Tigers Pass On Scrimmage, Focus On Teaching

The Tigers opted not to scrimmage as Gus Malzahn put the Tigers through a lengthy Saturday practice.

Auburn, Ala.--Normally the Saturday a week out from Auburn's annual spring football game is time for a scrimmage, but Gus Malzahn opted for a regular practice instead that featured a lot of "clean up," according to the head coach.

The Tigers worked out in full pads for more than 2 1/2 hours at Jordan-Hare Stadium with most of the session focused on individual and position drills.

No tackling was allowed in the practice, including the seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills late in the session that included a watch on penalties by game officials, which have been a regular part of practices this spring.

Justin Garrett said it was "a teaching" practice with players taking a lot of "mental reps" on Saturday. "It was not going so fast so you could actually slow it down and understand why you drop here, why you are blocking this person and stuff like that.

"It was a process for people who didn't fully understand what they are doing," added Garrett, who was the defensive MVP of last year's A-Day Game at the "star" rover spot, the position he has focused on this spring after moving to weakside linebacker during his injury-plagued fall last season.

Asked what the Tigers got out of Saturday's practice, the team's leading receiver from last year, Sammie Coates, said, "It was all mental. You have to stay locked in. It was a hot day...you have to have a mindset if you get tired you have to keep doing what you have been doing. Everybody was tired because it was a hard, long practice, but we finished it and kept playing hard."

Backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson took the reps with the ones in the team drills while the returning starter, Nick Marshall, threw on the side. Gus Malzahn said that Marshall is"fine" and noted the senior has made progress this spring and is ahead of where he was in January when the Tigers played FSU even though the coach said that the QB improved a good bit in the month of workouts leading up to the BCS title game.

"I felt like he really improved, which was the first time he was able to slow down and Coach (Rhett) Lashlee worked with him," the head coach said of the work in December 2013 and January 2014. "There is no doubt he has improved from that time and he has gotten better, more comfortable.

"It's like anything else--the more you do something the more comfortable you will get," Malzahn said. "I think the key thing with him is he is very coachable and he listens to instructions. He tries to do exactly like Coach Lashlee asks him to do and so those things combined, he's definitely improved."

Jeremy Johnson makes a handoff to Cameron Artis-Payne in Saturday's practice.

Lashlee, the offensive coordinator, noted that Marshall is picking up the offense close to the level that Ryan Aplin played at as a veteran starter under Malzahn and Lashlee at Arkansas State in 2012.

"There were times last year that he just had to concentrate on himself and make sure he had himself," Malzahn said of Marshall. The coach added that the quarterback should have a better handle on "the big picture" as a senior.

"It just comes with experience and I think he will be able to do that," Malzahn said.

Commenting on Saturday's practice at the stadium, Malzahn said, "We came over here and the first part of practice was a lot of clean-up. We even went back just to some basic fundamentals as far as our alignment, assignment stuff the first half of practice.

"The second half of practice we got after it pretty good,"?he noted. "We had a lot of 11-on-11, had a little half-line, a little inside.

"The emphasis again today was third down and seven-plus (yards to go for a first down), rushing the passer, protecting, throwing the football, knowing where the chains are--things like that," Malzahn said. "We did a little bit of red zone in team and a little red zone in seven-on-seven as far as being specific. We also mixed in special teams in the middle and at the very end.

Malzahn said that going into the spring game redshirt freshmen Daniel Carlson (kicker) and Jimmy Hutchinson (punter) are the first options for those assignments with the Tigers having to replace Cody Parkey and Steven Clark.

"We put the kickers in some situations as game-like as possible with the pressure on," Malzahn said. "I think they have responded fairly well with that. We also tried to do the same thing with our punter and our deep snapper. Punt returners, we focused on that in the middle part of practice."

One of the possibilities to take over the punt return duties from 2013 senior Chris Davis is juco transfer wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams. Robenson Therezie, the returning starter at "star," is another one of a large group of players who have been getting a look at returning punts.

Coates, the team's leading receiver from last season, pointed out that he has been impressed with Williams. "He has come in and is doing a great job," Coates aid. "He's making big plays. He's helping a lot of us out. He has come in and is being a leader and making plays. He's helping the team a whole lot."

Coates led the Tigers last year with 902 receiving yards, the seventh highest single-season total in Auburn history.

Commenting on the offense, the junior said, "We're doing pretty good right now. We have still got things that we've got to get better at. We have got a lot of work to do, but we are playing hard and we are playing physical. We just have to keep getting better every day."

Lashlee noted the wide receivers, as a group, are improved compared to last year. Coates said he agrees.

"Our wide receiver room is stepping up a whole lot," Coates pointed out. "We have still got little things to work on like running our routes right, but we are out there getting physical and making plays.

"We have got to keep getting better as the spring goes on,"?he added. "This last week coming up we have got to continue to make plays and get better. We're trying to be the best wide receivers in the country."

The Tigers will start their final week of spring drills with a practice on Tuesday followed by a Thursday workout prior to Saturday's A-Day Game that is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. CDT. The 2013 SEC Championship team will be honored in a pre-game ceremony beginning 15 minutes before kickoff.

Malzahn noted that the format for A-Day 2014 will mirror what the Tigers did last year. "It's going to be exactly like it was last spring game and we're going to put the ball down and we're going to get after it and we're going to do what we do," the coach said.

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