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August 10, 2013

Auburn football: Gus Malzahn continues to be coy about quarterbacks

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — For a coach who preaches his commitment to an up-tempo pace, Gus Malzahn has done a good job playing keep away when it comes to Auburn’s quarterback battle.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has continued to keep information regarding his team's quarterback battle tightly sealed. (File photo)

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn has continued to keep information regarding his team’s quarterback battle tightly sealed. (File photo)

But one thing was different about his post-scrimmage press conference on Saturday: He finally mentioned a quarterback by name. Of course, it was none other than walk-on signal-caller Tucker Tuberville, the only quarterback who went “live” on Saturday.

With the four scholarship quarterbacks vying for the starting job — Kiehl Frazier, Nick Marshall, Jonathan Wallace and Jeremy Johnson — still in the running, Malzahn hopes to start paring it down soon.

“Our goal after this scrimmage was to narrow things down at all positions but specifically the quarterback position,” he said. “Hopefully, after we watch film, we’ll have a chance to do that somewhat.”

Then again, they might not.

“Me and (offensive coordinator) Coach (Rhett) Lashlee, after we watch film and evaluate this scrimmage, we’ll get together and our plan was to narrow it down somewhat,” he said. “So I’d like to think we’re going to be able to do that. With that being said there is a possibility that we won’t.”

Malzahn was similarly evasive when asked which quarterback took the first snap on Saturday.

“They all got reps again. Whoever was the first guy out there that doesn’t say anything about first, second, third or fourth,” he said. “Coach Lashlee had a plan for each one of them to have them in those situations. I believe we got all those situations taken care of.”

The specific situations didn’t just involve down-and-distance, Malzahn said. The Tigers also ran what he called the “foundation plays” in their playbook. As a whole, however, Malzahn said the quarterbacks’ play didn’t look much different than Wednesday’s scrimmage.

“When you’ve got four guys playing, there’s going to be good and there’s going to be bad,” he said. “It was similar. “

August 7, 2013

Auburn Practice Report, 8/7: Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes absent from first scrimmage of fall

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra | Like the blog on Facebook

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to watch approximately 20 minutes of practice on Wednesday, which was scheduled to be Auburn’s first scrimmage of fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short viewing window on Day 6 of the Tigers’ preseason.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team's practice on Wednesday.

Auburn offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not seen at the team’s practice on Wednesday.

  • The Tigers were set to scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium. However, a patch of bad weather rolled through the area, soaking the field and forcing the team to move to the indoor facility.
  • No doubt the biggest news of Wednesday centered around an absence — and no, it wasn’t Demetruce McNeal for once. (More on him later.) Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes was not in attendance. Though details obviously weren’t available immediately, Gus Malzahn will likely field a question about Grimes in his post-practice presser.
  • The team’s quarterbacks put blue jerseys over their usual “no-contact” orange uniforms as the viewing portion ended. Was it a possible precursor to the signal-caller’s being subject to contact during the scrimmage? We’ll see.
  •  In other quarterback notes, the quartet worked on read-option plays with running backs, doing things such as faking handoffs and getting outside the tackle box. They also tossed the ball around with each other, as Nick Marshall paired up with Jeremy Johnson while Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier comprised another tandem. (And for those interested, walk-on Tucker Tuberville also took part, throwing back-and-forth with junior wide receiver Jaylon Denson.)
  • It’s time for our daily McNeal update: The senior safety was out for the sixth straight practice, and 11th consecutive time dating back to the spring. He had a helmet and jersey on, but did nothing other than holding on to a football and occasionally flinging it around. McNeal is recovering from a minor surgical procedure caused by an infection.
  • Cody Parkey didn’t miss any of his point-after attempts or field goals. And he wasn’t kicking off a tee, as the Tigers lined up and simulated live PATs and field goals, with defenders rushing toward the ball.

Video will be posted soon.

August 3, 2013

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

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

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

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

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

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

August 2, 2013

Auburn notes: Tigers divvy up quarterback reps ‘pretty equal,’ tight end Ricky Parks dismissed

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — The only pause of Gus Malzahn’s press conference on Friday spoke volumes.

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team's quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Auburn coach Gus Malzahn talked extensively about the team’s quarterback battle following the first practice of the fall on Friday. (File photo)

Much like his hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the head coach breezed through every question of his media briefing following Auburn’s first practice of the fall. That is, until he was asked how well the four quarterbacks battling for the starting position fared on Friday.

Malzahn paused for six seconds before he finally responded.

“There were a few mishaps,” he said, “but that’s to be expected.”

The reps were divvied up “pretty equal,” with Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace taking the snaps in the first portion of the practice. In doing so, Malzahn wanted newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson to “sit back and watch and see how everything went.”

They got their turn soon enough, however.

“The second part, the two new guys got all the reps in the rotation,” Malzahn said. “So I’d say overall, it was very equal between the four of them all day.”

