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July 18, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 3: James Franklin refuses to address dismissed players, Nick Saban needles media

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was asked 18 questions on Thursday during his time with reporters at SEC Media Days. One-third of queries aimed his way dealt with player behavior.

The line of questioning comes as no surprise, of course, after four Commodores were kicked off the team last month as police in Nashville, Tenn., continue to investigate whether a sex crime occurred at a campus dormitory.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin deflected any questions dealing with four dismissed players from the football program on Thursday at SEC Media Days.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin deflected any questions dealing with four players recently dismissed from the football program on Thursday at SEC Media Days. (AP Photo)

Franklin refused to offer any updates on the case, other than to repeatedly say it is an “ongoing” process.

Instead, the coach made sure the discussion centered around the players still on the team.

“We’ve been focusing on our team and our players and making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do academically this summer,” Franklin said. “We have taken classes in June and July. We had some guys study abroad in May, which is an unbelievable experience for them.”

One reporter asked whether success on the field and trouble off it have a direct correlation. Vanderbilt’s third-year coach replied that he hadn’t “done enough studies” to lend any insight on the matter.

“When those things pop up, I do think they’re probably magnified,” he said. “A little bit more success you have, things are magnified. I couldn’t get into the details or specifics.”

Franklin also disputed that to “compete at the highest level of college football,” as one reporter phrased it, teams have to take chances on recruits with questionable backgrounds. While he couldn’t speak about other programs, Franklin made sure to emphasize he didn’t allow Vanderbilt to operate that way.

“It’s never been that way in the past. It’s not that way presently,” he said. “It will never be in the future. That’s not what we’re all about.”

Franklin doesn’t rule out Commodores playing at LP Field — eventually

Sharing a city with an NFL team, the Commodores are in a situation that sets them apart from their SEC brethren. In other cities, such as Pittsburgh and Houston, college teams play in the same stadiums as their professional counterparts. The Commodores play their homes games at Vanderbilt Stadium, which is located on the grounds of the university’s main campus.

Franklin was asked about the possibility of the Commodores hosting a game at LP Field, the stadium used by the Tennessee Titans.

Right now, it’s just that: a possibility.

“We have had some discussions depending on our schedule if we can get an eight-game schedule, the possibilities of taking one of those games to LP Field, which I think would be great for the city as well, great for our program,” Franklin said. “But we want to make sure that the nucleus, at least seven games, are on our campus every year.”

Saban fires back at Miles’ schedule complaints

Before finishing his time in front of media members on Thursday, LSU coach Les Miles once again expressed his frustration over the SEC’s unbalanced schedule, which will see his Tigers play both Florida and Georgia in cross-divisional matchups this season. Those two teams went 14-2 in conference play in 2012. Alabama, on the other hand, will play SEC East teams Kentucky and Tennessee, two teams that combined to go 1-15 against league competition last year. (The lone win was the Volunteers’ 37-17 victory over the Wildcats in the season finale for both teams.)

“I’d have to say there’s a repeated scheduling advantage and disadvantage for certain teams in this conference based on tradition and traditional matchups,” the LSU coach said.

Saban heard Miles’ remarks loud and clear — and responded every bit as forcefully.

“There can never be an equal path to the championship,” he said. “Unless everybody plays everybody, that’s the only equal path to championship.”

And Saban even got in one last dig at both Miles and his former school.

“I understand where Les Miles is coming from. I coached at LSU,” he said with a smile. “We played Florida every year, too. So if anybody understands it, I understand it.”

Media’s prognosticating futility turns into fun for Saban

Saban also found some time to poke fun at media members, noting their abysmal record picking the eventual SEC champion.

Media members have correctly picked the champion only four times in the last 21 years, Saban said, and the two-time defending national champion coach couldn’t help but point out what that type of record would mean in his profession.

“Now, if I was 4-17 as a coach, I would be back in West Virginia pumping my gas at my daddy’s gas station,” he said. “We don’t really want to go there.”

SEC Media Days, Day 3: Mark Richt won’t push for standardized SEC drug policy

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia is known for having one of the toughest drug policies in the SEC, suspending players for 10 percent of the season (or one game in football) for the first offense, and 30 percent of the season for a second positive test (four games).

