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August 22, 2013

Auburn football: Six Tigers selected to coaches’ All-SEC preseason teams

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn had six players named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference teams released Thursday, led by running back Tre Mason and center Reese Dismukes.

The pair was selected to the all-conference second-team offense. They were joined by kicker Cody Parkey and punter Steven Clark, who also earned second-team honors, while tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive end Dee Ford were named to the third-team.

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches' preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Junior running back Tre Mason was named to the SEC coaches’ preseason all-conference second-team on Thursday. (Todd Van Emst/Auburn University)

Auburn was one of three teams — along with Kentucky and Missouri — to have no players voted to the first-team. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players.

Mason, a junior, rushed for 1,002 yards along with eight touchdowns last season. Dismukes is a mainstay on the offensive line, making 23 starts in the past two seasons.

Clark, who hails from Kansas City, Mo., averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season, with 15 of his attempts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Parkey was Auburn’s leading scorer in 2012, converting 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and hitting all 27 of his extra-point tries.

Uzomah had seven receptions for 136 yards last year, but is expected to take on a more prominent role in the Tigers’ offense this season. Ford is the team’s top returning pass-rusher after totaling six sacks last year, but according to defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, he will miss the season opener to continue recovering from a knee injury suffered during fall camp.

August 15, 2013

VIDEO: Gus Malzahn, punter Steven Clark and kicker Cody Parkey take their time at podium

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Along with Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn, there were only two players made available to speak with reporters following Thursday morning’s practice. Both were senior specialists in punter Steven Clark and kicker Cody Parkey. Each discussed the thrill of meeting Jason Dufner, an Auburn alumnus and passionate Tigers’ football fan who won the PGA Championship last Sunday, as well as what they have worked on during the offseason and since fall camp began.

Meanwhile, Malzahn talked about the physical nature of the team’s fall camp, and did a good job stone-walling reporters trying to find out information on defensive end Dee Ford’s injury.

The Tigers had a second practice scheduled Thursday night, but it was neither open to media members nor were players or coaches made available afterward. So the three videos below — which, in sum, run for just over 16 minutes — represent the extent of Thursday’s media availability.




Auburn football: Specialists seek to perfect technique as season draws closer

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Steven Clark has played golf his entire life.

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

Senior kicker Cody Parkey said he has focused on attempts from 40 yards and longer, since all three of his misses came from that distance and longer. (File photo)

In fact, Auburn’s senior punter said it predated his career on the gridiron. Given the parallels between punting and golf, it was a thrill for Clark to hear from the winner of this year’s PGA Championship following Thursday morning’s practice.

And the address came from an Auburn alumnus and fervent Tigers’ football fan, Jason Dufner.

“Really my position is a lot more like golf than any other position, just as far as, you’ve got to have different clubs, you’ve got to have practice with each one, and it’s a day-to-day thing,” he said. “You know you’ve just got to keep trying to refine your craft. If I can ever win the PGA Championship with punting, that would be the best day of my life, too. Hopefully I can come back and share a little wisdom like he did today.”

Clark was disappointed when he was informed during his time with reporters that senior kicker Cody Parkey had already snapped a photo with Dufner and the Wanamaker Trophy.

“I’m going to have to do that,” he said. “I hope (Dufner) is still out there.”

As far as his punting goes, Clark actually hopes there will be more returned kicks this year. Incredibly, only five of his 70 attempts last year were returned. Clark wants to see more runbacks since it will mean he’ll get to make some longer kicks.

There’s another reason, too.

“It increases the possibility of some turnovers,” he said. “That’s probably the most exciting thing that ever happens when I’m punting — trying to run back there, and (seeing) them drop it and we end up getting it back. I don’t know how much more I can do.”

Clark said he hasn’t felt like he has had to sacrifice distance on his punts in the past seasons. Besides, if there’s one thing he’s learned, it’s not to get caught looking at statistics.

The results are the only things that matter in the end.

“I don’t really try to worry about averages as much anymore,” he said. “I had gotten caught up with that in the past and it’s something that really messes with your head trying to worry about all that stuff. You don’t do numbers. All you do is you can punt and you can only prepare yourself as best you can. That’s all you can really control.”

Parkey felt a little differently, as he admitted worrying about numbers. Specifically, he focused on his 3-for-6 showing on kicks between 40 and 50 yards last season. He went 8-for-8 from 39 yards and in.

