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September 1, 2013

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 26, 2013

Auburn football: Coordinators discuss positional rotations prior to depth chart release

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn has yet to release a depth chart heading into its season opener against Washington State on Saturday.

Until that time comes — it is expected to be released at some point Tuesday — which players will fill out the two-deep lineup remains a mystery. One of those positions is safety, where the dismissal of senior safety Demetruce McNeal left a gaping hole.

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday's season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Senior cornerback Chris Davis (11) was one player Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson had no worries about heading into Saturday’s season opener versus Washington State. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Former cornerback Josh Holsey stepped in at the spot during the spring and stayed there for the duration of fall camp. With McNeal gone and barring any issues arising between now and the opener, Holsey will take the field as the team’s starting boundary safety.

As it stands, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said he was comfortable with three safeties as Saturday nears.

“You’ve got Holsey, Ryan Smith and (Jermaine) Whitehead,” Johnson said. “So I think right now, it would have to be some kind of a three-man rotation. Unless one of them got hurt, and then Kiehl Frazier will be ready to go.”

It was the same story at the two linebacker positions, Johnson said, at ease with the trio of Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Anthony Swain.

“I think Jake could move to the Will (line)backer if he had to,” Johnson said of the likely starter at middle linebacker. “Swain’s had a pretty good week of practice. I think first I’d probably put Swain on the field if he played well and did OK. If not, I’d move Jake over there. Frost and Holland are (the) only players at Mike right now.”

Johnson reiterated that view when asked whether weakside linebacker Cassanova McKinzy would stay on the field in Auburn’s dime package and shift to the middle, where he played last season.

“Cass hasn’t worked any at that,” he said. “It’s just too much for him to learn right now. When we go to dime, whatever Mike linebacker is on the field stays out there. They’re not asked to do anything outside the box. There’s really nothing they physically can’t handle, but we’ll usually leave that mike linebacker on the field. It’s about the fewest number of guys going on and off the field.”

The three-man approach didn’t stop with linebackers and safeties, though. Johnson said it also extended to cornerback, where the Tigers are content with Chris Davis, Jonathon Mincy and Ryan White. Auburn is still trying to find a replacement for Jonathan Jones, who broke a bone in his ankle in an off-field accident near the end of fall camp. No timetable has been announced for his return.

The three players vying for time in Jones’ absence all lack experience, comprised of a redshirt freshman (T.J. Davis) and a pair of true freshmen (Kamryn Melton and Johnathan Ford).

Ford in particular has continued to impress Johnson since moving from running back to cornerback following Jones’ injury.

“Johnathan’s still learning. He’s not ready yet, but he physically is the most impressive of the bunch,” Johnson said. “You never know how much improvement they can make when we restrict the game plan and cut it down for them mentally. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can lead to playing poorly fundamentally. If we clean that up, I think he is really going to be a good player there.”

Unlike the defense, the offense has few positions still undecided.

One is at right tackle, where Patrick Miller and Avery Young split reps throughout fall camp. Young, however, started to switch between tackle and guard as fall camp came to a close. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee couldn’t find enough good things to say about the sophomore, who sat out spring practice while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.

Though the average person may not know finer points of what it takes to be an offensive lineman, Lashlee believed Young would be easy to spot even to the untrained eye.

Young’s talent stands on its own merit.

“He’s an athletic guy,” Lashlee said. “At guard he can really pull. At tackle he’s very athletic, really good in the run game. Shoot, he hasn’t done it yet, but he would probably be a really good center. He’s just a real versatile guy.”

July 15, 2013

7 at 7: Seven questions about the Tigers this fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


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.

April 20, 2013

Seven different Auburn Tigers score seven touchdowns in 35-14 A-Day spectacle

Auburn A-Day

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – Care to see Gus Malzahn bristle? Call his system a spread offense.

Want to see the head coach glow? Seven touchdowns spread out to seven different players in one half ought to light him up.

It’s only a simulation, but if Auburn’s new-look offense comes anywhere close to replicating A-Day’s effort this fall, the Tigers will enjoy a new day indeed.

Two running backs, two wide receivers, a quarterback, a tight end and a “star” linebacker produced the scoring in Saturday’s enamoring scrimmage, won 35-14 by the “orange” squad made up mostly by the Tigers’ first-team players at Jordan-Hare Stadium, packed by an A-Day record 83,401 fans.