Georgia head coach Mark Richt met with reporters on Thursday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt met with reporters on Thursday at SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

The Bulldogs had a pair of starting defensive players suspended in free safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree for the first four games of the 2012 season for reportedly failing drug tests for the second time in their Georgia careers.

When asked at SEC Media Days on Thursday whether he had proposed a league-wide drug policy in an attempt to level the playing field, Georgia coach Mark Richt said the issue was out of his hands.

“Well, I can’t really control that,” he said. “I think that would have to be handled on the presidential level, as far as that’s concerned. Would I like that? I would like that. I think that would be a good thing for the league to be in sync in that regard.”

Georgia administrative assistant might get LSU week off

During the week Georgia begins its preparations to take on LSU, one of the members of the Bulldogs’ football office staff will also double as one of the Tigers’ biggest fans. Tammy Mettenberger, the mother of LSU quarterback Zach, works as an administrative assistant for Georgia.

Given her split allegiances, Richt smirked when someone brought up the possibility that Mettenberger might want the LSU week off from work. Richt said he would leave the decision up to her.

“She’s been with us longer than I’ve been at Georgia,” he said. “She’s a mainstay there. If she wants to take a week off prior to that, we might work that out.

“We know her, love her and trust her, but I know she loves her boy. That’s for sure.”

Extra motivation

Georgia brings in motivational speakers to address the team “quite often,” according to Richt. From former players to “guys that have had tremendous success” in their respective fields, those who have talked to the Bulldogs run the gamut of life experiences and occupations.

But Richt left no doubt that Georgia alums always seem to have a way of being the speakers who leave lasting impressions with his current crop of Bulldogs.

“I think the ones that are the best for us are the ones that are former Georgia players,” he said. “Either guys talking about experiences in life that hurt them and use those gentlemen as a warning for our guys for certain things that can get them into trouble.”

SEC Media Days, Day 3: Mercurial Miles delivers once more

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala.Les Miles’ appearance at SEC Media Days on Thursday was a mix of the funny, the random and the serious.

Unpredictable LSU coach Les Miles put on another memorable performance at SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

Unpredictable LSU coach Les Miles put on another memorable performance at SEC Media Days on Thursday in Hoover, Ala.

All in all, it just another day in the park with the mercurial LSU head coach appropriately nicknamed “The Mad Hatter.”

Miles attempted to speak with an Australian accent and compared cell phones and computers to cars and horse-and-buggies. And that was just the beginning.

He started off his address to the media talking about what he has been up to during the offseason.

“(I) did some hyperbaric oxygen therapy research,” he said. “We have two of the most noteworthy doctors in that field, Paul Harch and Keith Van Meter, in Louisiana. I operated with Our Lady of the Lake as a hospital.”

From there, he touched on rappelling down a building in May to help an adoption campaign and how the Tigers brought back punter Jamie Keehn, a native Australian.

Miles even tried to pull off an “Aussie” accent.

“Well, Australians have a higher voice,” he said, doing his best to speak in something akin to the “Down Under” dialect. “When you just speak regular English, it doesn’t quite get across.”

Miles continued to keep things light when asked about banning players from using social media networks. In an interesting comparison, Miles reasoned that preventing them from accessing the technology available today would be as absurd as not allowing players to drive when cars started to replace horse-and-buggies.

He just wants his players to understand they are accountable for what they post on social media networks, and to do their best to avoid bringing bad publicity upon themselves or the football program.

“What we really are trying to do is educate and give them their brand and the responsibility that they have to understand that this is a media outlet,” he said. ” … (W)hen you put a piece of information that you think you’re just writing to your buddy, you are not.”

Miles took on a stern demeanor when the occasion called for it, though. When asked about the status of running back Jeremy Hill, the coach confirmed the sophomore was still suspended indefinitely following an arrest after a bar fight in Baton Rouge, La., this spring.

“I have a track record with really disciplining my team. We go through the same process that all of my guys will go through,” he said. “Frankly, you know, we’re gathering information as we go.”

Miles remains in contact with Hill “on a routine basis,” but the running back has not been allowed to participate in any team-related functions, be it meetings or workouts. In fact, Hill has not even been permitted to enter the football facility since his arrest.