“It wasn’t anything to do with my distance,” he said of his misfires in 2012. “I feel comfortable hitting far field goals. It just so happened that those were the ones I missed last year. I have been working on that a lot along with being more accurate. Along with hitting 55-yard field goals, you have to be hitting them straight.”

Parkey has been thankful for the team’s new indoor practice facility. Despite the wet weather this summer, it hasn’t affected his preparation.

“It’s phenomenal” he said. “Back in 2010, my freshman year, we had the small indoor (facility) and we weren’t able to kick or anything in there. Now I can do field goals and kickoffs and all that. … It works to our advantage to get out there as long and as much as we can to practice.”

Another kicker who has been able to put in work during fall camp has been Daniel Carlson. The 6-foot-5 true freshman’s “big leg” has impressed Parkey.

The senior also acknowledged the Colorado Springs, Colo., native is farther along in his development than he was at the same time of his career.

“He’s really smooth,” Parkey said, “and I think he’s going to be a good one for Auburn in the future.”

August 4, 2013

What’s in a (jersey) number? Dee Ford and Trovon Reed know better than most

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — In a way, it could be said Dee Ford is going back to the future.

Senior Dee Ford met with media members after Saturday's practice and explained why he decided to change his jersey number from 95 to 30 for his final season. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Senior Dee Ford explained why he decided to change his jersey number from 95 to 30 for his final season following Saturday’s practice. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

When Auburn’s updated roster was released on Thursday, it noted a change in the starting defensive end’s jersey number, from 95 to 30. It wasn’t a decision Ford made on a whim. No, it was a calculated move, something he had been planning for months.

Being viewed as one of the leaders of the Tigers this season made him think back to his days at St. Clair County High School in Odenville, Ala., when he was held in similar regard among his teammates.

“I was the guy — the guy — to lead the team,” he said. “Whatever I did affected the whole team, negatively or positively. So I was that guy, and I’ve kind of become that guy now.”

Whereas his old number, 95, was seen as more of a “role player,” putting on No. 30 means the Tigers will expect Ford to play at a high level in every drill, practice and game this fall.

“And ‘it’s a new day,'” said Ford, invoking the team’s mantra since Gus Malzahn took over as head coach. “So even though it’s an old number, I feel that psychologically, I’m reminding myself, ‘Hey, you’re a new guy now.’ Everything you do will affect the team, negatively or positively, whether I like it or not.

Ford won’t have the number by himself, though. He’ll be sharing No. 30 with fellow senior Steven Clark,  a two-time Ray Guy Award semifinalist. When informed of Ford’s move, Clark smiled.

“He better make me proud then,” Clark said. “I mean I was wearing it first, right?”

Ford has no intentions of not living up to Clark’s — or more importantly, his own — expectations this season. After collecting a team-high six sacks in 2012, people may think Ford already has a specific number in mind for this season.

And those people would be wrong.

He prefers to perform daily critiques of himself, and let the sack total take care of itself.

“I’m 10 times better than I was last year as a pass-rusher, so that’s all you can do at this point,” he said. “Just keep getting better and better. I’m not putting a number on it. I’m trying to get as many as I can.”

Ford won’t be the only member of the defensive line sporting the same jersey number as a teammate, however. True freshman Montravius Adams arrived on campus with his eyes set on No. 1. The only problem was, receiver Trovon Reed had already staked his claim to the digit.

Adams approached Reed to try to get his elder’s blessing to wear the number. Reed said “everything in me” was telling him to turn the freshman down.

But the first-year defensive tackle eventually won him over with a personal story that resonated with the junior wideout.

“I told him, ‘I ain’t going to be here too much longer,'” Reed said. “He had a great story about how he wanted No.1, so I just had to respect him and tell him it’s cool.”

Reed’s reluctance to share the number is understandable — the No. 1 means everything him. It’s the number his late mother put him in when he first took up the sport, and he’s worn it proudly ever since.

“After my mom died I told my family, ‘No matter where I go if I can’t get No. 1, I’m not going there,'” he said. “(Former Auburn) Coach (Gene) Chizik made that promise to me and he stuck with it.”

Reed isn’t the only one with No. 1 across his chest and on his back anymore.

And he’s fine with that.

