The offense out-played the defense in the scrimmage and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said that his group has a lot of work to do as the Tigers prepare for their August 31st season opener vs. Washington State.
Johnson said that was the case even taking into consideration that the defense held out some of their front-line players like starting cornerbacks Chris Davis and Jonathan Mincy, and even with the Tigers losing the standout performer of spring training to a foot injury, Justin Garrett, during the 85-play scrimmage.
Garrett, who is in a walking boot, is expected to be out of action for approximately a week. That gave his backups at the "star rover position, junior Robenson Therezie and true freshman Mackenro Alexander, extensive work in the scrimmage.
"Overall, as far the young guys, I thought it was very, very iffy," Johnson said. "They are still in a learning process and there are a lot of mental assignments. We are to the point where if we make mistakes the offense looks cute. If we make a mistake, they look cute, but right now we are making so many mistakes there are not enough good plays executed so we can find out who can play defense."
Johnson said the defensive coaching staff has "overloaded" the young players with assignments and noted he hopes the mental errors will go away with more reps in practice.
"The effort was good, the tackling was a lot better," he said comparing scrimmage one to scrimmage two.
"We chart loafs, or lack of finishes, missed tackles, missed assignments and any pre-snap or after the whistle penalties and all of that went down so in that respect it was improved from the previous scrimmage, but overall we have a long way to go."
Neither Malzahn nor offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were available for post-practice interviews. Asked about the quarterback battle that features four players, Johnson said he doesn't know what the pecking order is. However, he did talk about the QB play in general which he said is "much better" than it was in spring training.
"They have all improved and they are all getting a better feel in the scheme," he said. "In the fall we would have things poorly executed on defense and there would be a play there to be made, but it wasn't being made.
"Now, if we mess up and there is something there, these quarterbacks are doing such a good job of executing if there is an open receiver they are hitting them, if there is a read on the option they are making a great read so they have had some great runs. Just the overall play, I think, has elevated."
Johnson had praise for linebacker Jake Holland on Sunday, noting the senior "has had two really good scrimmages."
Johnson, who doubles as linebacker coach, is less pleased with the rest of his group. "Everybody else has been inconsistent," he said. "He certainly has an edge on that starting spot (middle linebacker), but it is still a very good competition between him and Kris (Frost)." Anthony Swain is the No. 3 middle linebacker.
At the weakside linebacker spot sophomore Cassanova McKenzie is running number one. "Cassanova, through camp and in the spring, continues to make the best linebacker plays and do some things that you really can't coach--the outstanding physically, technique and those type of things, but he has been very inconsistent. He has to be more consistent in run fits, coverages--all of the above."
Johnson said he is looking for four or five linebackers to step up and be ready to play this season. Backups at the weakside spot, which the coach calls "a little bit muddled," are Kenny Flowers, LaDarius Owens and Javiie Mitchell. "They are all doing some pretty good things, but they are all behind Cassanova as far as being able to play and do as well as he does."
Craig pointed out the more playing time the former high school quarterback has as a receiver the better. "There are not a whole lot of catches in the (wide receivers) group so you have to be patient and understand that," the coach said. "The best thing for these guys will be to get experience. The more reps they get--and we do get them a lot of reps--the better they get."
Craig spent a lot of time trying to recruit Louis when the Auburn sophomore was a high school star in Miami and when Craig was an assistant on Jimbo Fisher's staff at Florida State. "I am very excited about the opportunity to coach him," Craig noted.
"He is really fast and has the ability to make big plays," the coach added. "He and Sammie (Coates) are two of the fastest guys I have been around. They can stretch the field vertically. They are strong and they are big guys."
Craig pointed out that he has been pleased with freshman Marcus Davis, who caught a touchdown pass in Saturday's scrimmage like Louis did.
"He is quick as a cat and he can catch the football," Craig said Davis, who is lining up as a slot receiver. "He played quarterback in high school so you would think he would be pretty raw, but he is pretty natural at playing receiver.
Marcus Davis played quarterback and was a return man last season as a high school senior.
"He catches the football, he is in and out of breaks and he can transition from zero to 100 pretty fast," Craig added. "We are excited about him. He is learning pretty well."
Another speedy receiver, freshman Tony Stevens, is rehabbing from a hamstring problem. Craig noted he has seen enough from Stevens to form an opinion. "His upside, his potential, is amazing," the coach said. "Hopefully he will continue to develop and work hard and become the receiver we need him to be."
Commenting on the receivers as a group, Craig said, "They are working hard and we are trying to get them to be physical at the point of attack. We are trying to get them to play without the ball in their hands. They came back in great shape. Coach (Ryan) Russell did a great job with the guys with conditioning and strength, and it is paying off right now."
The coach noted that it looks like the group is serious about stepping up and proving they can be an area of strength for the 2013 team despite the Tigers losing their only standout performer on last year's team, Emory Blake.
"They have taken the approach that they are going to be accountable," Craig said. "They are going to be on time, they are going to class, working out in the weight room and staying there for extra time and going out on their own--even on the weekends working out and running routes. I definitely see an improvement from the spring in those guys."
In other news and notes:
*Defensive tackle Jabrian Niles, who missed Saturday's scrimmage, is sidelined by an injury. Johnson said the redshirt sophomore has shown some "bright spots."
*Johnson noted that the defense worked on second and long situations in Sunday's practice, which preceded the players and Malzahn heading to Auburn Arena for the annual Fan Day event. The coach said the plan was to work on goal line defense, but ran out of time.
*The defensive coordinator had praise for the play of junior safety Jermaine Whitehead's play in the scrimmage. "Whitehead is always good," Johnson said. "He has been consistent from day one. We pulled him out a little bit early.
"We didn't let the two starting corners go. We thought Kamryn Melton for his first time that he has to step out there and be the guy, he did some really good things early. As the scrimmage went along he gave up some big plays, but he really has improved and I thought had a good beginning on the scrimmage."
*Freshman defensive ends Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson are players the coaches are hoping will be ready to contribute. "Elijah and Carl continue to show that they are capable of mixing it up on this level," Johnson said. "They are mis-fitting a lot of runs and haven't come up with a lot of big plays yet, but physically they are playing very well and holding their own in the box. I think they are coming along well enough that we are going to be able to play those guys sometimes and hopefully early."
*Another defensive end, Justin Delaine, has been plagued with injuries since he got to Auburn. Johnson said that the backup has made "a few good plays out there." The coach said that Delaine has the potential to be an effective pass rusher. "Hopefully, that will come out and he will show some of it on the playing field," he said.
Ben Bradley is shown in Auburn's A-Day Game. He has dropped weight and improved his quickness since then.
*Juco transfer defensive tackle Ben Bradley made two sacks in the scrimmage. Commenting on Bradley, Johnson said, "He has had a good, solid camp. He is fighting. He is one of those four rotators in there for those two jobs. On a day or two he may be a starter. On other days he is a backup guy. They are having good competition over there."
*Johnson said he is optimistic that safety Demetruce McNeal, who has been sidelined with an infection after having his tonsils, could be back at practice in the coming days. The returning starter has not practiced since spring training.
*The Tigers will return to practice on Monday for one session and will have two practices on Tuesday.