“It’s been very hard on him, I know,” Miles said. “Again, we recognize there’s an ongoing process that’s going to be fulfilled. We’re going to sit on the perimeter and watch. We certainly are respectful of all that have responsibility there.”

Miles was equally resolute on the topic of scheduling. A reporter brought up that LSU will play Georgia and Florida in its SEC cross-divisional matchups this season, teams that combined to go 14-2 in conference play last season. Alabama, meanwhile, plays Tennessee and Kentucky, the East’s two cellar-dwellers in 2012 who went a combined 1-15.

Miles, not surprisingly, was far from pleased with the scheduling hand he was dealt.

“When I went to the SEC meetings, I brought all these statistics that were not necessarily listened to, but here is a ‘for instance,'” he said. “We play Georgia and Florida for the seventh time this year. I’d have to say there’s some other schools that have not played Georgia and Florida in the same year in my entire time here or since 2000.”

Regardless, Miles is once again ready for the challenge of playing against both the Bulldogs and Gators in the same season.

“I can’t hardly wait to play ‘em,” he said. “We think at LSU that maybe we’re the only team that can have that schedule year after year and play as well as we do.”

SEC Media Days, Day 3: Tigers picked to finish fifth in West, place six players on All-SEC teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Prior to the final teams making their appearance at SEC Media Days on Thursday, the conference released the predicted order of finish by the media.

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was one of six Tigers named to the media's preseason All-SEC teams. Media members also picked Auburn to finish fifth in the Western Division.

Auburn cornerback Chris Davis was one of six Tigers named to the media’s preseason All-SEC teams. Media members also picked Auburn to finish fifth in the Western Division.

And according to media pundits, Auburn will finish in fifth place in the Western Division, behind predicted champion Alabama, second-place Texas A&M, third-place LSU and fourth-place Ole Miss. Auburn was picked ahead of Mississippi State and Arkansas, respectively. In the East, Georgia was picked to repeat as the SEC Eastern champion for the third consecutive season, followed by South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky.

As for the overall conference champion, the Crimson Tide were favored to capture it once more, picking up 182 first-place votes, with Georgia (38), South Carolina (18), Texas A&M (4) and LSU (1) being the only other teams to snag a pollster.

Despite being picked to finish fifth in the division, the Tigers were well-represented on the preseason All-SEC teams, with six players earning recognition. On the second-team were running back Tre Mason, center Reese Dismukes, defensive end Dee Ford and kicker Cody Parkey. The Tigers also had two members on the third-team in cornerback Chris Davis and punter Steven Clark.

The preseason All-SEC teams and the media’s predicted order of finish is listed below.

PRESEASON ALL-SEC

OFFENSE

First-Team
QB – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M (119)
RB – T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (221)
RB – Todd Gurley, Georgia (206)
WR – Amari Cooper, Alabama (194)
WR – Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt (106)
TE – Arthur Lynch, Georgia (148)
OL – Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama (193)
OL – Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (176)
OL – Anthony Steen, Alabama (109)
OL – Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State (88)
C – Travis Swanson, Arkansas (92)

Second-Team
QB – AJ McCarron, Alabama (67)
RB – Tre Mason, Auburn (15)
RB  – *LaDarius Perkins, Mississippi State (12)
RB – *Keith Marshall, Georgia (12)
WR – Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss ( 46)
WR – Mike Evans,  Texas A&M (33)
TE – Rory Anderson, South Carolina (33)
OL – Antonio Richardson, Tennessee (76)
OL – Jon Halapio, Florida (51)
OL – Chris Burnette, Georgia (50)
OL – Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (50)
C – Reese Dismukes, Auburn (33)     

Third-Team
QB – Aaron Murray, Georgia (52)
RB – *Matt Jones, Florida (5)
RB – *Jeff Scott, Ole Miss (5)
RB – *Alfred Blue, LSU (5)
WR – Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia (28)
WR – Jarvis Landry, LSU (19)
TE – Brian Vogler, Alabama (18)
OL – La’el Collins, LSU (37)
OL – Josh Williford, LSU (30)
OL – Wesley Johnson, Vanderbilt (18)
OL – *A.J. Cann, South Carollina (14)
OL – *Zach Fulton, Tennessee (14)
C – *James Stone, Tennessee (30)
C – *Jonotthan Harrison, Florida (30)