“I can’t even be mad,” he said, before noting how the number looks stretched across Adams’ 6-foot-5, 300-pound frame. “When I see it on him it just looks like a little strip of tape.”

While Reed has made his peace with sharing the number, he rested easy knowing at least one part of his on-field identity was safe from Adams’ reach.

They won’t be confused for each other on punt return duties any time soon.

“He’s too big for that,” Reed said. “He’ll be sacking quarterbacks.”

August 1, 2013

Auburn football: New jersey numbers and new dorm dominate conversation as players report

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — Fall camp is just one day away.

But on Thursday, which was set aside for Auburn’s players to officially report for the preseason, football seemed to be the last thing on the Tigers’ minds. Instead, the most popular topics of discussion revolved around jersey numbers and housing accommodations.

Here's something that won't be seen this fall: Defensive end Dee Ford wearing No. 95. On the team's updated roster released Thursday, Ford will don No. 30.

Here’s something that won’t be seen this fall: Defensive end Dee Ford wearing No. 95. On the team’s updated roster released Thursday, Ford will don No. 30.

Take Dee Ford, for instance.

Auburn’s top pass-rusher and a preseason All-SEC second-team selection at defensive end will no longer don No. 95. The senior will take on No. 30 this fall, which he’ll share with punter Steven Clark.

“He better make me proud then,” Clark joked on Thursday when told of Ford’s move. “I mean, I was wearing it first, right?”

Besides, Clark was more disappointed that he was losing someone who could have been a fantastic “gunner” when he goes to punt.

“It kind of upsets me I’m not going to have him on my punt team,” he said. “Can’t have two numbers on the same side of the ball. That would have been nice to have a guy running down there. Probably would get me a few more fair catches.”

Fellow defensive lineman Kenneth Carter wasn’t aware of Ford’s decision, either.

Not that he was surprised by it.

“It’s not weird,” he said. “It’s just Dee.”

Nosa Eguae, Ford’s counterpart at right defensive end, was similarly mystified by the number change. Like Clark, he wasn’t a fan, citing the synergy of them wearing back-to-back numbers in the 90s, with 94 and 95, respectively.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a little different,” he said. “I liked the 9-4, 9-5 tandem going on, but I guess he’s trying to get like a linebacker and show off his speed with a little smaller jersey.”

Ford is far from the lowest number among defensive linemen, though. That honor goes to true freshman Montravius Adams, who will wear No. 1.

No, that is not a misprint.

“That’s going to be the biggest ‘(No.) 1′ in the nation,” Eguae said. “Six-five, 300 pounds. But that’s going to be nice. These guys, they’re trying to up it up a little bit. We’ve got a No. 1, and I know a bunch of guys are trying to get into single-digit numbers. I wore it in high school, but I’m going to stick with the 94.”

Eguae also stuck to his guns with his living arrangements. With the South Donahue Residence Hall opening on Wednesday, some upperclassmen actually moved back on campus. Ford was one of those who took the plunge, and he tried to convince Eguae to do the same.

No dice.

But that doesn’t mean Eguae isn’t impressed with the new dorm.

Far from it.

“That dorm is awesome. I was there yesterday,” he said. “It’s the ‘Taj Mahal,’ honestly. It’s the nicest dorm I’ve ever seen and I know it’s going to be the nicest dorm in the country. The guys love it. It’s going to build that family atmosphere since everyone is staying there. Even the guys that are off-campus, everybody is going to be over there. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Carter will be able to speak from firsthand experience, as he is another one of the upperclassmen who decided to ditch off-campus living to settle into the plush new residence hall.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s like a mini-apartment. Just being with your teammates, we’re bonding really well.”

Carter, who will be rooming with another senior defensive lineman in Craig Sanders, said it wasn’t tough for him to move back on-campus. Obviously, having granite countertops sinks and furnished flat-screen televisions doesn’t hurt. But Carter said he did it for more than the nice amenities it provides.

He wants to try to recreate the close-knit environment he enjoyed during his first year as a Tiger.

“I kinda wanted to be closer to the team, just experience it like it was my freshman year, the jelling from us having fun together,” he said. “The way we bond together, just playing a game at night and just talking, being around each other. It makes that bond very strong.”

Despite Ray Guy Award recognition, punter Steven Clark still ‘a work in progress’

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com


AUBURN, Ala. — After being in the running for the Ray Guy Award each of the last two seasons, one could say there isn’t much more Steven Clark can improve upon.

