QBs On the Firing Line In First Scrimmage

News, notes and quotes following Auburn's first preseason scrimmage are featured in this football report.

Auburn, Ala.--Six days into drills Gus Malzahn put his Auburn football team through its first preseason scrimmage and the new wave offensive coach tested his quarterbacks with an old school session on Wednesday evening.

Chased indoors by a thunderstorm that soaked the newly replaced turf at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Tigers ran through 107 plays at their full-size indoor practice field with no holds barred when it came to the quarterbacks. Commenting on the scrimmage, Malzahn called it "tackle football, real football, just like you are going to see the very first game."

Prior to starting the scrimmage, the orange no-contact jerseys the QBs normally wear were replaced by blue offensive jerseys, which mean that the quarterbacks were not off limits to hit, just like in a regular game.

"All four quarterbacks played and they were equal reps," Malzahn said, who noted it is a "pretty unique situation" to let the quarterbacks get full speed contact this close to the start of the season.

"I thought it was very important, especially when you are trying to evaluate four guys, to give them a chance to make plays just like a regular football game," the head coach said.

"I saw a lot of good things," Malzahn added. "I saw a lot of things as far as penalties and stuff like that that will be great teaching (points) moving forward before our first game."

Junior college transfer Nick Marshall, who joined the team this summer, is trying to win the starting quarterback job. Last season he was a star performer at Garden City Community College in Kansas.

The head coach noted the offense ran a lot of "base plays" to give the coaches a good opportunity to evaluate who is ready to play and who isn't on both sides of the line of scrimmage. "It was really good information for us," he said.

Malzahn pointed out the indoor scrimmage went well. "I was curious to see how our kids would react and they were excited,"?he said.

Asked if anybody stood out during the scrimmage, Malzahn said, "There were so many plays, so many guys rotating in and out, there is nothing that really stands out right now, but there were some plays. The good thing is there were plays on defense and there were plays on offense. I told them afterwards there are things we need to correct, but at the same time both groups made play."

The head coach said he believes the quarterbacks enjoyed being "live" during the scrimmage. "When it is not live and you are blowing a whistle you don't know if they can break a tackle, you don't know if they can escape pressure. It gives you a chance to evaluate them. I think all four guys were extremely excited to be live."

Malzahn said he had been thinking about making the QBs live for several days and gave foursome (Kiehl Frazier, Jonathan Wallace, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson) a heads up to be ready to be hit on Wednesday.

"I think it was good for our defense, too," Malzahn noted. "I think it was good for the whole team."

Freshman Jeremy Johnson launches the deep ball

Malzahn said after the coaches study the video of the 107 plays they will have a better idea of who belongs where on the QB depth chart, but did not give a time frame on when they would name the starter.

Asked about the new quarterbacks, Marshall and Johnson, Malzahn said, "I thought they did a solid job, and I thought our older guys did, too, but standing right here there is not one guy I say, ‘Oh, yeah!' But, that is not a negative. Until we get in the film room until you see pre-snap what they were seeing, what they were thinking, who protected the ball and all of those things...there are a lot of things that go together."

Junior safety Jermaine Whitehead agreed with Malzahn that it was good for the defense to be able to hit the quarterbacks. "Seeing them put that blue jersey on definitely put a smile on our faces," he said.

"That turned our whole defense up," he added. "You get to the guy who has been talking all the smack. Don't let them complete a pass or they will carry it on the rest of the day. Whoever completes a pass is going to talk."

Whitehead noted there were some good hits on the quarterbacks, who tried to be physical running the ball, but added there were not any crushing blows on the QBs.

"They all look pretty good," Whitehead said. "They are all making strides in the right direction. It is hard to say who is going to be that guy. I am with all of the prospects."

A plus for the quarterbacks was the toughness they showed, the safety noted. "They took their chances with the ball when they got them," he said. "They got their yardage. They hit us back, which was good to see for me that they would deliver a blow."

Sophomore Sammie Coates is one of the returning wideouts looking to earn a starting job.

In other news and notes:

*The Tigers will have the first of their three two-a-days sessions on Thursday with a late morning workout followed by an early evening session. The morning session will be focused on correcting mistakes from the scrimmage while the second practice will concentrate on special teams play. The Tigers will have their first off day from practices on Friday.

*Malzahn said it appeared the Tigers got through the scrimmage in good shape physically. However, one of the assistants, offensive line coach, was a no-go on Wednesday. "He had a medical procedure," Malzahn said. "It shouldn't be a problem. He will be back tomorrow."

*With Grimes absent Malzahn said he spent time with the OL group as did offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and graduate assistant coach Johnny Brewer. "We have got good leadership in (center) Reese Dismukes," Malzahn said. "It wasn't an issue today."

*In the spring the emphasis during the scrimmages was on playing at a very quick tempo. On Wednesday the pace was slowed by the head coach. "I wanted to make sure everybody was lined up...to give them a chance to show what they could do," Malzahn said.

*Whitehead is running first team at safety along with sophomore Josh Holsey, who has made a transition to cornerback. "I think he looks pretty good back there," said Whitehead, a returning starter. Holsey played cornerback for the Tigers last season, but moved to safety at the end of spring when returning starter Demetruce McNeal missed practice time. McNeal is currently sidelined while recovering from surgery and an infection, but is expected back in action sometime in August.

Whitehead is a player who also made the transition from cornerback to safety as a sophomore like Holsey is currently doing. "He is taking it a lot better than I did," the junior noted.

*The big play of the day on defense was a long interception return by senior Jake Holland. "I got a little pick," the linebacker said. "We were doing a blitz in the red zone and I was a hole player, kind of spying the quarterback. I got lucky because he threw it right to me. It was about a 70-yard return I would say. Not bad...I didn't get in the end zone. I was gassed at the end. It was about the 20-yard line."

Commenting on the scrimmage, Holland said, "I felt like today was a good day. There were mistakes made, but there were some good plays too. We haven't seen the film yet, but I felt like it was a progressive day. I think we got better."

Junior running back Corey Grant had this perspective on the scrimmage. "It went pretty good," he said. "There were some positives and negatives. We'll get those cleaned up. Overall it was a pretty good scrimmage."

Commenting on what it was like playing with quarterbacks who could be hit, Grant said, "Going through spring you really don't have a lot of scrimmages where the quarterback is live. As a running back you have to protect the quarterback so that put a lot of emphasis on us."

Corey Grant runs for yardage in the scrimmage

Commenting the QBs, he said, "I saw a lot of positive things, but I also saw a couple of mistakes that can easily be fixed. Overall I think they did pretty good."

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