Defense Holds Upper Hand In AU Scrimmage

With the Tigers at the midway point of spring drills, a lengthy scrimmage featured more production by the defense.

Auburn, Ala.--The defense held the upper hand on Saturday in the Auburn football team's first major scrimmage of the spring training.

Although the head coach, Gus Malzahn, is an offensive guy, he called the 112-play scrimmage a "good one" although there were not a lot of big plays from the offense.

Malzahn, in his first season as head coach of the Tigers, said, "We ran the ball a little more than we threw it and tried to get our guys in some different situations and see how they reacted--field position, down and distance.

"Both quarterbacks got a chance to throw the ball--I believe more than 20 times," Malzahn said. "We wanted to see how they reacted and we are evaluating them when we put them with both groups. It was good to see. There was a lot of good that happened, there was a lot of stuff we have to get a whole lot better on."

Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace shared the quarterback duties. Neither had a big day throwing the football. Frazier struggled with his accuracy and threw an interception on a ball into the end zone intercepted by cornerback Josh Holsey, but did have several productive runs that could have developed into long plays if the officials had not blown the whistle when potential tacklers got near the junior. (The QBs are off-limits to being tackled.)

"Some good, some bad," was Malzahn's reaction when asked how the quarterbacks performed. He added, "It is hard to look good in a scrimmage until we start settling in with specific personnel."

Wallace had the best throw of the day on a long pass over the middle to redshirt freshman tight ends Ricky Parks. "Ricky is doing a solid job at a position that is new to him," the head coach said. "He was a quarterback in high school so he has got a good understanding. Each practice I think he is improving."

Malzahn said that when the coaches grade the video of the scrimmage a major point of emphasis will be evaluating the effort of the practice that lasted just a bit more than two hours and one-half hours at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne stood out on offense, showing good inside power and making moves in space. He shared the tailback duties with Corey Grant while the returning starter, Tre Mason, watching from the sidelines. Mason is believed to be recovering from a minor injury. His absence from the offense allowed the coaches to get a read on newcomer Artis-Payne and Grant, who played little last year.

Cameron Artis-Payne runs the ball on Saturday.

The head coach noted that Artis-Payne and Grant each got at least 15 carries in the scrimmage. "It was good to see those guys," Malzahn said. "They are getting to understand our blocking schemes better. They both had good ball security and that is what you are really concerned on as a coach this time of year."

Defensively, "star" rover Justin Garrett, who was a little used linebacker last season, drew praise from the head coach. "I think Garrett made a couple of big hits again," Malzahn said. "He is kind of setting the tone for the defense. We need more guys playing like him."

Justin Garrett has drawn praise for his play at the "star" rover position.

The most impressive play of the scrimmage may have been a 90-yard touchdown return of a lateral pass intended for Sammie Coates. Sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones was in the right place at the right time after the ball was deflected on a big pass rush on a blitz. He picked up the football and went the distance.

"Pre-snap I saw him coming my way and knew they were going to try to pick on me," he said. "I jumped the route and made the play."

The secondary has won praise for defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson for its performance this year. Jones said the expectation is for the group to be much improved.

"We are going to have a good year," predicted Jones, who noted that cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith said the goal for the defense is to lead the SEC in interceptions. Last year the Tigers had just two picks in 12 games with none by the cornerbacks.

In other news and notes:

*The Tigers will return to the field on Monday morning for their eighth of 15 spring practices.

*Malzahn mentioned Jaylon Denson as a wide receiver who is making progress along with Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates and Melvin Ray. "I think it is slowing down for them so they can actually play," he said.

*Wide receiver Trovon Reed missed the scrimmage. "He had some family things he had to take care of today," Malzahn said. "It wasn't any kind of negative reason."

Kenneth Carter is trying to earn playing time at defensive tackle as he heads into his senior season.

*Asked for his reaction on several articles this week portraying the 2010 team in a negative light, Malzahn said, "The administration has already talked about that. We are moving forward and concentrating on finishing the second part of our spring...As a head coach I feel good about how they handled it."

Asked if was a distraction to the players or coaches, Malzahn said, "Nobody."

*Junior tight end Brandon Fulse said the reports about the team irked him. While saying "it wasn't a distraction," he admitted it was frustrating and said, "Why us? What is going on?"

Quan Bray makes a one-handed catch at Saturday's practice.

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