DEFENSE

First-Team
DL – Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (223)
DL – Dominique Easley, Florida (162)
DL – Anthony Johnson, LSU (127)
DL – Chris Smith, Arkansas (56)
LB – C.J. Mosley, Alabama (231)
LB – A.J. Johnson, Tennessee (107)
LB – Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (94)
DB – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama (203)
DB – Craig Loston, LSU (135)
DB – Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (117)
DB – Deion Belue, Alabama (77)

Second-Team
DL – Xzavier Dickson, Alabama (49)
DL – Ed Stinson, Alabama ( 39)
DL – Dee Ford, Auburn (38)
DL – Jeoffrey Pagan, Alabama (31)
LB – Adrian Hubbard, Alabama (66)
LB – Jordan Jenkins, Georgia (64)
LB – Lamin Barrow, LSU (29)
DB – Damian Swann, Georgia (70)
DB – Andre Hal, Vanderbilt (69)
DB – Marcus Roberson, Florida (50)
DB – Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama (36)

Third-Team
DL – Garrison Smith, Georgia (26)
DL – Daniel McCullers, Tennessee (23)
DL – Alvin Dupree, Kentucky (23)
DL – C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss (22)
LB – Ronald Powell, Florida (24)
LB – Tahj Jones, LSU (20)
LB – *Trey DePriest, Alabama (16)
LB – *Avery Williamson, Kentucky (16)
DB – E.J. Gaines, Missouri (34)
DB – Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss (25)
DB – Jalen Mills, LSU (22)
DB – Chris Davis, Auburn (20)

SPECIALISTS

First-Team
P – Kyle Christy, Florida (108)
PK – Carey Spear, Vanderbilt (100)
RS – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (74)
AP – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (69)

Second-Team
P – Cody Mandell, Alabama (54)
PK – Cody Parkey, Auburn (71)    
RS – Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (62)
AP – Odell Beckham Jr., LSU (44)

Third-Team
P – Steven Clark, Auburn (33)
PK – Zach Hocker, Arkansas (39)
RS – Andre Debose, Florida (53)
AP – Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida (36)

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

SEC CHAMPION
Alabama – 182
Georgia – 38
South Carolina – 18
Texas A&M – 4
LSU – 1

EASTERN DIVISION
Georgia (149) – 1570
South Carolina (75) – 1474
Florida (19) – 1300
Vanderbilt – 858
Tennessee – 694
Missouri – 577
Kentucky – 331

WESTERN DIVISION
Alabama (225) – 1681
Texas A&M (11) – 1333
LSU (7) – 1324
Ole Miss – 883
Auburn – 579
Mississippi State – 516
Arkansas – 488

NOTES (provided by the SEC league office):

* – Official attendance at 2013 SEC Media Days is 1,239, a new high for the event. The previous high was 1,085 in 2012.
* – 243 voters is an all-time high for SEC media days.  The previous high was 222 voters in 2012.
* – The top two vote-getters were defensive players: C.J. Mosley, Alabama and Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina.
* – Since 2000, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden is the only unanimous selection to the SEC Media Days Team, collecting all 80 votes.
* – Alabama had the most first-team selections this season with seven.  Since 1992, the most players on a first-team were nine by Alabama in 2011 and eight by Alabama (2010) and Florida (2009).

SEC Media Days, Day 2 Leftovers: Quotes from Auburn’s player representatives

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn players Dee Ford, Jay Prosch and Chris Davis met with assembled media members on Day 2 of SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel.

Senior fullback Jay Prosch joined defensive teammates Dee Ford and Chris Davis at SEC Media Days on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala.

Senior fullback Jay Prosch joined defensive teammates Dee Ford and Chris Davis as Auburn’s player representatives at SEC Media Days on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala.

The following is a roundup of some of the trio’s quotes:

Jay Prosch, Senior Fullback

On the team morale since Gus Malzahn arrived:

“It was completely different as soon as Coach Malzahn came. It was a new attitude. He started a fire in everyone; it’s really exciting.”

