Auburn, Ala.--As was the case with Auburn’s first scrimmage of preseason practice, the focus was on newcomers and players down the depth chart along with special teams play as the Tigers worked out for less than two hours on Wednesday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
“It was a good evaluation out there,” said Coach Gus Malzahn, who noted the session featured around 50 plays not counting special teams work, which was a major point of emphasis with the field goal kickers and punters getting “live reps” to help evaluate who will fill those roles.
“We also had an emphasis on third down and long--pass rush, pass protection, those type scenarios,” said Malzahn.
“It was really good work,” the coach said. “We gathered a lot of valuable information that after we watch the film we will be able to evaluate off of that I think will really go a long way on our special teams.
“We gave our punters some good opportunity, our kickers some good opportunity--holders, snappers, returners, everything that goes with that.”
Daniel Carlson, a redshirt freshman, looks like he will handle the field goals, extra points and kickoffs with backup quarterback Jonathan Wallace the holder. Carlson, who the Tigers signed out of Colorado Springs, Colo., is also getting a serious look to be the No. 1 punter.
Jimmy Hutchinson, a redshirt freshman who was the No. 1 punter in the spring, is trying to hold onto that spot with further competition from walk-ons Tyler Stovall and Australian Matthew Shiel. Malzahn has not given any indication about who he expects to emerge as the No. 1 punter or who will be the No. 1 returners.
“They all got reps out there...it is always different when you get live bodies coming after you,” the coach said. “Some people react in a good way, some react in a not so good way. Just feeling that real pressure, having people around, is it close to being blocked and everything that goes with it so that is what this day was for--primarily special teams.”
Malzahn said the staff will also evaluate who did a good job of blocking and covering on the return teams, something he wants to get squared away as soon as possible before focusing on the game plan for the opener.
Malzahn said he and special teams coach Scott Fountain have talked about making sure they don’t give Carlson too much work to make sure he doesn’t wear out before the start of the season. “You worry about a young, guy, especially with his leg,” Malzahn said. “Cody Parkey, when he was a freshman, pulled something.
“Coach Fountain has done a really good managing him (Carlson) and I think he has done a solid job managing his own body, but he has been kicking a lot because he is trying to win the jobs,” Malzahn said.
Asked if he thinks he is in the mix to be the starter as both the kicker and punter, Carlson said, “I think so. I think there will be a good chance. We should know more in the next few days. I think the coaches are trying to make a decision and let us know so we can mentally know what we need to be ready for going forward.
“I have just got to keep working at it--watch my reps, take care of my legs and stay healthy,” Carlson said. “Obviously, I don’t want to take anything away from field goal, and the coaches are big on that. I think I have done a good job of that and being smart with my leg while getting as much work as I can.
“I am just trying to be the best at everything, basically,” he added. “Hopefully, I'll be able to get a shot and show it.
Senior receiver Quan Bray and freshman safety Stephen Roberts worked catching punts in the scrimmage along with senior “star” Robenson Therezie and junior receiver Ricardo Louis. Chris Davis, who handled that assignment last year, is with the San Diego Chargers.
“Up to this point there has not been any live,” Malzahn said of punt returns. “There have been guys around them and thud, but today was live and showing what they can do.
“Just from a naked eye, not watching film, I thought it’s going to be good for us to see that,” he said. “I think some people will separate themselves, which they need to. It’s about time we start figuring out who our first guys are going to be out there in the first game, and then who our first punter is and who our first snapper is, returner and everything that goes with it.”
Malzahn noted that the full speed reps in preseason with quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson have been “thud rep” drills, which he said are full speed except no tackling to allowed. “We have been going a whole of ones-on-ones in practice--a lot of it has been thud. That is the closest thing to real football. We know what we have with them.”
News and Notes:
*With no scholarship true fullbacks on the roster the Tigers were counting on walk-on Gage Batten to provide depth in that role behind Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah, who line up like fullbacks at times in their role as H-backs. Batten, who saw prime time duty last season as a backup to Jay Prosch, is likely out for the entire season with a serious knee injury.
Freshman tight ends/H-backs Chris Laye and Jakell Mitchell are in the mix along with a trio of walk-ons--Kyle Sitzler, Hunter Wood and Patrick Young. Young is a 6-2, 230 junior from Trussville, Wood is a 6-3, 245 freshman from Spanish Fort and Sitzler is a 6-1, 235 freshman from Vestavia Hills.
“We gave all of those guys reps today,” said Malzahn, who had praise for Batten. “We are hoping he gets back. Gage is a tough guy. He is a team player. He is a hard-working guy. He brings a lot of edge to our team.”
*The players are scheduled to have a light workout on Tuesday night and will have Wednesday off from practice before having single workouts on Thursday and Friday. “We will start honing in pretty quick,” Malzahn said. “We will start thinking about Arkansas, but we are still wrapping up a few things that have to do with us. I really need to go back and watch the film.”
*Junior Xavier Dampeer got all the work with the ones at center in the scrimmage because the coaches already know what to expect from preseason All-SEC senior Reese Dismukes. Dampeer, a juco transfer who arrived at Auburn in January, noted that Dismukes has been a big help in teaching him assignments. Dampeer worked with the first team in the A-Day Game while Dismukes was held out to give his backup quality work.
*Freshman running backs Racean Thomas and Kamryn Pettway scored touchdowns in the scrimmage. Thomas was Alabama's Mr. Football last season at Oxford High. Pettway, a 250-pounder, rushed for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Prattville High as a junior and senior.