Making sure every member of the quartet receives approximately same number of snaps is quite a challenge, Malzahn said, but he’s comfortable with the strategy the coaching staff designed.

“There’s a lot that has to do with our offense (that involves) communication from the sideline before the play starts,” he said. (So) it’s good for them to get the reps.”

The Tigers divided the whole of their first fall practice much the same way they allocated quarterback reps, breaking it into two parts. In the first half, the team’s experienced players took precedence, as coaches wanted them “to show the younger guys the pace, the expectations.”

At the halfway point, the team slowed things down to allow the coaching staff to spend more time with younger players at every position.

“It just felt like we needed to do that, and we’ll do the same thing tomorrow,” Malzahn said. “Then we’ll see where we’re at.”

All in all, Malzahn believed it was a successful first day of fall camp. He wasn’t surprised by anything that occurred — and that’s exactly how Malzahn wanted it.

“It was hot out there outside early, (so) it was good to be out in the heat to see how they reacted,” he said. “I really expected them to be ready to practice and for the most part, they were.”

McNeal sits out practice, Parks dismissed

Safety Demetruce McNeal, the team’s top returning tackler, was at practice Friday but did not participate. Malzahn said the reason for the senior’s absence could be blamed on an undisclosed illness.

Auburn’s coach downplayed the severity of it, though.

“He’s got a medical issue he’s working through,” Malzahn said. “It shouldn’t be much longer and we really expect him to make a full recovery.”

While McNeal will return at some point in the near future, Malzahn announced that another player is no longer a member of the Tigers. Tight end/H-back Ricky Parks was dismissed for what Malzahn called “a violation of team rules.”

“It’s like I’ve said before — we have high expectations for our players on and off the field,” he said. “We wish (Parks) nothing but the best.”

Another Tuberville on the Plains

Malzahn was pleased to have walk-on quarterback Tucker Tuberville make his Auburn debut Friday after redshirting at Texas Tech last season. He’s the son of former Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville, who led the Tigers from 1999-2008.

“He wants to be a coach. He’s a coach’s son,” Malzahn said. “Great kid and loves Auburn. We’re glad to have him back.”

Auburn Practice Report, 8/2: Demetruce McNeal sits out first day of fall camp

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Reporters were permitted to view a little more than 15 minutes of practice on Friday, which marked the first day of Auburn’s fall camp. Here are some thoughts and observations from the media’s short time at practice.

Tyler Nero runs through drills with the rest of the defensive linemen on the first day of Auburn's fall camp on Friday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Tyler Nero runs through drills with the rest of the defensive linemen on the first day of Auburn’s fall camp on Friday. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

  • The biggest news from the practice centered on a player who didn’t participate. The Tigers’ top returning tackler, safety Demetruce McNeal, did not take part in any portion of today’s practice. He was off to the side for all defensive back drills, as well as when the entire team gathered together to begin stretching and running with strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.
  • There were five players back fielding punts: wide receivers Trovon Reed, Quan Bray and Marcus Davis; cornerback Chris Davis and running back Johnathan Ford.
  • Defensive line coach Rodney Garner ran his unit through a drill where each player was forced to stay low in an attempt to get off the ball with better positioning. They did this by practicing under a trampoline-like mechanism that forced them to stay low, lest they come up too quickly and hit the top of the bar. “Explode, roll your hips and meet the contact!” Garner told his players. When Kenneth Carter didn’t get back to the line quick enough, his coach tersely reminded him he had to pick up the pace. (There’s no doubt head coach Gus Malzahn would be proud to hear one of his coaches on defense keeping his unit to the same up-tempo standard as the offense.)
  • Speaking of Malzahn, he refrained from hands-on coaching as far as this reporter could see. Instead, he was content to stay in the background chewing bubblegum.
  • The position under the most scrutiny entering fall camp did little to mesmerize spectators on Friday. Quarterbacks Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson were all present and accounted for. (Yes, walk-on Tucker Tuberville also took part, but obviously he’s not a legitimate candidate to win the starting job.) Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who doubles as the quarterback coach, mainly had his signal-callers working on footwork. They dropped back, planted their feet, threw off their back foot, worked on handoffs, etc. Again, far from captivating stuff.
  • Wide receivers and defensive backs lined up against each other, too. This had more to do with “installation” than it had to do with specific plays, however. Cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith took special care to make sure each of his players lined up correctly, noting the exact distance they needed to be apart from each other at the line of scrimmage.
  • The viewing portion ended as the stretching and conditioning drills began. Russell, full of energy and yelling out every instruction, let the players know that “Every step needs to be a stretch!”

July 26, 2013

7 at 7: An abundance of links to start your weekend off right

BY RYAN BLACK | rblack@ledger-enquirer.com

@wareagleextra

AUBURN, Ala. — Whew.

