The Tigers had their third practice of the off-week on Wednesday working out for two plus hours on a fall-like evening.
"The last two days of practice I have been very proud of our guys that came out and had great attitudes," Auburn's head coach said. "They were committed to getting better. That is hard to do for a lot of teams during an off-week so I thought that was a step moving forward.
"We have just been working on our base offense, base defense and special teams," said Malzahn, noting that the Tigers are looking to build a solid foundation for success as they head into the second month of the season with a 3-1 record."
Malzahn noted that the focus for the Tigers with no game on Saturday has been inward instead of on Ole Miss, the next opponent.
"Any time as a coach you can remove yourself from game-planning and everything that goes into a game week with an opponent, you can really focus on yourself," he said. "You can identify strengths, you can identify areas you can improve on. We have learned a lot about our team from a group, from an individual standpoint, on what we need to do moving forward."
Commenting on his team, which is 1-1 in SEC play, Malzahn said, "We have good information from a coaches' standpoint. We have a chance to get better and improve. I think most of our mistakes are correctable. At the same time we have played a lot of young guys, either because of injuries or because of depth. A lot of young guys have gotten their feet wet. I have got to believe they will improve throughout the season."
Malzahn, who calls the plays on offense, said, "I feel like we can run the football effectively. We can operate our base offense effectively moving forward. We need some work on some of our timing throws, and all of that, but that is really what stands out to me offensively."
The head coach added that the Tigers feature a "timing passing game" so getting the quarterbacks and receivers in sync is critical to success.
A receiver whose timing is improving is Sammie Coates, who is averaging an SEC-leading 27.8 yards per reception through four games. Auburn's single season record by Freddy Weygand of 24.88 yards per reception has stood since 1984.
Sammie Coates has had reasons to smile this season.
The only other players in Auburn history (20 receptions minimum) who have averaged better than 20 yards per catch for an entire season are Alexander Wright (23.80 in 1989), Alvin Bresler (23.04 in 1970), Devin Aromashodu (21.38 in 2004), lawyer Tillman (20.86 in 1986) and Terry Beasley (20.21 in 1970).
Offense coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that confidence and work ethic have combined to help Coates step up his performance level in 2013. "He believes more and more every day," Lashlee said.
"He worked so hard this summer and then at the same time when you go out and make a few plays that is about the best thing you can do for your confidence," the coach added."
Malzahn, Lashlee and position coach Dameyune Craig have challenged Coates to become a standout performer in the wide receivers group. "I am just going to keep working hard so I can be that go-to guy," said Coates, who added, "I have gotten a whole lot better."
In other news and notes:
*Defensive tackle Jeffrey Whitaker, who suffered a preseason knee injury, has a redshirt season left if the senior and the coaches want to use it. "At this point things are still up in the air," Malzahn said on whether or not Whitaker will try to play this fall or redshirt.
Jeff Whitaker was projected to be a starter this season.
The coach said the Tigers are also evaluating another defensive player who suffered a serious preseason injury, sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones. Jones went down with an ankle injury when he slipped on wet steps in August. Originally he was expected to miss the whole season and take a redshirt year, but that could change.
*With junior receiver Jaylon Denson out for the season the Tigers have "mixed and matched" players at his position. Tight end Brandon Fulse is getting work there along with walk-on Melvin Ray. "We have got some guys who can play multiple positions, especially the guys who have been here before," Malzahn said. "We are still working through that."
Brandon Fulse is a junior for the Tigers who could see a bigger role as a receiving the rest of the season.
*The Tigers have 19 scoring drives through four games with 12 touchdowns and seven field goals. Those possessions have lasted an average of 8.1 plays, covering an average of 63.7 yards with an average time of possession of two minutes and 53 seconds.
*Cody Parkey has kicked off 22 times this season with 15 touchbacks. Of the other seven kickoffs six have been returned for an average of 20 yards per return. The other kickoff went out of bounds. Last season 68.9 percent of Parkey's kickoffs were touchbacks. This season the percentage is almost identical at 68.2.
*Malzahn said a pair of redshirt defensive linemen, tackle Tyler Nero and end Gimel President, have been splitting time preparing for games week to week with their position coach, Rodney Garner, and working on the scout team getting the offense ready to play. "They have done some good things at times,"?Malzahn said. "They will give us some depth."
*The Auburn defense has six takeaways with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. For the season the Tigers are minus two in turnover difference. The Tigers have done a better job of converting the turnovers into points with 21 while opponents have only turned the eight Tiger turnovers into 10 points.
*Game time for the Ole Miss vs. Auburn game a week from Saturday will be 2:30 p.m. CDT if televised by CBS or 6 p.m. if it is picked up by one of the ESPN networks. The game time is expected to be announced on Sunday. The Oct. 12 Homecoming game vs. Western Carolina will kick off at 1 p.m. and will be televised on a pay per view basis. No other game times have been set.
Auburn is scheduled to practice on Thursday and then the players will likely be off on Friday and Saturday before beginning game-week preparations on Sunday.