Squeezing in 111 plays, Auburn’s offensive players combined for 548 yards – including 425 yards on 77 snaps in the 24-minute first half, which contained all the scoring. A running clock was employed in the second half.

“It wasn’t just trying to window-dress it as far as making it nice for a spring game,” Malzahn said. “We tried to go fast and use our pace.”

The misconception in some circles is Malzahn-led teams – including three as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator from 2009-11 – is his lightning-fast tempo is dictated through the air, but he prefers the label “run-first, playaction offense.”

Those words are music to the ears of running backs Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne, who handled all the significant carries out of the backfield as Corey Grant was held out with a high fever.

Mason, Auburn’s leading 2012 rusher, and Artis-Payne, a 2,000-yard juco transfer, combined for 177 yards on 29 carries (none for a loss), which computes to a 6.1 rush average.

Auburn A-DayIn his first public effort at Auburn, Artis-Payne added two catches for 47 yards, including a tackle-breaking 42-yarder down the right sideline.

Along with his 18 rushes for 137 yards and a 27-yard TD, he was the media’s easy pick for Lionel James Offensive MVP – a welcomed treat for the California juco standout’s family, making the 15-hour trip from Pennsylvania to the Plains.

“We feel like as a backfield we can be really explosive,” Artis-Payne said. “Coach Malzahn’s offense produces wherever he goes; I’m just excited to be a part of that.”

Mason wasn’t shabby himself, logging 60 yards on 11 carries and a 4-yard score after missing most of spring with a bad ankle.

“I’ve actually gotten excited. I love seeing them do their thing and ball out,” said Mason, who voiced the 2013 goal of three 1,000-yard rushers along with Artis-Payne and Grant. “We want to do this thing together. We are looking to do something.”

About those quarterbacks: a starter won’t be named until the three incomers have their chance, but junior Kiehl Frazier and sophomore Jonathan Wallace were mostly efficient in their most pressurized job interview of the offseason.

Wallace’s day dawned with disaster, when crowd noise crossed up communication between him and second-team center Tunde Fariyike. The shotgun snap zoomed over Wallace’s right shoulder, scooped up by breakout junior Justin Garrett for the game’s opening points.

To his credit, Wallace collected himself – his combined statline read 18-of-26 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, with one bad read on an interception by safety Ryan Smith.

“Of course, the biggest thing (offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee) told us: if you mess up, go to the next play, and we were able to do that,” Wallace said. “That next drive that we had, we scored. It’s just a matter of putting those things behind you and fighting through the adversity.”

Meanwhile, Frazier was more even-keel: the 2012 opening-day starter completed 10-of-16 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, plus a 7-yard scoring scramble, but lost a fumble on an exchange with walk-on tailback Patrick Lymon.

“I can run around a little bit more,” Frazier said. “Plus we’re going fast paced and that’s something that I grew up in, so I’m definitely feeling comfortable.”

Garrett was named Mark Dorminey Defensive MVP, justifying why he’s been called the “brightest spot” of the spring repeatedly by players and coaches the past three weeks.

“It was an unbelievable feeling,” said Garrett, who hadn’t scored a touchdown since high school. “Can’t really explain the emotion that was going on, but I saw the ball on the ground, tried to pick it up and go as fast as possible to the end zone.”

Receivers Trovon Reed and walk-on Dimitri Reese and tight end Brandon Fulse each caught TD passes. Sammie Coates made four catches for 84 yards on the second-team “blue” squad.

Holder Ryan White earned Lewis Colbert Specialty MVP honors, since kicker Cody Parkey was 0-for-2 on field goals and there were no punts or kickoffs. But White did lead both defenses with five solo tackles.

Defensive end Kenneth Carter and linebacker Kris Frost each recovered fumbles, making for four turnovers on the afternoon.

Free safety Demetruce McNeal was still not with the team, attending to off-field issues. Malzahn reiterated his status is day-to-day.

In the game’s most bizarre moment, cornerback Jonathon Mincy was assessed a 15-yard personal foul for laying out Reese, and ejected by the new rule barring defenders from hitting a defenseless receiver above the shoulders.

After getting the training staff’s attention, Reese walked off under his own power. He was the day’s only notable injury.

Auburn has two final spring practices scheduled for next week. The 2013 opener is Aug. 31 against Washington State.


