Looking to be a more physical football team this fall after seeing signs of progress in that area during the spring, Auburn's first-year head coach said now the real work starts with the first scrimmage scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"I felt like we had a pretty solid practice," Malzahn said. "The energy was good--very physical. We shortened it just a little bit. We've got a big scrimmage tomorrow so we just want to make sure everybody gets to the scrimmage somewhat fresh and has a chance to mentally prepare because it will be a big scrimmage for us, not only for players but with the coaches evaluating them."
Much of the focus for the scrimmage for Malzahn and his coaching staff will be on evaluating the team to begin the process of narrowing down the focus at several positions. That starts at the quarterback spot where returning starters Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace along with newcomers Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson will have their first real chance to make an impact in fall practice on Wednesday.
"The two new guys are getting more comfortable, you can tell, as far as the procedures pre-play and I think they're getting a better understanding," Malzahn said. "We're putting our installs in so there's a lot going on. The older guys, they're a little more comfortable.
"There's nothing better to evaluate a quarterback than a scrimmage situation with live bullets coming and everything that goes with that," he added. "Some people find a way to raise their level and some people get a little nervous."
While several players remain solidly entrenched at first team positions at the moment on both sides of the ball, there are plenty of position battles still to be decided, Malzahn noted. Because of that there has been plenty of rotation along both lines of scrimmage as well as the skill positions so the coaching staff can get a feel for exactly what the players bring to the table. That included linebackers Jake Holland, Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy rotating at the two linebacker spots with the first-team defense. Malzahn noted that trying to get as many reps with everyone is what preseason camp is all about.
"We rotated three groups just like we've been doing," he said of Tuesday's practice. "Anytime you do that, there's a lot of moving parts. It's hard really when you come out to the practice field to have one thing really stand out as far as the young guys are concerned, but here's the good thing--they're getting plenty of opportunities to show the coaches what they can do and that was part of the plan."
Gage-ing the competition
With Ricky Parks no longer on Auburn's roster the Tigers have been searching for a solid fullback to play behind senior Jay Prosch. Walk-on linebacker turned fullback Gage Batten looks to be that guy. The 6-0, 235 redshirt freshman has impressed his teammates so far with the move, including Prosch.
"He's been the guy," Prosch said of Batten. "He came over from linebacker so he's been adjusting. He has never blocked before in his entire life so he's been adjusting to that but he's done a really good job, finally starting to feel it out and get a good hang of it."
Jay Prosch is excited about the first scrimmage on Wednesday
Offensive Line Continuity Important
Prosch said one of the things that sometimes goes unnoticed is having four starters back on the offensive line. With a group that has played together and is comfortable working as a unit, the senior fullback said it just makes everything run smoother on that side of the ball.
"It's very important," Prosch said. "Guys block different it's kind of like receivers and quarterbacks. Guys block different and running backs need consistency to see to be able to run behind and be able to figure out where the hole is and stuff like that. It's very important and I think our guys are doing a good job."
Denson On The Move
One of the players who has moved around the most on offense this preseason has been junior receiver Jaylon Denson. Drawing praise from the staff for his work in the spring, Denson has played both outside receiver and in the slot for the Tigers so far and just wants to do what it takes to help out.
"I'm playing a little bit of both," Denson said. "I was on the inside today. That is probably where I will be at for the scrimmage tomorrow.
"It really doesn't matter (where he plays)--anywhere I can help the team," he added.
Tiger Ticket Notes:
Senior safety Demetruce McNeal continues to be held out of practice for the Tigers after having minor surgery because of an infection. Malzahn said following Tuesday's practice that McNeal could return in a few days if things remain on track.
Auburn had a shorter practice on Tuesday as the Tigers worked for 19 five-minute periods before calling it a day. With a 100-play scrimmage set for Wednesday, Malzahn said they'll try to cover all the bases on offense to get some pace going while also letting the new guys get a feel for things.
"There will be a little bit of that, but then there will be a little bit of just making sure our guys, especially the young guys, line up so we can evaluate them properly," Malzahn said. "There will be a little bit of pace with the older guys and the younger guys we'll slow down just a little bit so we can evaluate them."
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