Coach Sees Progress, Garrett Sees Opportunity

Comments from Gus Malzahn and players plus news and football notes are featured are featured as the Auburn Tigers returned to the field.

Auburn, Ala.--The head football coach said he saw progress in practice four of Auburn's spring drills as the Tigers worked out for two hours in full pads on Monday.

"It did look like we improved," said Gus Malzahn, who noted that he told the players he expected that to be the case as the players get a better feel for what is expected from the new coaching staff.

Malzahn noted the Tigers were able to get in around 20 to 25 minutes of situational 11 on 11 contact work, much like they did on Saturday. Unlike the workout in the stadium over the weekend, no tackling was allowed.

"It was pretty much kind of what we thought," Malzahn said of the first full contact work of the spring after he and the staff broke down video of Saturday's session. "We were going at a very fast pace and there were some mistakes--it was pretty much offensively and defensively what we thought.

"The great thing is we have got a lot of room for improvement and we felt like our guys were trying to do what we asked," the coach said. "It is just a matter of fighting through fatigue and being more disciplined with their assignments."

Gus Malzahn talks to the players on Monday.

Malzahn said the Tigers made improvement with the assignments on Monday and said he expects that trend to continue. He added that learning what to do can be a challenge "especially for guys who have not been in this offense before--it takes a while."

Malzahn said, "A lot of times it is alignment and assignment, and then once you get that down you can actually play football. I think the young guys are still in the mode of worrying about where to line up and what to do. It is not quite natural yet for them to play.

"We are really counting on about practice six or seven for the light to click on and they can actually play football."

One of the players learning a new position this spring is junior Justin Garrett, who is working at the "star" position, a rover in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defensive alignment.

"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.

"For my height and body weight I feel like it's the perfect position," added Garrett, who is 6-1, 214 pounds.

Commenting on his new role, the junior said, "It's just like a third safety that is a hybrid player that can play a mixture of linebacker and safety and play in the box and stop the run while also going out and cover in space.

"You can do multiple things," he added. "The star position will blitz a lot and roam around to give the offense a hard time figuring out what we're doing in our defensive scheme."

Justin Garrett and the Tigers have 11 spring practices remaining this year.

Last season Garrett played linebacker in Auburn's 4-3 alignment. "It's like a linebacker position when we play against more of a pro-style offense--I would come in and fit like that," Garrett said.

"When we play against a spread team, who likes to use 11-personnel (one back and one tight end) or 10-personnel (one back and no tight end), I will play more like a nickel.

"When we play teams that use 22-personnel (two backs and two tights) and 21-personnel (two backs and one tight), I will play more like a linebacker. It's just a mixture."

After spending a lot of time as a backup in 2011 and 2012, Garrett sees an opportunity to be a starter in 2013. "It was tough being patient the last two years, but I know it was for the better," he said. "It was what God had in store for me. Right now I'm just loving the position and learning it to the best of my ability."

Garrett was an outstanding outside linebacker at Tucker, Ga., High School known for his physical style on a football field. "I knew a little bit of coverage after playing some safety in high school and my brother played safety at Notre Dame," he junior pointed out. "That's probably the hardest part is the coverage and playing man-to-man. Everything else I'm pretty much adapting to it and learning at a fast pace."

Javiie Mitchell and walk-on Adam Dyas are also playing the star position this spring.

In other news and notes:

*Redshirt freshman offensive guard Jordan Diamond noted he is thrilled to be back on the practice field after being injured last fall. He noted the pace of the sessions is much different than what he watched when Scot Loeffler was offensive coordinator in 2012.

"It's tough," Diamond said. "It is tough on everybody. This is a brand new thing for the young guys, but some of the old guys have been through and they are guiding us through."

Diamond noted that he is happy playing guard. "Wherever they need me I is fine--I just want to play," he said.

Commenting on Diamond, Malzahn said, "He has got a lot of ability. He is a big guy. He is athletic. He has got a long way to go as far as the execution and steps, but he seems like he catches on pretty quick and he seems like he is eager to learn."

Kiehl Frazier throws a pass in Wedesday's practice as offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee watches.

*Malzahn said a point of emphasis for the coaching staff has been to encourage his most experienced players to step up as leaders. "I think our seniors are the group that is trying to lead this team and that is very encouraging for me," he said. "We have had quite a few meetings with our seniors and they want it to be a new day. They are gradually starting to take charge of their team."

With no seniors on the offensive line, Malzahn said that two-year starter Reese Dismukes, a junior center, is the leader on the OL.

*The Tigers will not practice on Tuesday and will be at it on Wednesday morning.

More Practice Notes and Discussion:

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