April 10, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #8


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

AUBURN, Ala. – The weather was ideal. The intensity was not.

Can’t blame college kids too much for ever being sluggish at 8 a.m. at football practice, especially when Auburn’s been working at breakneck speed for a fortnight. (That’s two weeks, for you non-tennis nerds like me.)

Remember, the Tigers canceled Monday’s practice, meaning they had three full days off since Saturday’s heat-soaked scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. So while the morning temperature was “Baby Bear porridge” perfect – not too hot, not too cool, but just right – the players seemed a tad rusty from the relatively lengthy layoff.

And it didn’t seem like the coaches got on their case … at least not that we saw. This is the third of four mornings in uniform, so we’ll see how the team tempo develops as we draw within single-digit days of the spring game.

Some quick observations from spring practice No. 8:

In high school, this 2-year quarterback (albeit a split starter his senior season) completed 52 percent of his passes (129-250) for 2,074 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Don’t expect Ryan White to compete with Jonathan Wallace or Kiehl Frazier anytime soon for reps. But White is dusting off the ol’ right arm, serving as a fake field goal passer in Wednesday’s drills.

Kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark also will have to learn how to throw a ball on point in front of 80,000 screaming fans. There are some plays drawn up for them on fake punts and field goals.

Among the plays we saw (no video allowed): White throwing a quick route to Brandon Fulse in the end zone, Parkey passing to White on a rollout, a direct snap to Ricky Parks and run, a direct snap to Cameron Artis-Payne with White faking a shotgun snap, and White lining up in pistol formation before an audible calls for a straight-up Parkey kick.

Scott Fountain appears to be the guy guiding these formations, with assistance from Tim Horton.

Extra points, short kicks and punt lineups could get creative this year, folks.

Tre Mason was in uniform, but didn’t get any work other than stretching that we saw. He seemed to be favoring his left leg, and he hasn’t looked right all spring.

If Artis-Payne and Corey Grant take advantage of the extra reps, it’s not unheard of that Mason could fall behind on the depth chart for 2013 on account of missing spring. Just ask Nosa Eguae last year.

DT Angelo Blackson (injury) and OL Devonte Danzey (unknown) weren’t out there today. WR Quan Bray was practicing, but needed some time with the trainer stretching out his right leg. We’ll have to ask Gus Malzahn for their statuses this morning.

Wallace took the first four throws in team drills we saw. Don’t freak out. Frazier will rotate in. The QBs were working on option pitches to Artis-Payne as well as walk-on QBs Ben Durand and Tate O’Connor.

The starting O-Line remains Greg Robinson, Alex Kozan, Reese Dismukes, Chad Slade, Patrick Miller.

This one’s just for me: I like the ‘sacking dummy’ contraption out there. It’s a tall blue cone with a left arm pumped down and a right arm up throwing the football. The Manzielnequin.

The defense worked on interception drills. As in, how to block for the man after getting a pick.

Twas a much quieter sideline than last weekend with the coaching clinic, but athletic director Jay Jacobs was observing in a bright blue athletic polo.

April 3, 2013

Quick observations from Auburn practice #5 | Check in on Gus Malzahn’s live comments


BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — As we go through each practice, notes will probably get shorter since I don’t want to repeat myself. It also depends on how much “new” material we see. Here’s a few nuggets from this morning, and as usual I’ll live blog Gus Malzahn‘s comments at or after 11 a.m. ET.

The final 5-minute period we saw was more screens, continuing to integrate cadences and blocking schemes. The passes we saw were 7-for-7 (four for Kiehl Frazier, three for Jonathan Wallace), spreading it out to, in order: RB Tre Mason, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates (twice), RB Cameron Artis-Payne, walk-on RB Patrick Lymon, WR Melvin Ray.

Getting more punt return reps Wednesday were cornerbacks Robenson Therezie and Chris Davis, under the watchful eye of … running backs coach Tim Horton, not special teams coach Scott Fountain. Mason, Grant, Trovon Reed and Quan Bray also were back there, but not Ricardo Louis.

Cody Parkey went 8-for-8 in the fire-drill field-goal session, starting from 20 yards out and steadily moving back as far as 46 yards. Ryan White continues to be his primary holder, and most the usual offensive and defensive starters are lining up to block and rush in the drill.

Scout teamers pulled on green recreational jerseys for some special teams drills.

