Malzahn Likes Practice And Praises Players

A report on the Auburn football team features news, notes and quotes as the Tigers continue their preparations for the opener vs. Washington State.

Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn said he liked what he saw from his football team as the Tigers returned to practice on Thursday after having a day off for the start of fall semester classes.

Auburn's head coach also welcomed back his spring game Most Valuable Player on defense, Justin Garrett. The coach praised Washington State's offense and Auburn's No. 1 quarterback.

Malzahn also had praise for a young walk-on who is having a good preseason camp as well as a returning starter on the offensive line.

"I really felt like we had a solid practice," Malzahn said after a two-hour workout on one of the few hot days in Auburn this month. "We were out in the heat, which was good. Our guys were, for the most part, flying around, and I felt like they responded well.

"We focused on in-the-game situations, two-minute situations," he said. "You can never get enough of that this time of year, especially with a new quarterback."

Auburn's new No. 1 QB, juco transfer Nick Marshall, was named the starter on Saturday. Asked what he is seeing from the 6-1, 210 junior, Malzahn responded by saying, "A lot more urgency as far as encouraging his teammates, challenging his teammates. He is extremely tough on himself, which is usually a really good sign.

Justin Garrett, who made a successful move from linebacker to "star" rover in the spring, was back in action on Thursday after being out with a foot injury suffered in the second scrimmage. The head coach noted that the junior looked like he was moving well at the practice.

Another player who has made a move from linebacker whose stock is on the rise is little-known 6-0, 235 walk-on fullback Gage Batten.

"Gage has done a really good job for us," Malzahn said. "He has really turned into Jay Prosch's backup. He is a tough, physical kid. He is a very intelligent football player and we really think he has a bright future at that position."

Assistant coach Scott Fountain, who works with the tight ends, H-backs and fullbacks, had praise for Batten. "Gage is really playing well, mimicking what Jay does. Since he is a redshirt freshman I hope in time he can become a complete guy at that position. We will see how that comes. I have been real pleased with him."

Batten, who is from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., played high school football with Auburn sophomore offensive tackle Patrick Miller prior to walking on at Auburn. Fountain notes that wasn't the reason Batten ended up at Auburn. "He is really kind of his own guy," the coach said.

"He is a really good student and had an opportunity to go Florida or Auburn in the Honors program, which is a really big thing," Fountain said. "He was planning to be a walk-on in football at either place and he chose to come to Auburn, which is really big with him being a kid from Florida.

Gage Batten

"I really felt like when we got him if he couldn't play linebacker he could eventually help us at fullback," Fountain added. "That seems to be where he is headed and that has been a big plus for us."

Fountain added, "I am excited to have him here. He has got a lot of the Jay Prosch qualities in terms of toughness. He loves football--it's important to him. Gage is a guy I really enjoy coaching."

As preparations take place for the August 31 home opener vs. Washington State, Elmer Prewitt and Pete Jackson replace one of the AU logos on the south end zone scoreboard at Jordan Hare Stadium on Wednesday.

Malzahn, who is a little more than a week away from his first game as head coach of the Tigers, was asked if he has had time to reflect on how quickly he moved up the ranks from a high school head coach to an SEC head coach.

"I feel very blessed to be doing what I am doing at a great place like Auburn," said Malzahn, who made the move to Auburn from Arkansas State, where he was head coach one season. "It probably crosses my mind how blessed I am probably once a day--maybe more."

In other news and notes:

*The head coach had praise for redshirt sophomore Greg Robinson, who is the returning starter at left offensive tackle.

Asked about Robinson's preseason performance, Malzahn said, "He has had a very good fall. He has turned into one of those guys as a coach--at least from my standpoint--you don't have to worry about. I know coach (J.B.) Grimes does. I have got a lot of confidence in him. He makes very few mental mistakes and he is a great competitor."

Greg Robinson started all 12 games left season.

The competition to be the starter at right offensive tackle continues, according to the coach, with Patrick Miller, Avery Young and Shon Coleman in the mix. "Shon is playing some right and left," Malzahn said. "The good thing is we have more depth at tackle than we have ever had since I have been here." Malzahn was offensive coordinator for the Tigers from 2009-11.

*Young and redshirt freshman guard Alex Kozan have gotten practice time shotgun snapping. Reese Dismukes is the starting center and Tunde Fariyike is running number two at the position. Malzahn said it is important to have multiple guys ready to shotgun snap considering the Tigers run virtually all of their plays from that formation.

*Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson plans to coach from the press box in games this fall while offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee will be on the sidelines. Asked what offensive coach or coaches will be in the press box, Malzahn said, "We are still working through that."

*Several of the practices scheduled for the stadium this preseason were moved to the indoor field because of bad weather. The Tigers are scheduled to work out at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday.

*Former starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier is making progress as he works at the boundary safety spot where Josh Holsey is the projected starter. Asked if the junior will be ready to play at his new position when the season opens, the head coach said, "He is in the mix. I think every day he feels more comfortable. It is like anything else--the more that you do it, the better you will get at it, but he is a competitor.

"He is a smart football player," Malzahn added. "He understands all of the offensive concepts. There is a good chance he will be out on the field."

*Asked how many true freshmen will see action on opening night vs. Washington State, Malzahn said that hasn't been finalized yet, but predicted it will be "many."

Mike Leach is in his second season as head coach at Washington State.

*Malzahn had praise for Washington State's offense and Head Coach Mike Leach: "He is one of the best in the business on the offensive side of the ball. He has proven that over the years and I know he will have his team ready...They have been very successful doing what they do."

Malzahn noted that WSU is a pass-first offense while the Tigers feature a run-first offense with the running game setting up the passing attack. The two teams will meet for just the second time on Saturday, August 31st at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn won the previous matchup 40-14 to open the 2006 season.

*Sophomore cornerback Johnathan Jones, who suffered a broken bone in his ankle last week after slipping on wet steps, looks like a likely redshirt. The injury to the second string player required surgery and the head coach said that the speedy Jones will be out "a while."



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