On being named spring ball MVP:

“It means a lot. It really defines me as a player and everything that I work for, and everything I do is to get an honor like that and for the Coach to say something like that about you.”

On not having a set starting quarterback:

“It’s kinda hard for receivers with timing with different players, but the four guys we’re looking at now, we support them and work with them now.”

On how things are different after his mom passed away:

“Transferring in, I wasn’t really close to any particular guys. I was only close to them through football. Then when that happened- when they say ‘AU family’ they mean it- everyone had my back supporting me, and it created a bond I didn’t have before. I really feel like those are my brothers out there.”

On having a passing game in the SEC:

“It’s extremely critical; you have to have a double threat. You can’t just have a run game. You can’t just have a pass game. You have to have both.”

On the new atmosphere in the locker room:

“Bringing in the new staff brings in a new attitude for all the players. It has really sparked us. The guys came out with fire and intensity to work hard in practice; it went viral. It’s really good to see and exciting.”

Dee Ford, Senior Defensive End

On preseason expectations with new coach Gus Malzahn:

“As much winning as we are destined for. If you put in the work during the week, there’s no telling how much winning there can be. The difference in this year’s team is we have the same guys but more mentally tough and mature.”

On what happened last year at LSU:

“Confidence. I believe as a football player, when you put in tons of work- and work doesn’t start in fall camp it starts way back in the spring semester- to not get the results you want, you definitely lose confidence. Clemson and LSU were two of my best games last year, and I think I played differently in the second half because of confidence.”

On bonding as a team:

That’s what we’re doing now at workouts. Everything we do is team-oriented. Every workout we do, every movement we do, it’s almost like a military-thing, but it’s not. It’s football. Any one player mess up, we understand. Anything you do, you’ll be held accountable.”

On whether he’s having fun during the offseason:

“This is the most fun I’ve ever had in summer workouts. I’ve definitely changed my whole body without even knowing it. I feel like I’m working without even working because I’m having fun, but of course I’m a workout junky.”

On the changes in the defense:

“Strength and conditioning that we’ve gone through- our bodies have changed. We have more guys that are able to contribute that didn’t contribute last year. We have a lot of guys that are ready to turn it on.”

On what he picks up when he watches film of Auburn and other teams:

“I look at what works and what doesn’t work. I evaluate from the worst pass rushers to the best and the mistakes they made. It’s really not about the players. It’s about what they’ve done. I’m looking at their actions. What are they doing, why aren’t they doing it, and just try to help teach them if I know it’s something I know doesn’t work.”

Chris Davis, Senior Cornerback

On the improvement in the team since the end of last year:

“We made no improvements; we’re just ready to get back into the season and take it one game, one day, one practice at a time and see where that takes us.”

On the team’s up-tempo offense:

“It is keeping us in shape, but with Coach Malzahn being here before, we’re kinda used to it. We knew what he would bring to the table, but yeah, we’re more in shape.”

On regaining confidence:

“You develop confidence in practice. You keep doing something until you get it right. It’s like chemistry; everything’s gotta be clicking for confidence to come back, and leadership’s gotta be there.”

Frustration with Alabama winning championships:

“I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. I’d say it is what it is. It’s a new day. That’s in the past; this upcoming season will tell it all.”

On seeing so many fans at the spring game:

“It was very inspiring because during the season when we’re down you see some of the fans leaving the game, but they say they’re back on the ‘Gus Bus,’ and we all are, and seeing those fans brings back hope to the players and fans.”

July 17, 2013

SEC Media Days, Day 2: Tigers move on from 2012, but refuse to forget

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — It was easy to find Dee Ford at the end of last season.

Auburn defensive end  Dee Ford spoke to reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. The senior described the disappointment of the Tigers' 2012 season and using as it as motivator this fall.

Auburn defensive end Dee Ford spoke to reporters at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. The senior described the disappointment of the Tigers’ 2012 season and using it as a motivator this fall.

He was sitting in front of a television, somewhere, watching a bowl game. And not just the BCS National Championship Game. Not just the other games considered “major” bowls. No, Auburn’s defensive end watched all of them.

That’s right — all 35 of them.

“I accepted the fact I wasn’t there,” the senior said at SEC Media Days on Wednesday. “I still evaluated every pass rush and I tried to get better every time I watched something. That’s how I am. I want to be the best at everything.”