If you see Gabe Wright, wish him a happy 21st birthday.

April 1, 2013

Auburn notes: Owens finally gets a look at LB, Garrett embraces star, Parkey picks up pace

Alabama A&M vs Auburn

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. – It was time for a change, and LaDarius Owens finally got his way after two years of waiting.

A former defensive end, Owens dropped 15 pounds in strength and conditioning Ryan Russell’s system and has switched to mike linebacker, working in behind starter Jake Holland and reserve Chris Landrum.

He doesn’t plan on sitting for long, though.

“I didn’t move to linebacker to watch or to just add depth. I want to compete,” Owens said. “And that’s why I put in so much time off the field to study and watch film.”

Owens, the nephew of Auburn’s color barrier breaker James Owens, ate only grilled food for three months as part of a diet-exercise program to slim down to 243 pounds. He’s never played linebacker before, but being that everybody’s new to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s system, the junior from Bessemer, Ala. feels he’s not that far behind the curve.

“Coach Johnson is a good teacher. He made it make sense,” Owens said. “Those guys learned it from 4-3 into the 4-2-5. This is my first system as a linebacker, so I’m able to absorb it. They have to change some of the verbiage they had last year to this one, so it’s easy for it to stick to me and me to learn it.”

Star search: One of the happiest guys in the locker room to see Johnson bring his 4-2-5 defense to Auburn was junior Justin Garrett.

Just not at first.

“Once he got hired, somebody told me about his defense and that it was a 4-2-5 and they play a third safety,” Garrett said. “When I saw that, I knew it was the perfect position for me and my teammates told me it would be the perfect position for me.”

Garrett, a spot linebacker last year, has been working with the ones in practice at star, backed up by Javiere Mitchell.

Senior step-up: Malzahn is starting to see some leadership develop, at the right places.

“I think our seniors are the group that’s really trying to lead this team and that’s very encouraging for me,” Malzahn said. “We’ve had quite a few meetings with our seniors – they want it to be a new day and they’re gradually starting to take charge of their team.”

Kick into high gear: Even the field-goal units have to learn the language of ‘fast’ in Gus Malzahn-led practices. An early-period drill calls for eight consecutive field-goal attempts in about 2-3 minutes.

“The first day, he told me I was holding up the whole drill,” senior kicker Cody Parkey revealed. “So that was in the back of my mind today, spring from side to side. I can’t rush my steps, so it probably makes him a little mad, the fact I have to take my time. But I’m trying to go as fast as I can for him.”

Senior punter Steven Clark is practicing some holds, but the primary holder remains senior Ryan White, a cornerback who didn’t drop any snaps in 2012.

“We just want to get out there, do our job and get off the field,” Parkey said. “So pace is going to be big-time, even for special teams.”

No special treatment: Running back Cameron Artis-Payne, offensive guard Devonte Danzey and defensive tackle Ben Bradley each had junior college credentials more than worthy of being welcomed to Auburn’s spring squad as early enrollees.

None of the trio has been promised anything, however, and all three are a bit behind the pack in terms of pecking order at their respective positions.

“They’re doing OK. They’re like the young guys coming in who have not been part of the system, so they’re learning,” Malzahn said. “I feel pretty confident that, halfway through spring, they should start to get more comfortable.”

Third 2014 commit: Very late Sunday night, Auburn picked up its third 2014 verbal commitment in 6-foot-1, 280-pound offensive lineman Joshua Casher, according to the recruiting web sites that cover Auburn.

A three-star prospect from Mobile, Casher joins running back Kamryn Pettway and punter Jimmy Hutchinson (who will enroll next January) in the class.

March 30, 2013

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

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@ledger-enquirer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 1, 2013

BACK TO THE FUTURE, Part I: The good, the bad & the ugly from the Clemson game, plus an early preview of Washington State

AUBURN, Ala. – Alrighty. Here we go. A look back at the football game Auburn played six months ago tonight, and how these lessons from the film room apply to next season. We’ll do this each Friday from now until the end of May.

Allow me to reiterate: obviously, last year stunk. I saw it myself. This is a way to utilize what we’ve learned about the returning Tigers and how they’ll fit in with the 2013 team, which is why you won’t read a ton of elaboration on guys who are gone (T’Sharvan Bell, Emory Blake, etc.) It also won’t overrate how particular schemes played out, because, again, those coaches are gone. Out with the old, in with the new, for sure. This is just applying the old players to new schemes.

OK, no more disclaimer. Let’s get started. And don’t forget to read below for a (very) early look at Auburn’s season-opening opponent, Washington State.


 NO. 14 CLEMSON 26, AUBURN 19 ~ Sept. 1, 2012, ESPN

Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic, Georgia Dome, Atlanta

The preview | The review

The Good

On Clemson’s opening possession | DE Dee Ford destroys two blocks, and races down quarterback Tajh Boyd for the sack. Already an impact player.

On Auburn’s opening possession | for their first snaps in Auburn uniforms, FB Jay Prosch puts a nice lead block on free safety Xavier Brewer, and LT Greg Robinson pancakes defensive end Corey Crawford, springing RB Onterio McCalebb for 5 yards.

For their first boots as juniors | K Cody Parkey knocks a touchback, and P Steven Clark skies one 45 yards producing a fair catch. They’ll do.

For his first carry | RB Tre Mason picks up five yards after contact. Already, he’s showing he’s a tough guy to bring down.

For his first touchdown | QB Kiehl Frazier. Playaction. WR Emory Blake. Boom.

Coaches will later point out RT Avery Young not just once, but twice rerouted defensive tackle Grady Jarrett from touching Frazier, allowing Kiehl time in the pocket to deliver a perfect spiral 57 yards downfield on the money.

Frazier elatedly leaps into Mason’s arms on his way down the field. It was far and away his happiest moment of the season. (Only his 33-yard TD catch and Hail Mary throw against ULM even kind of compare.)

On the final play of the first quarter | LB Daren Bates gets a sack, following up a controversial exchange you’ll read about in a moment. I bet a lot of Auburn fans assessed after the first 15 minutes, “It’s gonna be a good season.”

On its own 1-yard-line | Mason goes 40 yards in two carries, both with Prosch clearing a path. However, Mason then fumbles at midfield, popped loose by defensive tackle Josh Watson when Tre doesn’t protect enough with his left arm.

Late in the first half, 2nd and 10 | With Clemson on Auburn’s 41 threatening to open up its lead, a total team sack snuffs the threat. CB Chris Davis and LB Jake Holland draw O-Line blocks, which allows DT Gabe Wright to apply pressure. When Boyd has to improvise, DE Corey Lemonier has time to wrap him up from behind. The LB-CB blitz blew up Clemson’s home-run play call.

On Bates’ interception to start the fourth quarter | Wright was the one following the ball outside the trenches. He leaps, keeping his hands up and cutting off Boyd’s passing lane, forcing Boyd to throw behind tight end Sam Cooper, causing the pick.

Mason didn’t take long to show how he’s a hybrid back – he’s sleek yet powerful, he’s got quick burst yet he’s durable. Looked like a college version of Steven Jackson. There’s no reason he shouldn’t be an elite back in this new system going forward.

Clemson_Auburn23_9-1-12The Bad

On Kiehl’s first 3rd-down snap | There he is, watching the rush. Flips wildly to Mason, which he can’t grab, and Auburn goes three-and-out. This became, as they say, a thing.

When Boyd has to come out after losing his helmet | backup quarterback Cole Stoudt comes in on 2nd and 12. Stoudt, no real threat to throw, hands off on a zone draw to tailback Andre Ellington, who breaks FOUR tackles – FS Ryan Smith, Lemonier, Davis and SS Jermaine Whitehead in order – for a 15-yard pickup. Inexcusable.

Auburn DBs backpedal on a couple 3rd-and-longs | allows Clemson receivers to roam. DC Brian VanGorder’s stance was his secondary wasn’t prepared for press coverage.

On 2nd and 12 in the red zone | WR Trovon Reed completely lost track of his feet in the back of the end zone. Frazier’s throw was fine, but Reed didn’t keep his toes in bounds, negating the TD. Auburn would settle for three.

On the offensive line | Robinson did have the pancake on that Blake TD, but he also had a false start and a fatal-timed hold in the red zone.

The Ugly

Can’t believe I forgot about this play in hindsight | Boyd scrambles, DE Nosa Eguae forces a fumble tackling him in traffic, and Wright recovers. The refs initially rule Auburn ball. Somehow, it’s overturned, when it’s judged Boyd’s knee was down first. Upon replay, it looked like Boyd bobbled the football before his knee touched the turf, or at least it was too close to overturn. Even ESPN play-by-play man Brad Nessler seemed to disagree, saying, “Well, there’s our opinion, and then there’s the one that counts.” Then the refs even needed another delay to properly set the sticks. Bad exchange all around which could have allowed Auburn to grab some swagger.

