Auburn, Ala.--Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee labeled Monday’s Auburn football practice, the fourth of preseason, as “okay” and had similar comments about the quarterbacks he coaches, noting he wants to see all-around improvement from Jeremy Johnson in the coming weeks.
“For the most part these four days our guys have really done a good job with knowing their assignments,” Lashlee said. “We haven’t had a lot of busts. They have worked pretty hard. Their are things here or there at times you have lulls in practice that are standard this time of year. I have been pretty pleased with the first four days.”
Johnson, a true sophomore, is expected to start at quarterback in the opener on August 30th. Asked to assess the former Carver of Montgomery star’s play so far this preseason, Lashlee said he is looking for more out of the quarterback who is scheduled to start in place of Nick Marshall, who won’t take that role due to a discipline issue.
“He has been pretty good,” Lashlee said of Johnson. “He has been working hard. Really with my guys it has been business as usual. They have gone out and they have gotten the reps they would have got no matter what.
Jeremy Johnson is shown in a preseason drill.
“The thing with Jeremy, when you come in as a freshman you are immature and it is all new, and then you don’t know the offense, you don’t know anything. You are really eager to learn so he did all that last year. He got to play and had success.
“Then you get to that point where you kind of have got to get over the hump and take that next big step of just really maturing if you are going to be a quarterback and leading,” Lashlee said. “I am really hoping that between now and the end of fall camp he can do that.
“He is doing well, he is doing everything I ask him to do, but it is now time to kind of take that next step in the maturation process with just everything--from leadership to knowing the offense, to execution to just way you are professional in meetings and all of those things. I think he is getting there, but that is the next step for him.”
Asked exactly what he wants to see from Johnson, Lashlee said, "I think it's kind of hard to define. It's a little bit of everything. It's just a consistency, from the way he is in our meetings, to the way he is on campus, to the way he has his consistency level on the field. You can't have a good day and a bad day as often. You can't have a good practice and then go in the tank.
"I am just looking for him to take that next step because he has the talent, he feels confident in knowing what to do and he's a great kid. Now it's just, hey, kind of take that next step to where you take charge and show that confidence where older guys are going to look at you and go, 'Alright, we've got you, we believe in you.' And I do think our guys believe in him wholeheartedly."
Commenting on Marshall, who was voted the Preseason All-SEC quarterback at SEC Media Days, Lashlee said the senior has looked “pretty good, pretty sharp.”
As part of a discipline issue the senior will not start the opening game vs. Arkansas, head coach Gus Malzahn said last week. However, he did not say that Marshall wouldn’t play vs. the Razorbacks.
“He has been really good going about his business and has been throwing the ball pretty well,” the coach said. “I have been proud of the way he has been competing and been practicing.”
Lashlee noted that so far he has been encouraged by the freshmen on offense. “That has been a really bright spot,” he said. “I know defensively we have got guys flying around. I haven’t been as detailed with them, but they look pretty good.
“Offensively, I have been pleased with how Sean White has stepped in,” he said of the quarterback. ‘His head is spinning because we’ve probably put more in during the first four or five days because we’ve got a veteran team and guys returning from the spring.
"Our older guys are good, but our younger guys are kind of having to play at a little bit faster pace. He’s got the learning curve, but he’s throwing the ball well and he’s got that calmness and poise that you like to have. I have been proud of the way he’s progressing in day four.
“At running back you’ve got Roc (Racean Thomas) and you’ve got Bubba as we call him, Kam Pettway,” Lashlee said. “Coach (Tim) Horton named him that because we’ve got two Cam’s in the room.
“Obviously, with Roc we’ve only had two days in shoulder pads, but I want to keep seeing what he can do. You can see his athletic ability and his quickness. Bubba is big and really athletic and has great hands. Those two guys have done really good.
“With Jakell (tight end/H-back Jakell Mitchell) we feel like he’s really going to be what we thought he would be,” Lashlee said. “There is some depth at that position right now, but we have been really pleased. He made some really good catches today.
“Myron (Myron Burton) and Stanton (Stanton Truit) are two good wideouts that have done really well. Stanton got to be here in the spring. I think both of them are having little nagging hamstrings right now so the last day or two they have been a little limited. We feel like they are right on target.
“Braden Smith at the offensive line, our players call him “Drago” but I call him “The Hulk”. He’s got a chance to really help us this year, I think. Just four days in it’s a little early with all those guys, but I have really been pleased with their progress so far.”
One of the team’s most experienced players, wide receiver Quan Bray, said he is trying to be a leader as a senior and spent extra time working with the other receivers and the quarterbacks during the offseason in hopes of improving the aerial attack. “We worked real hard this summer to try to build on our passing game,” the senior said.
“We are trying to build that chemistry of getting Nick (Marshall) and Jeremy (Johnson) comfortable on where we are going to be and our break points,” he said.
Bray, who is playing both the outside and inside receiver positions, said he is not alone in multi-tasking among the receiver group. “Malzahn, he tries to move everybody around and see who does best at each position and we’ll go from there,” Bray said.
Quan Bray and the Tigers worked out in shorts at Monday’s practice, the fourth of the preseason.
With wide receivers coach Dameyune Craig having limited mobility with a protective boot on his foot and ankle, Gus Malzahn has been helping coach the receivers. “He is always going to be in every aspect of the offense from the wideouts, to the offensive line, to the quarterbacks to the running backs so he is going to try to make sure the offense is down to a ‘T,’” the senior added.
Bray, who is practicing as a punt and kickoff returner, said he is hoping he gets a chance to make big plays like 2013 senior Chris Davis did last season as punt and field goal returner. “Hopefully, that will be an aspect that will come along, too, to carry on from Chris Davis being a great returner last year,” Bray said.
Defensively, the Tigers are counting on tackle Ben Bradley to be a key performer in his second season with the team. Asked how preseason drills are going, the senior said, “Camp has been a grind. We have started way ahead of where we were last year. I think it's going smoother than last year because we've got so many guys now, but it's been good so far.”
A juco transfer last year, Bradley said practice is different in his second year at Auburn. “It's a lot different now. When you look at the games last year and break them down, you can see what you did wrong. You know that you’re better than you were last year so you know how you can fix it easier. It's been better.”
Bradley said he is expecting more from himself this season. “I did good to a certain extent (in 2013), but I'm looking for this year to be my breakout year. Like, I did good last year, but it still wasn't good enough for me.”
The defensive lineman and his teammates will return to practice on Tuesday for their first full pads practice since spring training.