AU Football Players, Head Coach See Progress

Comments from players and Gus Malzahn are featured as the Tigers wrapped up their spring football practices.

Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn's first spring training as head coach of the Auburn football Tigers ended with practice in shorts on Wednesday that focused on teaching with the offense and defense working separately during the two-hour session.

Malzahn said the Tigers made progress in their 15 spring practice dates, but still have plenty of work to do to get ready for the season that begins with a home opener on August 31 vs. Washington State.

The coach said the focus for the Tigers for now is on improving themselves rather than worrying about opponents. Before hitting the road to recruit the coaches will be analyzing spring drills in order to come up with a depth chart that Malzahn is expected to announce next week.

Newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne, who was named the most valuable player of the A-Day Game on offense, agrees with Malzahn that the Tigers made strides from practice one to 15.

"I feel like I made progress personally, but I am not there yet," the tailback said. "I feel like our team is the same way. We are getting better, but we are not where we need to be. We are just going to keep working."

Artis-Payne is a junior college transfer from Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Calif., where he rushed for a school-record 2,048 yards on 261 carries last season. His 25 rushing touchdowns were also a school record.

In the A-Day Game he showed his potential as a receiver making a one-handed grab on a poorly thrown screen pass from Kiehl Frazier, turning the play into a 42-yard gainer, the longest play of the scrimmage.

"That catch is a tribute to Coach Horton," Artis-Payne said of Auburn running backs coach Tim Horton. "He works with us every day on that before practice. He throws good passes and bad passes, and we have to catch all of them."

Tim Horton makes a point at Wednesday's practice. He made the move to Auburn from Arkansas, where he coached running backs and was recruiting coordinator.

Justin Garrett, who won the defensive MVP of the spring game, agreed with Artis-Payne that the Tigers have work to do on defense to reach their potential. "We need to become more fundamentally sound,"?he said. "I know I am going to work hard over the summer going into fall camp to get better," he said.

"We improved a lot this spring on our techniques and assignments," said Garrett, who won major praise from the coaches after making the move from linebacker to the "star" rover spot. "I feel like the position is a perfect fit for me and what my skills are."

In the offseason workouts Garrett said one of his focuses will be working on his man-to-man pass coverage skills along with continuing to improve his overall strength and conditioning.

The junior noted the defense worked on "playing with an edge" and being "more physical." How did they do in that area? "We got better, but there is still room for improvement," he said.

Garrett scored the first points of the A-Day Game when he scooped up an errant shotgun snap for a touchdown. His previous touchdown was on offense when he was at Tucker, Ga., High School. "It was the second game of my senior season," he said. "It was a play-action pass and I ran a corner route into the end zone."

Malzahn said Wednesday's practice was focused on fundamentals. "We wanted to make sure our guys fully understood the base offense, the defense, the techniques so they can actually get better this summer when they work on their own instead of developing bad habits."

Looking at the big picture, Malzahn said, "Overall, I would say it was a solid spring and for the most part we accomplished the goals that we set out."

The coach noted that one of the goals was to improve the team's attitude and "become closer." Another goal was to become physical tougher. "We still have got work to do in all areas, but I feel like we improved," he said.

Malzahn talked to the players at Wednesday's practice.

Malzahn told the Tigers they need to continue to work on their skills on their own in the coming months. "The teams that are successful and win, they find a way over the summer to get better." He added with what the players went through last year during a three-win season they have plenty of reason to work hard in the offseason.

In other news and notes:

*Malzahn said the position coaches and coordinators are working on developing a depth chart and then will hit the road for recruiting during the spring evaluation period. The head coach is expected to announce who will be No. 1 and No. 2 at each position when preseason drills begin in August.

"We have a whole lot more information now than when we started (spring practice) and that is a good thing," the coach said.

*The Tigers got through spring practice with just one major injury. Keymiya Harrell, who had ACL surgery, is expected to be able to play defensive end this fall for the Tigers.

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