Tigers Gearing Up to Put On the Pads

An in-depth report on Auburn's second spring football practice is featured with news, notes and quotes.

Auburn, Ala.--After two days of football practices in shorts, Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he is looking forward to Saturday's first full pads, full-contact session that will include 11 on 11 work.

Lashlee made the comment following Friday's two-hour workout that featured individual teaching by the position coaches as the Tigers install new offensive and defensive systems.

"I thought today we were not anywhere near our standard on what we want, but we were trying to play faster and then we were losing some of the ‘where do we line up', ‘what do we do on this play.' We just kind of let that get away from us. We have to play fast and play smart."

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson noticed a similar issue with the guys he is coaching. "It has been a typical first two days of practice regardless of what we are running,"?he said. "We have kind of loaded them up with a lot of things. For the most part, the retention on the field has been pretty good.

"We have had a lot of meeting time, a lot of film time and a lot of preparation off the field, but especially with a late start on the calendar," he said. "So, from an assignment standpoint, I think a lot of them know what they're doing, but we are busting a lot of assignments on the field when w are going full speed

"I don't really feel like it has anything to do with the particular system we're running. It's just learning a new defense, learning new verbage, learning maybe a couple different alignments and those types of things.

"What short time we have had, and without pads, it's very difficult to make a legitimate assessment, but I think we have got most of them in the right place," Johnson said.

"As we progress in the pads tomorrow and on into next week, I think maybe we will find out a little more about them, but I think we made a couple of moves, like Justin Garrett moved out to the hybrid (star position) and some other things like that, that I think some of these guys look like they're in the right place."

Commenting on Garrett, Johnson said, "He was a good inside linebacker, but he was one of the faster ones we had. Same thing with Javiie Mitchell and we felt like those were the first two we wanted to look at out in space, as we call it.

"Also, we have got a junior college safety, a big safety coming in in Brandon King. We have also got a couple good high school players. Maybe they can be depth for us or even challenge, but we thought it was best that we moved somebody there in the spring and come out of spring feeling like we didn't have to fix our depth chart in the fall.

"The guys that have moved seem to like it," Johnson noted. "They had a great attitude, they had a little enthusiasm about it. It's a fun position to play--a lot of blitzing, have to cover some space. There are some tough things too, now. It's a very important job for us as far as playing man-to-man on the third-best receiver and those type of things that they may not have been used to."

The adjustment is a bigger one for Mitchell, who played on the defensive line in high school. "Skill-wise, physically, he has been fine," said Johnson, who added that Mitchell has a lot of learning ahead of him.

Jonathan Wallace finished his freshman season as the No. 1 quarterback, but all of the starting spots are open, according to Coach Gus Malzahn.

Lashlee, who was the offensive coordinator for Gus Malzahn last season at Arkansas State, was asked what he would like to see from the first full pads practice. "I would like to see our pace and tempo improve again. Our guys now have had two days to understand it is chaotic. We ask a lot of it and there is a reason for it. I would like to see us continue to make strides in that.

"I would like to get rather quickly to where our coaches are not having to coach the pace and tempo as much so we can coach more of the Xs and Os," Lashlee said. "That is number one.

"Number two, first day in pads I want our guys to be physical. We have got to be physical across the board--the wideouts with their blocking on the perimeter. I would like the backs to be physical and protect the football now they are being hit. Up front, we would like to see we can be physical.

"I would like to see how the quarterbacks are when pads are popping around them and how they react, even if they aren't live," Lashlee added.

"Every day we are preaching discipline of where we want to line up, how we want to run a route, how we want to take a step on the line--the quarterbacks and where exactly they need to go with the football. We have got to be extremely disciplined at every position to be successful."

Jonathon Mincy catches a punt in Friday's practice.

Defensive coordinator Johnson doubles as Auburn's linebacker coach. Commenting on the two linebacker spots, the mike (middle) and will (weakside), Johnson said, "They are somewhat interchangeable. Physically, they need to be about the same guy, the mike and the will. We ask the mike to do a lot more of the quarterbacking of the defense. The will probably has a lot more variation in his coverage drops so both of them have their amount of complication, if you will.

"I've found the guys that can talk and communicate-- and there's some guys that are better at that than others--usually they end up being a mike," the coach said. "The one thing the will has to do a little bit more is he will do a little bit more blitzes on pass rushes so those are two things that you have to look for that they have got to be able to do to play there.

Cassanova McKinzy saw significant playing time at linebacker last fall as a true freshman.

"Right now, I'm rotating a three-way with (Kris) Frost, and (Cassanova) McKenzie and (Jake) Holland and I'm trying to get Jake to double-learn," Johnson said. "He is the oldest one and I'm doing the same thing with the second group, and I've got Chris Landrum double-learning...just get through maybe three or four practices and see how that looks."

Landrum was moved back to linebacker from fullback/H-back to linebacker, the position he was recruited to play when he signed with the Tigers.

In other news and notes:

*Lashlee said from the early practices that he can tell that sophomore wide receiver Ricardo Louis has "loads of talent" and the potential to be a deep threat along with redshirt sophomore Sammie Coates. "He looks really fast out there," Lashlee said of Louis. "Who knows what he can do once we get pads on."

The coach noted the older receivers who have played in Malzahn's system like Trovon Reed and Quan Bray "have some recall of what we are doing." Malzahn said that he has high expectations for Reed this season while Lashlee mentioned that Bray has a chance to be "electric" with the football in his hands.

*Jordan Diamond, who was injured last season as a true freshman, is getting plenty of work at left team offensive guard. He has got the attention of the coaches for what he did in the offseason.

"The thing about him he has got unbelievable work ethic," Lashlee said. "He is a guy that has great size, moves pretty well, but where he is going to be lacking in some talent areas he studies, works so hard at everything. I remember Coach (J.B.) Grimes telling me yesterday he loves his attitude...He is really a big guy (6-6, 314). We are excited to see him in pads."

*Defensive tackle Ben Bradley is making progress, Johnson said, noting that defensive line coach Rodney Garner has been pleased with the mid-term transfer from junior college. "What I have noticed is, when he came in he wasn't in very good condition," Johnson said.

"From the day he's come in through the offseason program, he made wonderful progress," Johnson added. "I think he dropped about 15 pounds, looks more flexible. In the redirection drills and all the things we were doing in the offseason program, he probably improved as much as any defensive or offensive lineman we had."

More Notes and Discussion:

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