs lead to more injuries for defensive players:

“I don’t have a reaction to his remarks. Coach (Gus) Malzahn addressed that. As far as I’m concerned, pace and tempo, that’s our philosophy, that’s who we are and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re never going to do anything to put our men in physical jeopardy. Coach addressed that. That’s our philosophy and that’s the kind of team we’re going to be.”

On whether the up-tempo offense is safe

“Oh, there’s no question. As I said, we’re not going to do anything to put anybody in harm’s way and we’ve not had a history of any issues with injuries. Every coach has their philosophy of playing. That’s our jobs. We’re committed to the tempo and to the pace, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

On whether he had ever heard complaints about the up-tempo offense before:

“Never really did. A lot of the teams in the state I grew up playing in (Arkansas), a lot of people run that system, largely because of Coach Malzahn. But no, I’ve never heard that argument much, and never have really had any issues with it.”

On whether critics have much of an argument regarding why the offense is a safety hazard:

“We all play within the rules. You know what the rules are. We know, hey, if we substitute a guy, that they’re going to stop it and hold the ball, and we understand that, too. That’s another thing that you’ve got to factor into it that keeps us from probably going too fast.”

On fullback Jay Prosch:

“The thing about Jay when I first came here, I remember thinking, ‘That’s good. We’ve got a guy who can block.’ Because you’ve got to have that guy in nearly any offense that runs the football, but in what we do in a two-back scheme (it’s even more important). But what I was really pleasantly surprised that when I got here was that he’s extremely intelligent, which helps at that position for us. But he’s a pretty good athlete. He runs well, believe it or not. He’s got that short, stubby arms (but) he catches the ball well.”

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.