And not being in a bowl hurt. That’s why he has refused to forget about the Tigers’ 2012 season. He wants to remember every moment of the 3-9 meltdown that led to the firing of Gene Chizik.

He wants to remember because through the disappointment, Ford believes it will lead to a resurgence.

“I’m not going to forget that at all,” he said. “Because I look at a lot of those guys who are young, and for your first year to be here and go through that, I feel for you. That’s why I came back (to school). I feel for you. I understand and I definitely didn’t want for an 18-year-old guy to go through that type of pressure.”

When asked what went wrong last season, Ford was forthright: For one reason or another, the Tigers lost cohesiveness as a team. Most weeks, the team had great practices, Ford recalled. The problem was carrying that over into games.

What happened?

“We’d get into a game and slowly lose confidence,” he said. “And that was more so younger guys not knowing what to do in different situations and (not) knowing how to adjust. Coaches can prepare you for every type of situation, but they can’t go out and play for you.”

Much like Ford, senior fullback Jay Prosch can’t get last season out of his mind, either. At first, he tried to move forward, or hit the “reset button,” as it were. But try as he might, that 3-9 record kept nagging at him.

It’s something he has come to terms with.

“Now, it’s a motivator for me, and I think it is for other guys, too,” he said. “That’s definitely part of the fire that we have right now.”

First-year coach Gus Malzahn has taken note of that intensity. The returning players could have hung their heads coming off such a dismal season.

Instead, Malzahn has found the opposite, calling his players’ attitudes “refreshing.”

“They have really bought into ‘A New Day’ and they’re excited about a fresh start,” he said. “That’s the way our staff has approached this thing since they’ve been here and I’m very excited that they’re excited going into fall camp.”

As with any incoming coaching staff, the expectations for Malzahn are to improve upon last season’s record. That’s the bare minimum. But what about dealing with folks who aim well higher than that? Malzahn admitted that all the question marks the Tigers have — who will start at quarterback, establishing a go-to receiver and installing Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme on defense, to name a few — make it hard for him to predict how the season will turn out.

“We’ll learn a lot about our team in fall camp, we’ll learn a lot about our team early in the season, and my goal is going to be to improve each practice and each game,” he said. “And if we can do those two things, I like our chances of having a successful season.”

One thing Malzahn has been thankful for is the overwhelming support of the Auburn fan base. From its record attendance at the A-Day Game in the spring (over 83,000) to those who turned out to greet him at SEC Media Days, fan support has been consistent.

To think that the support has followed one of the worst seasons in Auburn’s history was something Malzahn found difficult to describe.

Then he found an apt metaphor: The Auburn fan base is akin to a family — and a resilient one at that.

“Families, when you go through adversity, true families have a way of rallying, and that’s what you saw,” Malzahn said. “And that’s what really separates us from a lot of other fan bases. Our fans rally and they get behind our team. It really gave us a shot in the arm at the spring game and since then.”

The backing can only go so far, though. While it’s nice to have, it won’t decide any games for the Tigers this fall, for better or worse. To change their record this year, the Tigers have to change themselves from within.

Take one of their media day representatives this year, for example. Cornerback Chris Davis hasn’t been a talkative player before, either on the field or during interviews with reporters. But when asked to take on a more vocal leadership role this season, Davis decided to do what was asked of him.

“It’s different, but I know it needs to be done to put our team in position to win games, let the team know how I’m feeling, speaking my mind,” he said. “I think that will lead to good things for our team in the future.”

To Ford, that future isn’t too far off.

The Tigers’ time is now.

“It’s a new day, and it’s time to start eating,” he said. “All of that (from last season) is over with.”

SEC Media Days, Day 2: Gus Malzahn Q&A session with media

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

HOOVER, Ala. — Auburn coach Gus Malzahn met with assembled media members on Day 2 of SEC Media Days at the Wynfrey Hotel.

The following are some of the highlights:

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spoke to Auburn beat reporters before addressing the throng of media members in the main press room on Day 2 of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn spoke to Auburn beat reporters before addressing the throng of media members in the main press room on Day 2 of SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala.

