"Solid Practice" For AU In Prep For Aggies

Auburn continued preparations for Texas A&M on Wednesday night with a focus on third down and red zone defense and offense.

Auburn, Ala.--Preparing to face one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country, the Auburn Tigers didn't change up the practice schedule with an emphasis Wednesday on third downs and the red zone. Always a focal point for Gus Malzahn and his coaching staff, he said this week it takes on even more importance.

"We had a solid practice tonight," Malzahn said. "They are one of the best teams in college football, if not the best on third down. It was good to get that extra work in.

"Being successful offensively on third down is just as critical, but I thought overall we had good attention to detail. I thought our goals were really focused in and had a solid practice."

Saying that quarterback Nick Marshall appears back to normal after sitting out last week, Malzahn said that the junior college transfer is settling in with the offense now that he's back working at practice.

"He just continues to get better," Malzahn said. "He had the week off, but at the same time, he had a very good game the week before. It's just a mater of building. You can tell he's more comfortable each week with everything within our system."

Another question for the Tigers is what happens now at quarterback with the return of Marshall to the starting lineup? With the way that Jeremy Johnson played last week in the win over Western Carolina and now that he has game experience Malzahn said it just makes the offense a more stable unit knowing he's available at any time moving forward this season.

"I really think it gives us confidence," Malzahn said. "Anytime you can get your backup experience then you know a little bit more about how he's going to respond and all that. He's practiced great. Each week he's gotten better. We've got two guys and we feel like we can utilize them both in different aspects."

A question mark this week for Auburn has been how fast do you go offensively with Johnny Manziel on the other side? That's something that Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee have to deal with on Saturday and the coach said you just have to play it by feel in a situation like this.

"Our strength and who we are is a pace team," Malzahn said. "We're at our best when we're playing fast, but you just have to see how the game unfolds. You want to give your team the best chance to be successful. We'll pick and choose our times to go fast and see how it unfolds."

With tight ends C.J. Uzomah (injury) and Brandon Fulse (suspension) held out of last week's game it gave walk-on Melvin Ray the opportunity to jump into the rotation for the Tigers and he came up with three catches for 44 yards in his first extended playing time. A mismatch for small defensive backs because of his size and athleticism, Malzahn said Ray could be more involved in things moving forward because of the confidence he gained and his ability to play multiple spots.

"I thought that was really big," Malzahn said of Ray's work last week. "Melvin's a guy that's really practiced well probably the last three weeks, and, of course, it carried over Saturday. He's a guy that we really need to start getting more reps and start being a bigger part.

Melvin Ray

Dismukes Enjoying Offensive Success

Following a terrible 2012 season offensively, Auburn's success so far under Malzahn has been one of the bright spots for the Tigers. While it wasn't unexpected based on his history as a coordinator, Malzahn's influence goes deeper than just x's and o's and offensive lineman Reese Dismukes can attest to that.

Auburn's mindset under Malzahn when Dismukes was a freshman starter at center was to be physical and that has continued now that he's back as the head coach. If anything it has only grown more demanding under new offensive line coach J.B. Grimes and with an offensive line group that is older and more experienced the results have been dramatic.

"I think we've got five guys that are 100 percent bought in and committed to do the right thing all the time," Dismukes said. "We're really starting to gel here. We've been running the ball well and protecting the ball well, too. We're playing really good right now and we just need to keep getting better each week."

Leading the SEC in rushing at 287 yards per game with 16 touchdowns, Auburn's offense has already developed the mindset that the coaches wanted coming out of spring practice. Challenging the team to be more physical each and every day, Dismukes said it has paid off to the point they feel like they can run it against anybody.

"The way this offense works, we're going to be able to do that," Dismukes said. "I think as far as being a great offensive line, you've got to be able to run the ball. As a pride issue, it feels good. I'm pretty sure we're first in the SEC in rushing. That's what you want to be. We've got a pretty good group.

*Malzahn said that sophomore cornerback Jonathan Jones was back practicing on Wednesday, but they didn't know yet whether or not he'll make the trip. He said that was the case with offensive tackle Patrick Miller and tight end Brandon Fulse as well, but with both suspended for undisclosed violations, neither are expected to be on the field the next few weeks.

*Linebacker Jake Holland came out of last week's win over Western Carolina with a concussion and because of that the Tigers have scaled back the contact for him this week in practice. That was the case again on Wednesday, but Malzahn said the senior should be ready to go on Saturday.

"He's good, good," Malzahn said. "Solid practice. He's a veteran guy, he has a good understanding of what's going on."

*Tight end C.J. Uzomah and defensive tackle Montravius Adams are both practicing again and should be good to go this Saturday according to Malzahn.

*Like we have mentioned the last few weeks, Malzahn officially ruled out Justin Garrett for this weekend's game. He's not expected to back this season for the Tigers after suffering another injury in practice before the Ole Miss game.

*Limiting big plays is obviously a concern when facing Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel. Last season the quarterback threw for 76 plays of 20 or more yards, an average of 5.8 per game.

*Saturday's game will be televised by CBS with Verne Lundquist doing the play by play, Gary Danielson the analyst and Tracy Wolfson the sideline reporter. Kickoff is set for shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT.

*Radio coverage on The Auburn Network can be heard on Sirius channel 92 and XM 199. The game will also be broadcast on stations around the country on the WestwoodOne Sports network.

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