On Ellington’s “flip-and-fly” run for 68 yards |Holland flat-out lost his grip on Ellington. CB Jon Mincy stutter-stepped, expecting Holland to take care of the job himself, and failed to cut off the angle, allowing Ellington to spring free. A huge momentum swing.

On Auburn’s opening possession out of the halftime locker room | there’s 12 men in the huddle once, and a timeout is later called to regroup. Unnecessary miscommunications, which you could certainly attribute to the first game with a new system.

Ugly on Clemson’s part | too many dropped balls. Shot themselves in the foot.

Clemson_Auburn8_9-1-12Notes and tidbits

Kiehl Frazier assessment | at best, he was poised and in control; at worst, he was a little inaccurate in his first spotlight appearance. Plenty of playaction and playfakes were called for him; though he wasn’t quite comfortable running downfield, he did have one nice scramble, sacrificing his body to pick up a first down. Give it a B-plus effort.

CB Ryan White and Ryan Smith opened the season in the starting lineup on defense. No, really. Look it up. Smith was said to be someone who “gets it”, as far as VanGorder’s complex playbook. Smith made a curious decision to leap toward Ellington on a sweep, instead of plugging a gap or wrapping up, and Ellington went for 45 yards. Both Ryans soon lost their starting jobs, even though White led the Tigers with 12 tackles that night.

Kick return coverage starters | Parkey, Davis, Josh Holsey, Jaylon Denson, Craig Sanders, Ikeem Means, T’Sharvan Bell, Anthony Swain, Jon Jones, Jon Evans, Demetruce McNeal. Only Means, Bell and Evans were seniors.

Clemson’s first quarter | 29 plays, 127 yards (4.34 yards/play), 11:43 possession

Auburn’s first quarter | 7 plays, 78 yards (11.14 yards/play), 3:17 possession

However, Auburn led 7-3.

Fourth quarter | Ellington 8 rush, 80 yards; Boyd 6 rush, 49 yards. They rushed for six first downs together (three for Ellington, three for Boyd), including three on third down. Defensive breakdowns, not being able to contain the run (particularly Boyd), stopped Auburn from stealing this game.


3) Cody Parkey. Four for four on field goals, including a 46-yarder, is what you’re looking for.

2) Daren Bates.  A sack, an interception and sideline-to-sideline coverage even with a stinger. Gutty performance.

1) Jay Prosch. He had one hell of a game, the final time his mother watched him play football. Recovered a Kiehl Frazier fumble in the final minute to keep the game alive, and made Onterio McCalebb and Tre Mason look really, really, really good.



GAME 1: Washington State at Auburn, Aug. 31, 2013, Jordan-Hare Stadium


2012 record: 3-9, 1-8 Pac-12

Head coach: Mike Leach, second year (@Coach_Leach)

Returning starters (o/d): Wazzu 19 (10/9)

Base formations: Offense – 4-WR spread | Defense – 3-4

Wazzu-Auburn series: Auburn leads 1-0 (preseason fourth-ranked Tigers won 40-14 in 2006 opener at JHS)

Notes: Auburn is 92-26-2 in season openers, with the Clemson loss breaking a six-game winning streak … Washington State was one of three BCS conference squads in 2012 to rank outside the top 100 both in scoring offense and scoring defense (Kansas, Colorado) … Auburn is 7-3 all-time against the Pac-12, while Wazzu is 1-9 all-time against the SEC … six of Auburn’s last nine season openers have been televised by the ESPN family of networks.

November 17, 2012

Notebook: Senior Day goes according to plan

AUBURN, Ala. – The fifth season T’Sharvan Bell has spent in Auburn didn’t go according to plan.

But there was one of those rare moments of happiness this 2012 season when Bell ran onto the Jordan-Hare Stadium field for the final time Saturday, embracing his mother and brothers.

Three hours later, Bell’s family sat proudly in her longtime seat behind the Tigers’ sideline, as safety Trent Fisher’s 60-yard interception return polished off Auburn’s 51-7 victory over Alabama A&M. Bertia Williams looked up at the videoboard, beaming as her son leapt onto Fisher as part of the celebration.