Opening statement

I’m blessed to be back at Auburn as the head coach, looking forward to the season. Real excited about our players. We’ve asked a lot of them since they’ve been back. They really bought into the ‘New Day’ theme, putting the past behind them.

They had a very good spring, feel like we improved in the weight room this summer. We’ve gotten stronger, which we needed to in a big way.

Academically, really proud of our guys. Last semester, we had one of the best academic semesters in the history of Auburn football. That usually carries over to discipline and character on the field.

Off the field, I’m very proud of our guys, too. Back for eight months, no off-the-field issues. That’s a tribute to our players, real proud of those guys.

The No. 1 thing that our players have to do for us to be successful this year is get our edge back. That is the mental and physical toughness, the blue-collar, hard-nosed, hit-you-in-the-mouth Auburn football that’s made Auburn great. Worry about your teammate, not worry about yourself. Lose the entitlement issue.

History shows if Auburn has their edge, they can compete for championships and win games.

Very proud of our staffs. Feel we have one of the top staffs in college football. All men of character, great examples for our players. That’s the number one thing for me. All very good coaches.  On most college staffs, you have good coaches, good recruiters. I can honestly say we got nine guys that can flat-out coach. That will be very good for us in the future.

Offensive coordinator is Rhett Lashlee, a guy I coached in seventh grade. He knows this offense like the back of his hand. I’m going to be a part of the offense, but I have a lot of confidence that he’s going to allow me to do what the head coach needs to do in this league.

Offensively, we’re a two-back run play-action team that will run our offense at a two-minute pace the entire game. Our goal is to play faster than anybody in college football. We feel like, if you can execute our offense at a fast pace, it’s a big advantage. So we’ll be striving for that.

Offensively our biggest challenge this year is going to be our quarterback. We don’t know who our quarterback is. We have four guys. Going to give them an equal shot. Figure out who gives us the best chance of winning. Ideally we figure that out sooner rather than later in fall camp, but we won’t make a decision until we’re a 110% for sure.

The positive offensively is the fact that we actually recruited guys specifically for this offense. We’ll just need those guys to step up in an accelerated pace.

Our defensive coordinator is Ellis Johnson, one of the best defensive coordinators in all of college football. Fundamentally sound. We’ll be running a 4-2-5 defense, which puts three safeties on the field. Allows us to put a little more speed on the field, a little more athleticism and all that.

We do have quite a few seniors on defense that’s played a lot of football. I told those guys they need to have their best season. They’ve got to raise their level for us to be successful.

We also have a lot of young, talented guys. They need to be on the field. I’m telling you, they need to grow up and grow up in a hurry. That’s tough to do in this league. That’s where we’re at defensively.

Really overall we have a lot of question marks going into the season. The big thing from my standpoint is we need to improve each practice and we need to improve each game. If we can do that, we have a chance to have a successful season.

On dealing with the pressure of the “win-now” mentality in college football

I think when you take on a head job, you know exactly what you’re getting into. You’ve got to be prepared. You have to have a plan. The bottom line is you have to be successful. I think all coaches, especially in this league, understand that.

On whether he would consider slowing down his preferred high-tempo offense

We completely believe in pace. Like I said earlier, if we can execute our offense at a fast pace, it’s a big advantage.  As a head coach, you have to understand how the game is going, what gives your team the best chance of being successful. As a head coach, we’ll definitely manage each situation to try to give us the best chance of being successful.

On whether he specifically recruits player who ran his type of offense in high school

I think it’s a little bit of both. The main thing, of course, you can turn on a film and you can see talent-wise if they fit what you’re doing, if they’re talented enough to play at this level on your team.  What I meant by that is do your homework if they’re the right type person, the right type character that you’re looking for. We’re very specific on what we’re looking for offensively and defensively, not just from a talent standpoint, but also from a personal standpoint.

On the criticism that the up-tempo offense he and others in college football utilize leads to more injuries for defensive players

When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke. As far as health or safety issues, that’s like saying the defense shouldn’t blitz after a first down because they’re a little fatigue and there’s liable to be a big collision in the backfield.

If you’re going to look at rule changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That’s where college football’s going. You see more and more teams using pace. I think you’ll see it more and more at the next level also.