“It will really be good for us with the young guys,” the coach said. “We have got a lot of good information about the older guys, but at the same time when you put shoulder pads on, and all of that, usually your evaluation is a little easier.”
The Tigers, who finished 12-2 last season while winning the SEC championship, are preparing for their August 30th opener vs. Arkansas.
“I thought it was a very solid practice,” Malzahn said of Saturday’s workout in shorts and helmets, just like on Friday.
“One thing I was pleased with was our tempo and our effort,” he said. “I really felt like we improved from yesterday--not that yesterday was what I would consider a bad day. I just thought it was an average day as far as that. Today, I really felt good about the guys flying around.”
Early in the practice the offense focused on tempo with Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee calling for their players to go “crazy fast.”
Gus Malzahn watches the Tigers during Saturday’s practice. No. 85 is walk-on tight end Wirth Campbell.
“I am very excited about those guys,” Malzahn said. “I was here when they got here to Auburn and watched them grow up through the process. They both have great families. It is a big day for them.”
Slade said he is excited about the degree and is looking forward to graduate school classes in adult education and trying to attract the attention of pro scouts.
Whitehead said that playing professionally is a big goal. “Making plays and being in the right position is what they're looking for, a guy that is accountable and durable, and I think I’ve proven both of those things,” Whitehead said. “I want to do that for myself and put myself on some of these watch lists.”
Slade, who has won praise for his work in practice from offensive line coach J.B. Grimes, said that freshman Braden Smith has been impressive so far in workouts. The newcomer from Olathe South High in Kansas is a six-foot-six, 299-pound physical specimen who may be the strongest player on the 2014 team. “He doesn’t look like a freshman to me,” Slade said with a laugh. "When he gets his chance he is going to take advantage of it."
Malzahn agrees with Slade that Smith is not an average freshman. “He is super strong, there is no doubt about that, but he is athletic,” the coach said. “He moves well. He has light feet for such a big guy. I know J.B. (Grimes) was really excited about him...really the last two days.
“It is kind of one of those deals when we get shoulder pads on him we will see what he can do,” Malzahn added. “He is a guy, too, in the next two weeks we will give him a shot to see if he can get in the mix. That is hard to do in our league as a freshman just showing up. He does have the physical ability to do it.”
Braden Smith was ranked a five-star prospect by as the No. 1 guard prospect in the country last season.
The first two days Smith practiced at left tackle, but can also play guard, Malzahn pointed out. “Right now it is more of just trying to get the fundamentals of a base play,” the coach said. “He is big enough to play inside and athletic enough to play inside, too.”
A late commitment to the Tigers, Auburn began the full-court recruiting press on the five-star recruit from Kansas midway through the 2013 season when it looked like left tackle Greg Robinson was playing well enough to become a first round NFL?Draft pick, which happened when he went No. 2 overall to the St. Louis Rams.
“When he came on his official visit, he was one of those guys who really fit in well so he will make a real good Auburn lineman,” Malzahn said.
Kris Frost said the Tigers are off to a good start to their preseason. “Everybody is on track as far as their responsibilities and knowing what all we’re supposed to do makes us feel like we have more control over practice and control of the defense,” the junior said.
Frost has moved from middle linebacker to the weakside spot this season while Cassanova McKinzy has moved from the weakside position to the middle.
“We’ve always had a great relationship since we first started playing with each other,” Frost said. “Now it’s really being able to play with other guys as well and having guys into the mix like Javiie Mitchell, Anthony Swain and Kenny Flowers. We have different guys coming in and out and being able to not miss a beat and not miss calls and making sure we’re on track with everything.”
Last season the Tigers were learning a new defensive system under the direction of Ellis Johnson, who coaches the linebackers in addition to coordinating the defense. Frost said Tigers made progress during the fall and head into year two ahead of where they were last year.
“It’s relieving because basically how we all felt at the end of the season, the Georgia game and Alabama game then the SEC Championship and national championship, how we felt like we could just play loose and play fast,” Frost said. “It feels even better now. We all feel like vets. We have all been there before and we’re just making strides really.”
Frost said that the freshman linebackers, Tre Williams and DeShaun Davis, are off to a good start. “I saw a lot of good things. They were really attentive and you can tell how much they really care and how much they want to succeed. I feel like we’re doing a great job and if they need anything to be polished up we are helping them out and letting them know things--just giving them different tips we had to get from older guys when we first came in.”
Frost noted that it is good to see Josh Holsey back at full speed on defense. The junior can play cornerback, safety and the nickel back role. “It’s really, really important that he comes back and just meshes together with everything even with him going to corner,” Frost said. “He’s a smart player so it doesn’t take him long to adjust to different things and different situations, even being at a different position. We welcomed him with open arms and it’s exciting to be able to play with him again.”
The Tigers will practice once on Sunday, once on Monday with morning and evening sessions planned for Tuesday.