Punter Steven Clark has finished as a semifinalist (or better) for the Ray Guy Award each of the last two seasons. But on Thursday, Clark said he still had a long way to go. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Punter Steven Clark has finished as a semifinalist (or better) for the Ray Guy Award each of the last two seasons. But on Thursday, Clark said he still had a long way to go. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

But Auburn’s senior punter — who finished as a semifinalist for the Guy Award last season and a finalist in 2011 — still found things to tweak this summer, as he and kicker Cody Parkey ventured up to Wisconsin to take part in the Kohl’s kicking camp. Much like a golfer working with irons and wedges, Clark attempted to perfect his distance-control at the camp.

“I’ve always been able to get the ball high,” he said Thursday as Auburn’s players officially reported for fall camp. “I’m working on being able to control the distance based upon the situations and stuff. I went home and kicked a little bit into the wind back in Missouri, just kind of getting more comfortable with all aspects of the punting game. It’s a continual process, and I don’t think I’ll ever be finished, necessarily. But I’ve made big strides over the summer, and I’m happy where I’m at.”

Even before the third-team All-SEC preseason selection attended this summer’s camp, Clark said kicking guru Jamie Kohl has “been a reliable source” for both he and Parkey throughout their college careers.

“Just kind of twist his ear every now and then about what he thinks we might be able to do to improve,” Clark said. “He keeps an eye on us as much as he can. He’s a pretty busy guy, but he’s definitely been a key part in my success in college.”

So where has Clark made gains since the end of last season? He jokingly pointed to his time in the 40-yard-dash, which Clark said had improved from five seconds flat to 4.8. He eventually turned serious, however, saying his focus was to “become a more complete punter.”

Try as he might, it’s a standard the Kansas City, Mo., native believes is impossible to attain.

“It’s always a work in progress with something especially as technical as punting,” he said. “There’s so many aspects, and I try to pin people from the 40, the 45, the 50. And then I back up and try to hit a liner into the wind. It’s a lot of situations you have to practice out of the end zone, heavy rushes — all sorts of things. Whenever you’re able to do all that good (that’s great.) But I don’t think anybody is able to be totally complete.”

July 18, 2013

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


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.



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)

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)     

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)


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)

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)

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)


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

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

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


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

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

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).

July 10, 2013

Steven Clark, Cody Parkey selected to preseason watch lists

Auburn’s skill players took center stage on preseason watch lists on Monday and Tuesday.

LSU Auburn

Steven Clark

It was the specialists’ turn on Wednesday.

Senior punter Steven Clark was named to the Ray Guy Award watch list, while senior kicker Cody Parkey earned the same honor on the Lou Groza Award watch list. Neither of them are strangers to these watch lists, as both Clark and Parkey have made multiple appearances.

Their specialists’ selections put the Tigers in a class by themselves, as no other team in the SEC placed both their punter and kicker on the preseason watch lists.

The nominations of Parkey and Clark followed three other Tigers who had already been added to watch lists earlier this week. Senior defensive end Dee Ford was named to the Bednarik Award watch list on Monday, while junior center Reese Dismukes (Rimington Trophy) and junior tight end CJ Uzomah (Mackey Award) were selected to watch lists at their respective positions on Tuesday.

Clark, one of three punters chosen from the SEC and one of 25 overall, has been a fixture on the Guy Award watch list, finishing as a finalist (to eventual winner Ryan Allen of Louisiana Tech) in 2011 and a semifinalist last year. The Kansas City, Mo., native averaged 39.8 yards per punt last season, with 15 of his attempts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Even more impressive, just five of his 70 punts were returned. His season-long attempt went 54 yards against LSU.

Parkey was Auburn’s leading scorer in 2012, converting 11 of his 14 field goal attempts and hitting all 27 of his extra-point tries. During his Tiger career, Parkey has missed just one (71 of 72) PAT, and enters this season having made 51 in a row. He also ranks fourth in school history in field goal percentage (.750), putting 24 of his 32 kicks through the uprights.

Parkey was one of 30 placekickers named to the preseason watch list, joining Vanderbilt’s Carey Spear as representatives from the SEC.

Links to the full watch lists for both awards are included below.


Lou Groza Award

Ray Guy Award

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 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.