“He’s come a long way,” Williams said, wearing her son’s No. 22 jersey. “There’s been some tough times, but he’s very strong and very determined. He’s always a leader. That’s what he does best.”

The second senior honored behind linebacker Daren Bates, Bell led 10 other seniors onto the field during pregame ceremonies. Bell, who fought off a litany of injuries during his career, said this week he’d try to block out the emotion until gametime.

Then, it’d be time to soak it in.

“It was bittersweet. I had a lot of emotions. Seeing my mom and brothers out there on the field, it was heart-warming for me,” Bell said. “Everybody’s like, man, you’re going to cry, you’re going to cry. I said, no, I’m gonna hold it together.”

Bell didn’t cry, joking that he saw injured tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen shed a tear or two. Bell hasn’t had many chances to display that luminous smile, but took the opportunity after the game.

“I’m definitely going to miss being out there at Jordan-Hare,” Bell said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet, and I can’t tell you when it’s going to sink in, but I’m definitely going to miss it.”

Of all the contributing seniors, the brightest effort Saturday went to tailback Onterio McCalebb, who sprinted to 104 yards and two touchdowns on a team-high 15 carries. He’s only the second player in SEC history to top 2,000 yards rushing, 1,000 kickoff return yards and 500 yards receiving.

“It’s a blessing to go out there and do that because when I got out of high school, a lot of people said, ‘you’re too small to do this or that in the SEC’ and I basically have to go out there and prove them wrong,” McCalebb said.

“It really didn’t hit me until Tiger Walk. It really hit me hard, because I am going to miss playing here.”

No comment: University President Jay Gogue said Friday after a board of trustees meeting he would take the final two games to assess the job security of athletic director Jay Jacobs and head coach Gene Chizik.

Asked about the subject Saturday, Chizik, who has consistently deferred job status inquiries, said, “I’ve already addressed all of that stuff.”

End of the Rhodes: Immediately following Chizik’s postgame press conference, Auburn spokeswoman Shelly Poe received word that senior middle linebacker Ashton Richardson was not selected among the two Rhodes Scholarship recipients out of 12 district finalists Saturday.

Richardson, an animal sciences major and aspiring equine veterinarian who plans to attend graduate school somewhere, missed Saturday’s game while interviewing in Birmingham.

Good times: Auburn’s 512 total yards were the most since it gained 519, in the 2010 BCS Championship Game against Oregon.

Sophomore Tre Mason’s 165 rushing yards in the first half counts as the third-highest total in school history. The only man with more first-half success (twice)? Bo Jackson.

Gone Fishin’: Fisher, a former walk-on, finally gave the Auburn secondary some street cred.

The Tigers hauled in just their second interception of the year Saturday, and the first was by Bates back in the season opener against Clemson. The linebackers group had constantly reminded the defensive backs of this fact.

“They’ve been giving us a hard time about the DBs not getting any,” Fisher said, “so it was good to finally get one today.”

Fisher said he could barely remember the last time he scored a touchdown, and he’d never enjoyed a pick-six at any level.

Oddly enough, the Tigers are now 2-0 when Fisher starts at safety and 1-8 when he doesn’t. Demetruce McNeal, Auburn’s leading tackler entering Saturday, was benched early and only played special teams and garbage-time defense.

“When you look at production, that doesn’t always tell the story,” Chizik said. “It’s because there’s a lot of other things involved than just tackling. That’s why we made the move.”

Ryan Smith also saw heavy playing time alongside Jermaine Whitehead Saturday.

Lineup shift: Other new starters included senior wide receiver DeAngelo Benton, tight end C.J. Uzomah, freshman left guard Christian Westerman and safety Ryan White.

Benton’s career-long 51-yard grab from Jonathan Wallace was just his second reception of the season and 16th of his career.

Westerman played in his third game this year and made his first start at left guard, which sent John Sullen to right guard, Chad Slade to left tackle and Greg Robinson out of the lineup. Westerman did leave the game in the third quarter with a left ankle injury.

Safety dance: Auburn got credit for its first safety this season when Alabama A&M oversnapped its punter in the fourth quarter. With the ball settling at the 2-yard-line and a gunner closing in, Bulldogs punter Chance Wilson batted the ball out of the back of the end zone, awarding the Tigers two points.