Coach Likes AU's Early Football Practices

The Auburn football team worked in shorts for their second practice of spring training.

Auburn, Ala.--Two days into football spring practice Auburn's offensive coordinator, Rhett Lashlee, said he likes what he is seeing so far from the defending SEC champions.

Following a two-hour workout in helmets and shorts on a sunny Thursday, Lashlee said when the Tigers return to practice on Saturday they will work on being physical, which was a major theme of spring training 2013.

"We put the pads on the next practice and I think Coach (Gus Malzahn) is still wanting to have a real tough, physical spring,"?Lashlee noted. "That is what we have got to do to win. We have got to be very tough. That is not going to change.

"The good thing is I think our guys know what the expectations are so, hopefully, they will embrace that, kind of like they have the first few days. With the tempo and the way we want to practice, I feel like they have flown around pretty good. So yeah, we've got to be tough."

Another major point of emphasis in spring drills will be improving the passing game, which starts with making sure that quarterback Nick Marshall improves his accuracy. Last year he connected on 59.4 percent of his passes and the team average was 60.7 percent.

Lashlee, who doubles as the QB coach, is setting a high goal for completion percentage "I think between 65 and 70 would be great," he said. "To me, if we are getting close to 65 percent that is going to show improvement so that is, I think, the first step.

"I think we've got the ability, hopefully, to push the ball down the field a little more. Those are lower percentage completions no matter what league you're in. We have got to be efficient, and we have got to try to get really good at what we are doing, but I would hope to be a little closer to 65."

Nick Marshall started 13 of Auburn's 14 games last season.

Marshall's teammates have noted that the senior has leadership qualities and Lashlee agrees. "He has always been a leader by example and with his presence, our guys want to follow him. I mean, that was evident, last fall camp when he didn't know what he was doing, but they were drawn to him.

"I think as the year went on, you're just worried about yourself, doing your job," Lashlee said. "I think now he can take the next step, and ‘hey, now I can worry about leading other people.' The first two days he has been more vocal than he was last year, in a positive way. When things are good, when things are bad, whether he needs to encourage other people, whether he needs to get on them and motivate them, I think he's already starting to show signs of that.

"I would hope that would continue to improve because now," Lashlee added. "He should have confidence in what he is doing. He is not just worried about himself, he is worried about the whole unit."

Marshall threw for 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns as a junior and rushed for 1,068 yards and 12 scores for the 12-2 Tigers.

Marshall is going through spring practice for the first time as an Auburn player.

"The one thing I have pleased with the first two days, I feel like Nick has had a real calmness about him and a confidence, not from his ability, from just knowing the plays and the reads and where to go with the ball," Lashlee said. "I think that has been huge because now we can really work on our footwork, our accuracy, work on the finer details of our position."

Lashlee said the first two of the 15 spring practices have been solid ones."It's been good to get on the field. It happened quick. I guess when you play that late it seems like you're on the field a lot quicker, but that is been a good thing. The best part of the first two days, our guys, you could tell they have had a lot of energy. They have been excited to practice. What I have been proud of offensively has been good energy, good intensity and obviously there is great carryover, which has been good. It's been refreshing for us as coaches.

"For the most part, we can coach the finer details and more the execution than teaching the scheme as much, which has been really good," the coach noted.

Lashlee said the four mid-term transfers on the team are off to good starts. The group includes receivers D'haquille Williams and Stanton Truitt, tight end Chris Laye and center Xavier Dampeer.

"I think all four are doing a great job," the offensive coordinator said. "When you look at D'haquille and you look at Stanton at the receiver position, and you've got Chris Laye at the tight end/H-back and you've got a center in Xavier Dampeer, those aren't just easy positions to walk in and play, and they've done a really nice job.

"I think the older guys have helped them, but they're picking it up pretty quick. There is every now and then a bust here and there, but that's to be expected, but for the most part they are picking it up and they are doing some good things, all of them. I think naturally the more comfortable they get, the even better they will play, but we've been pleased.:

Coach Rhett Lashlee is in his second season as AU's offensive coordinator.

Commenting on Williams, a juco All-American at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Lashlee said, "You can tell why we needed him and why we wanted him. He has got God-given abilities that are really good, and I think he'll really add value to our wide receiving corps.

"Right now he is just getting acclimated to how we practice. It's a little different probably than he's ever experienced before, and he's done a great job. The best thing is he's had a great attitude. He has worked hard, he has bought in, he has blended in with his teammates great. And the cool thing for me is we have got a lot of talented wideouts now, I think, and those guys are pulling for each other and they're competing but to push each other, not against each other, so that is pretty good."

Commenting on Truitt, who played quarterback in high school, the coach said, "Stanton is fast. Right now we're just putting him in one spot (slot receiver) and trying to get him acclimated to everything, but he can really run and that's what we liked about him. He's similar in size to Marcus Davis so that slot position fits him well, but when you look at a lot of things we do with reverses and jet sweeps I would think down the road those are things he might be a candidate for.

"I don't know if Coach (Scott) Fountain has any plans in the return game, but the kid can run. He's a great kid and a smart kid and he's picking things up well. We'll just see how his role expands, but we're excited about his potential."

Lashlee said the Tigers are deeper at wide receiver this year. "I feel like this time last spring we had like six receivers or something. It was crazy. We're two-deep at every position. Some we're three, which is a really, really good luxury to have because we can really get practice reps. We can really push them, and not only that, they compete. They push each other so we have got to have some other guys step up. I think they will. We have got some younger guys. You look at Tony Stevens, Marcus Davis, even Ricardo Louis that played last year, you expect them to make great strides. You expect guys like a Sammie Coates or Quan Bray and those guys to continue to improve."

In other news and notes:

*Avery Young continues to work exclusively at right tackle while Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman are splitting reps at left tackle where the Tigers must replace Greg Robinson, who left early for the NFL Drat.

Shon Coleman will be a redshirt sophomore this fall.

"Anytime you lose a player the caliber of Greg you expect some sort of drop, but I really don't think it will be a huge, noticeable difference," Lashlee said. "One thing is you have four returning guys. You would hope all four of them are better so that makes your line better. Then you look at Shon Coleman, Pat Miller, some of the guys that are candidates for that spot, we feel like all those guys have the potential to play at the next level, too.

"Then you couple with them with J.B. Grimes. I have a lot of confidence they are going to fit in. Those guys got a lot of reps. Both Pat and Shon played last year so it's not like they are true freshmen trying to break in."

*Wide receiver Dominic Walker and offensive lineman Deon Mix redshirted last season. Mix, who arrived overweight, is making a conversion from tackle to guard.

"I've been really pleased with Dominic the first two days you can tell things are slowing down for him and so this will be a big spring for him, much like Peyton Barber," Lashlee said. "Now that things are slowing down and he can get lined up, how does he do? Can he make plays, can he execute?

"Deon has changed his body," the coach said. "The kid is an unbelievable kid. I love that kid. He loves Auburn, he wants to be here. He embraces coaching. He's a guy that (can play) not only at guard, but maybe center. He's a guy that has the intelligence level and the character to play both those spots so it'll be a big spring for him. I'll be excited to get the pads on with those guys more so than what we are right now."

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