Saturday's session at the football complex was the third of 15 practices, one that received a thumbs up from head coach Gus Malzahn.
"I like where we are at as a whole group--their approach to practice, the way they respond to coaches, the effort and the focus," Malzahn said. "We still need to improve. We are never going to be satisfied, but that has probably been the thing I have been most pleased with. Our guys are understanding how to practice."
The Tigers did a limited amount of 11-on-11 scrimmage type of work on Saturday, but it did not take long for former juco All-American wide receiver D'haquille Williams to serve notice he will be competing for a starting job.
"I tell you what, he is off to a good start as far as his ability to learn and effort and everything that Coach (Dameyune) Craig and Coach (Rhett) Lashlee are asking him to do. He has made some very good one-on-one plays, too."
One of the team's most experienced players on offense, tight end/H-back C.J. Uzomah, noted that Williams certainly got his attention. "He's a freak," the senior said. "He is a monster. When the ball is in the air, honestly, I am not sure if I have seen anyone have as much ball presence and body feel attacking the ball--even his first day in pads.
"We kind of saw it without pads, but that is without pads," Uzomah said. "We come out here with pads on and he is getting after it. He is making unbelievable catches down the field and making plays with his feet on screens and such. I am really excited to see what he can do for us."
Uzomah said it was an interesting day for the tight ends and H-backs who are being asked to block some large defensive linemen.
"We are blocking against Montravius Adams and Gabe Wright right now," Uzomah said of the tight ends group. Wright, a senior tackle, and sophomore tackle Adams are getting a look at end as defensive line coach Rodney Garner experiments with the front four.
"That is something completely different than blocking against a guy like Dee (Ford), who is extremely quick and fast," Uzomah pointed out. "Blocking against someone like Gabe and Montravius, they are hosses but it is good for us so we are embracing it for sure."
Malzahn put the Tigers through a practice that ran for more than two hours on Saturday. "I thought our guys were excited to be out there and looking forward to the physical part of it," he said. "It was a very physical practice, and it was good for our coaches to evaluate our guys and where they are at. Guys have improved, especially the young guys. The older guys making sure they improve."
"You can tell they are more comfortable, and they should be," the coach said. "We are farther ahead obviously than we were at this time last year. It was a solid week, I think, for our quarterbacks."
"Having been in the offense, I know the progression," said Marshall, who started 13 games last season. "I don't have to do much thinking; I just play ball."
"I'm very comfortable with the offense now," Marshall added. "I know everything about the offense now. I'm just playing ball right now. I'm executing plays well."
Marshall said he is excited about the wide receivers he is throwing to this year and noted that newcomer Williams is looking good. "He's very impressive," the quarterback said. "He is a guy who will make a play for you when the ball is in the air. We have got great receivers this year. It's going to be sick watching them."
The Tigers will return to the practice on Tuesday. Their annual A-Day spring game is set for 2 p.m. on April 19th at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
In other news and notes:
*Backup linebacker Anthony Swain has not been practicing with the team due to an undisclosed off-the-field issue. "He is not going through spring right now, and I will be able to be a little more specific probably the next couple of weeks," Malzahn said.
*Linebacker Kris Frost, a backup at middle linebacker last season, is playing both spots this year and got a lot of work at the weakside spot in week one of spring drills. Cassanova McKinzy, the returning starter at the weakside spot, has worked exclusively at middle linebacker in the first three practices. McKinzy played middle linebacker as a freshman.
*Redshirt freshman linebacker Cameron Toney, who played middle linebacker in high school, is getting a look at the weakside spot.
*Senior defensive end LaDarius Owens, who suffered an offseason cracked bone in his foot, is not expected to practice this fall, Malzahn said.
*Redshirt freshman Deon Mix weighs right at 300 pounds, 50 less than he reported at last summer. "Coach (Ryan) Russell has done a great job with him, with his body, and he has done a great job with his body," Malzahn said. "He is going to get a chance to play some guard, play some center. He is a smart guy, and he cares. It is important to him."
*Another redshirt freshman, Peyton Barber, had a good day running the football on Saturday. "Peyton is a guy that we are really going to give a good look to this spring," Malzahn said. "He is a very good runner when you give him the ball.
"The thing that Coach (Tim) Horton is working with him on is the protections and playing without the ball, and the routes and the checkdowns, and all that, but he's very strong when he has the ball in his hands."
More notes and message board discussion: