Playing Faster A Theme for Malzahn's Tigers

Gus Malzahn talks about his offense, defense, position changes and other topics as the Tigers open spring football practice this week.

Auburn, Ala.--Gus Malzahn announced a pair of position changes on Monday, a day before his team takes the field for the first of 15 spring practices, and said he wants to put a team on the field this year that can play faster than the 2013 SEC champs did.

Auburn's head coach said that senior Trovon Reed is making the move from wide receiver to cornerback while Jonathan Ford will line up at safety. Last season as a freshman Ford played both running back and cornerback.

Trovon Reed is shown in action in the national championship game in January.

Lack of depth in the secondary was an issue for the 2013 Tigers.

Commenting on the decision to move Ford to safety, Malzahn said, "First of all we felt like he's capable of being a very good player for us, and just felt like there was more of a need at that position right now. He's got a great attitude and really looking forward to seeing how he does."

While there was major discussion across the country during the offseason over a since tabled proposal to slow the pace of hurry-up, no huddle offenses like the one Auburn uses, Malzahn said that he wants his team to play at a higher tempo.

"We think we can be quite a bit faster," he said. "There were times last years, like I said, we had a lot of new people out there, a lot of moving parts, and as you get more comfortable the faster you can get. And, when you think about pace, now defensively there are so many pace offenses we have to get better on the defensive side too with our communication, our alignment and everything that goes with that."

Malzahn noted he and his staff have specific major goals for spring training. "The first one is to improve our base offense and defense and really just the fundamentals," he said. "We are going to focus on what we want to be good at and really our foundation of offense and defense as far as that goes.

"The second goal really is to keep our edge," he said. "This time last year we were talking about getting our edge back. We felt like we did that, that mental and physical and mental toughness that Auburn's known for. We have got to keep that going. We're going to have a very physical spring just like we did last spring.

"The third goal is to play faster offensively and defensively, really with an emphasis on communication," Malzahn said. "I think that is big with the pace offenses and defending the pace offenses. You have got to be able to communicate on both sides so that will definitely be an emphasis for us.

"The last goal is to develop quality depth at each position," he added. "Last year we had a lot of unknowns. We know a little bit more about our team right now obviously than we did this time last year so we're really focused on the depth."

Auburn heads into spring football practice with an experienced team on both sides of the line of scrimmage as the Tigers look to defend their SEC title in Malzahn's second season as head coach. The Tigers must replace SEC Offensive Player of the Year Tre Mason, potential first round NFL draft pick Greg Robinson at left tackle and powerful fullback Jay Prosch. However, a lot of experienced players are back on offense.

The Tigers return five offensive linemen who have at least a full season's worth of starting experience led by All-SEC senior center Reese Dismukes, who is expected to be a fourth-year starter this fall.

Also returning is dynamic quarterback Nick Marshall, who rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns and passed for 1,976 yards and 14 scores. Including Malzahn's time as a college offensive coordinator, Marshall is in line to be the first quarterback the coach has had in his system as a starter for more than one season.

Nick Marshall is shown in action vs. Tennessee.

Commenting on Marshall, the head coach said, "You can tell his leadership. He is more comfortable being around his teammates. He is a leader by example. He doesn't say much but when he does, people listen. <> "I think he's really looking forward to the spring and just being more comfortable," Malzahn pointed out. "This is the first time we've actually had a quarterback that will go through spring practice that started the year before. Coach (Rhett) Lashlee is excited about that, and that will be a good thing moving forward."

Asked about specific goals for Marshall this spring, Malzahn said, "I think just taking more command of the offense and the base fundamentals and the base offense of who we are, just get more comfortable and get better executing. That way you leave spring and you get to the fancy stuff later and you still have that foundation to fall back on. Nick's a very talented player, not just running, he can really throw it. I know I said that a lot during the fall, but now that he's got a spring he will be more comfortable, more reactive and we feel very good about him throwing the football."

The Tigers have plenty of options at running back with seniors Corey Grant (647 yards, 9.8 yards per carry) and Cameron Artis-Payne (610 yards, 6.7 yards per carry) returning along with 2013 signee, redshirt freshman Peyton Barber. In the fall Alabama's Mr. Football, "Roc" Thomas, will join the mix along with Kamryn Pettway.

It won't be surprising to see Auburn throw the ball more this year with juniors Sammie Coates (42 catches, 902 yards) and Ricardo Louis (28 catches, 325 yards) leading a deep receiver group that includes D'haquille Williams, a mid-term transfer juco All-American.

Defensively, the Tigers must replace athletic Dee Ford at end, dependable Nosa Eguae at tackle along with big-play cornerback Chris Davis and safety Ryan Smith, but coordinator Ellis Johnson should have a deeper, more talented group to work with this year.

Former starter Jeff Whitaker returns at tackle after redshirting due to an injury to join a group featuring three talented 2013 freshmen–tackle Montravius Adams along with ends Elijah Daniel and Carl Lawson. Senior Gabe Wright could be one of the top defensive tackles in the SEC this fall.

Linebackers Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy head into their junior seasons with plenty of game experience and the depth at linebacker and in the secondary should be better. McKinzy led the 2013 team in tackles.

Kris Frost had a breakout season in 2013.

Josh Holsey, a talented performer who was injured during the season, should be back in the starting lineup at either free safety or cornerback. Robenson Therezie, a starter the "star" rover spot last fall and cornerback Jonathon Mincy, are expected to be key defenders.

The kicking game will need to be rebuilt. A pair of redshirt freshmen, kicker Daniel Carlson and punter Jimmy Hutchinson, are the favorites to take over from three-year starters Cody Parkey and Steven Clark.

The Tigers will play their annual A-Day spring game on Saturday, April 19th.

News and Notes: Malzahn said that Avery Young, the returning starter at right offensive tackle, will be at that position to open spring rather than move to the left side to replace Robinson...Signee Kalvaraz Bessent, a four-star cornerback from Camden County High in Georgia, will join the team this summer on a "probationary" basis, the head coach noted despite legal issues from an arrest earlier this winter...Asked how his mid-term early enrollees are doing, Malzahn said, "You can tell that they're starting to develop relationships with their teammates, which is always good, and they're feeling more comfortable." The group includes juco transfers Xavier Dampeer (center), D'haquille Williams (receiver) and Derrick Moncrief (safety) along with high school grads Chris Laye (tight end) and Stanton Truitt (receiver).

Malzahn noted he is happy to have former Tiger standout linebacker Travis Williams back on the staff as a quality control assistant. "Travis is a former Auburn player that loves Auburn,"?Malzahn said. "I was fortunate enough, when I was a coordinator here, he was our GA. He really is a sharp guy, so we're excited to have him. Doug is a guy that's one of the top high school coaches in the state of Alabama. He's got a great feel for the Alabama high school coaches. He's got great respect, and he's a good person, as well as Travis. We're happy that we got both those guys."

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