Malzahn, Players Eager to Start Spring Drills

Senior defensive end Dee Ford and Coach Gus Malzahn talk about Auburn's spring football practice.

Auburn, Ala.--After an embarrassing finish to the 2012 season with shutout losses to its oldest rivals in their last two SEC games, Dee Ford said the Auburn football team is eager to get the program back on track for the 2013 campaign.

"We are working on getting our edge back, getting that trust from player to player and from coach to player," said the fifth-year senior, who contributed to Auburn's unbeaten national championship season when he was a sophomore.

Commenting on what the Tigers need to do, the defensive end said, "Really just gaining that trust, learning the defense and getting our edge back."

Ford and the others on the front four will be playing for a new position coach, Rodney Garner, who was a successful player on successful Auburn teams under Coach Pat Dye's direction in the 1980s.

"We're going to create a great camaraderie with the team and we're just going to take this thing to another level," Ford said. "Just be Auburn again."

With new head coach Gus Malzahn calling the shots, the Tigers will be trying to bounce back from a 3-9 season that included an 0-8 mark in the SEC, Auburn's worst performance in league play since 1980.

Ford notes that Malzahn and Garner have been talking to him about taking a leadership role with this year's team. The senior stated that he will not back away from the challenge.

"I believe I'm a natural born leader," he said. "I think my coaches are definitely bringing it out, holding me accountable. Leaders are held to a higher standard...we're definitely taking more of a leadership approach."

Dee Ford said the Tigers are eager to get better during spring practice.

Ford and the Tigers begin the first of their 15 spring practice dates on Wednesday. The climax of the drills is set for April 20th with the annual A-Day game. After that the Tigers won't have any full squad team practices until August when they begin preparations for the August 21st home opener vs. Washington State.

Ford added that he is excited about the possibilities for his final Auburn team. "It's a new day," he said.

Malzahn pointed out that Ford is not alone in his feeling. "I can tell they (the players) are excited and hungry and that is very important for our staff. We are a work in progress. We know that and understand that, but there is nothing better than getting out there and improving each day and that is our goal."

Malzahn said that he has several goals for spring practice. He noted he wants to see the Tigers become a tougher, more physical team. He said that by the end of spring drills he wants to have developed a two-deep depth chart on both offense and defense. The coach added that he wants the players to have a good understanding of the base offense and defense by the end of spring drills.

A big part of the offseason conditioning was focused on getting the Tigers ready to play at a fast pace. "That is who we are," Malzahn said. "Tempo is going to be a very big factor for us offensively and defensively. We are going to be a no-huddle team. We are going to learn to play fast and practice fast, and do everything fast. We think that will be a definite advantage."

The Tigers will hit the field for the first practice on Wednesday morning. "Really, from my standpoint, I am excited to see what the guys can do on the field," Malzahn said. "I have really enjoyed everything with the job up to this point, but there is nothing like being on the field. I have been excited probably since Sunday."

Position Change(s): Chris Landrum is returning to defense from H-back/fullback and will be an inside linebacker this spring, the position he was originally recruited to play for the Tigers.

Chris Landrum has been slowed by injuries and position changes since arriving from Sweet Water High.

Malzahn said there could be a variety of position moves, but avoided giving specific details on who might be playing where. "We will move some people around if they don't fit into that position," the coach said. "The unique thing for a new staff coming in is putting the guys in the best place to help us win so there will be some movement."

Running Back Shortage: With just a pair of 2012 scholarship running backs on the roster this spring along with January enrollee Cameron Artis-Payne, Malzahn said that wide receiver Quan Bray could get a look at the Onterio McCalebb role in the offense as a speed back along with Corey Grant. The coach added there is a possibility that a defensive player could get a look at that role, too. Cornerback Robenson Therezie played running back in high school and got a brief look at that position from the former AU coaching staff.

Robenson Therezie

"He has had a good offseason and has a lot of versatility," Malzahn said of Therezie, who is also expected to get a look as a return man.

Attrition, Part 1: Defensive end Corey Lemonier is skipping his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.

Attrition, Part 2: Quarterback Clint Moseley decided not to return to the squad as a fifth-year senior, but is in school finishing his degree.

Attrition, Part 3: Running back Mike Blakely, who transferred to Auburn from Florida, will not be back with the Tigers this season after seeing little playing time in 2012.

Attrition, Part 4: Defensive lineman Devaunte Sigler was dismissed from the team over the winter for violation of team rules.

Erique Florence was a heavily recruited prospect from Valley High, who played very little for the Tigers after signing in the 2011 class.

Attrition, Part 5: Safety Erique Florence is gone from the team and will not be back, Malzahn said on Tuesday. He is the fifth player from the 2011 signee class who is no longer with the team joining Sigler, Jonathan Rose, Christian Westerman and Thomas O'Reilly.

Good Health: Malzahn said the Tigers are a healthy team and have good depth on the line of scrimmage, which should help the coaches put the players through a physical spring.

Equal Reps: The team's only two scholarship quarterbacks, on the spring roster, junior Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, will split the QB duties 50-50 this spring. Malzahn said that he and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will be careful to make sure those guys do not get sore arms from too much throwing.

Fresh Start: With a new coaching staff, Malzahn said the situation is "wide open" for anybody on the roster to finish at the top of the depth chart. "When I said that I completely mean that," he said.

Praise for the Transfers: Malzahn said that the team's three January additions from junior college have "all responded extremely well" to the challenges of the offseason program and he is "curious to see them in pads." In addition to Artis-Payne, the Tigers added offensive lineman Devaunte Danzey and defensive tackle Ben Bradley to the roster.

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