It’s been a busy first few weeks on the job since taking over as the War Eagle Extra’s newest beat writer. While it’s been full-go from the start, I’ll be off the next two days as I finally get moved into my apartment in Auburn. (Living in hotels for a few weeks is fine, but I’m ready for more permanent digs.) But not to worry — being off until Sunday doesn’t mean there won’t be content added to the blog. I’ll have my final two SEC preseason power rankings articles, and keep an eye out for a big feature that will run online Saturday and in the following day’s paper.

But with so many things going on around Auburn and the world of sports, I figured it was time for another edition of “7 at 7.” Yes, even though it’s posting at 8 a.m. ET. (Hey, it’s seven o’clock somewhere.)

Let’s get to it.

Yight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn's "go-to" receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

Tight end C.J. Uzomah said Tuesday he is ready to become Auburn’s “go-to” receiver this fall. (Photo by Todd Van Emst)

1. In case you missed anything on Thursday, the War Eagle Extra blog was buzzing with a trio of different entries. First, there was a profile of tight end C.J. Uzomah, who said he was up for the challenge of becoming the Tigers’ lead receiver. Readers made for a great live chat on Thursday as well. Along with the requisite questions about the quarterback position and the incoming freshman class, one Auburn backup ended up as the star of the chat — enough so that one person said he should run for president. Check out a replay of the chat if you weren’t able to make it. Finally, the latest edition of my SEC preseason power rankings appeared, covering the two teams who clock in at Nos. 5 and 6.

2. Auburn picked up two transfers on Thursday, according to a pair of other writers on the beat. As first reported by Phillip Marshall of AuburnTigers.com, Tucker Tuberville, the eldest son of former coach Tommy Tuberville, will walk on to the Tigers as a quarterback and be ready for fall camp. Tuberville was a redshirt at Texas Tech last season.

Jay G. Tate had the other scoop of the day. Tate, the publisher of AuburnSports.com, the team’s Rivals.com site, said another former Red Raider will transfer into the Tigers’ program in defensive end Chase Robinson. According to Tate, Robinson is expected to join the team in mid-August after finishing summer classes at Texas Tech, and then suit up for the Tigers in 2014.

3. Well, former Auburn running back Michael Dyer has finally made his decision: He’s going to a Division I school. He just won’t reveal which one — yet. For more details on Dyer’s future, check out this piece from Grantland’s Bryan Curtis. Some good writing and reporting here, folks.

4. By now, I assume most have seen the replay and heard the news about Auburn grad and Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson. The veteran hurler broke his ankle Wednesday night in New York against the Mets. In a freak accident, Mets left fielder Eric Young Jr. accidentally stepped on Hudson’s ankle as he was trying to beat out a throw to first base. Hudson had to be carted off the field after the play, and not surprisingly, it was later announced that the 38-year-old’s season was over.

But in the aftermath of such a gruesome and saddening injury, it was great to see how well Hudson’s wife, Kim, handled the news. Young was visibly upset after the play, and sent out a tweet following the game wishing Hudson “a speedy recovery.” And as USA Today reports, Kim Hudson responded soon thereafter, noting how much she appreciates how he plays the game “the right way.”

If only we could all respond in such a tactful manner when we have to deal with adverse situations in our lives.

5. There was more good news for another classy individual on Thursday, as it was announced that Georgia offensive lineman Kolton Houston has finally been reinstated by the NCAA. For those not familiar with the story, I’ll let my colleague at The Macon Telegraph, Seth Emerson, fill in the blanks.

“Houston first tested positive for norandrolone, an anabolic steroid, when he enrolled at Georgia in 2010. According to Houston and UGA, he was administered the illegal drug by an “unscrupulous” doctor after shoulder surgery. The residue from the drug stayed in Houston’s system, causing him to continually test above the threshold allowed by the NCAA.”

The Bulldogs continually pushed for his reinstatement since it first took effect after he enrolled at Georgia three years ago, but it had been a long and frustrating process for all involved.

Though he’s a member of one of the Tigers’ rivals, people should be happy for Houston in at least one regard: He just wanted a chance to play. Now he’ll have that opportunity. And it’s hard to beat getting this kind of news on your birthday, isn’t it? Houston turned 22 on Thursday.

6. The folks over at the War Eagle Reader tipped us off to a story quite germane to those around Auburn. According to an article by Reason.com’s Tracy Oppenheimer, the Auburn Police Department instituted an aggressive ticket and arrest quota beginning in 2010 with the arrival of a new police chief. This claim was made by former officer and whistleblower Justin Hanners, who is no longer with the department after he said he refused to comply with the directive.

Regardless of your initial thoughts on the report, I urge you to read the article and watch the embedded video before drawing your own conclusion.

7. People who follow War Eagle Extra on Twitter — and if you’re not doing so already, why not go and do it now at THIS link — might have seen this video already. But few things will prepare you for an Arkansas fan honoring coach Bret Bielema with “I’m a Beliemer” (to the tune of The Monkees “I’m a Believer”) in terribly off-key fashion.

Yes, it’s every bit as terrible as it sounds.

And with that, I’m out.

Have a great weekend, everyone!