Players Say Defense, Offense Making Progress

The Auburn football Tigers have moved into the second half of preseason practice and have two weeks left to prepare for their opener vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Gabe Wright (90) is one of Auburn's key players on defense.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn football team began its third week of preseason drills with a full pads practice on Friday evening.

A pair of the team’s veteran players, defensive lineman Gabe Wright and tight end/H-back C.J. Uzomah, said they are seeing progress on both sides of the line of scrimmage with the Tigers passing the halfway point of preseason at Friday’s session.

Commenting on how the offense has changed since the start of preseason drills, Uzomah said, “We haven’t perfected the little things, but we have taken that step in perfecting the little things.

“We came into this fall camp and we kind of knew the offense--obviously,” he said. “We knew what we expected of ourselves, but we were a little rusty. We came in and the coaches strained us hard, and we needed it. I think the little things are what we have been fine-tuning and we have done a great job of doing that.”

Wright declared that the defense is making progress, too. “Practicing in the heat you have a tendency to lose focus,” he said. “I would say the team is really doing well in that area.”

Wright, who has been splitting his practice time between end and tackle, said he expects that he will play both positions in games this season. He noted in recent weeks his practice time at tackle has increased.

Asked how the defense has improved since the start of preseason drills and what it needs to work on, he said, “I would say we are still sticking to the basics. Of course, we are going to put in new blitzes and new situational packages, but for the most part I have just been really proud on how the team, especially defensively, has been progressing.

“I mean, obviously, we want to stick to the basics, get fits and the run game is really important to us,” the senior said. “We don’t have a tune-up game, per se, we are jumping right into the SEC (vs. Arkansas) and our focus going into our first game is run-fits that we can really perfect.”

The Tigers will practice again on Saturday and end the camp portion of their preseason schedule on Sunday before taking Monday off as fall semester classes begin.

Wright said that when the Tigers spend more time preparing for the August 30th home opener vs. Arkansas, that will energize the players. “Getting into next week, when school starts and we get into the regularly scheduled program, you know that is definitely going to put guys more into it. I can tell you, about Tuesday or Wednesday of game week when those RVs start rolling in, things get really anxious.

“We really talk about one practice at a time for a reason because that is really how we take it,” Wright added. “I really like the concept of before practice we have a team meeting and Coach (Gus) Malzahn kind of gets everybody composed and gives us the schedule. Then we go from there. I am pretty sure we're going to get more into game preparations as we go. We will progress in that area, but I know the nerves are starting to crank up.”

C.J. Uzomah

Uzomah, who can line up at wide receiver and fullback in addition to tight end, said the offense is getting close to being ready for a game.

“We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were last year, especially as an offense, just because we’ve been in the system for a year-plus now, and we have that kind of connection as receivers, and the O-line knows what we’re doing with Coach (J.B.) Grimes. The quarterbacks and the running backs have their mesh points, yeah, it’s going really well and we’re pleasantly pleased where we are right now.”

This year the Tigers are loaded with experienced players on offense. Dameyune Craig said the Tigers were forced to play young guys last season at the positions he coaches due to a lack of depth, but noted the Tigers are making progress in that area.

The wide receivers coach said one of the toughest things for young players to do while making the transition to SEC football is learning how to be physical enough to compete at a high level.

“Once you get them two or three years in the system, and if you can keep them around that long and develop them and you have guys ahead of those guys to bring them along, you are going to be fine,” Craig said.

“I think last year a bunch of those guys were forced into playing without any experience and it showed,” the coach said. “Hopefully, we can create depth at that position and keep guys stacked.”

One of the receivers who exceeded expectations last season as a newcomer was Marcus Davis, who Uzomah and Craig have both noted is a guy who is developing into a team leader on the field.

“Marcus makes plays,” Craig said. “Marcus is a guy nobody talks about, but this kid is very productive. He came in as a true freshman and made some big plays in big games. That is uncommon.

“He is one of those rare freshmen who came in with the right mindset and maturity,” Craig noted. “Marcus would go out after practice every day and catch (passes) on the JUGS machine and then some of his teammates started joining him.

Marcus Davis makes a key catch in the game-winning drive vs. Texas A&M.

“Marcus is one of the hardest workers,” the coach added, noting that Davis is learning the assignments as an outside receiver this year.

“He is very detailed about what he does and he is very intelligent. He has learned to play slot receiver after coming in from high school where he played quarterback so the position was new to him. He has been a joy to coach.”

The Tigers added help at the slot receiver spot by bringing in Stanton Truitt as a early high school graduate in January.

“Stanton is very fast and strong and Stanton’s hands are good,” Craig pointed out. “He was a former high school quarterback, like Marcus, so he is learning to play the position like Marcus.”

The coach said that Davis has been helping Truitt make the adjustment to college football and noted that Truitt shares one of the traits that has helped Davis succeed. “Stanton is a hard worker and he is hard on himself, too,” Craig said.

“He wants to be great. He wants immediate success, too. He doesn’t accept that learning curve. I am trying to teach him to be patient in things. He will have great success.”

Craig noted he isn’t certain what the playing situation will be for Truitt and fellow true freshman Myron Burton, but noted both receivers are off to a good start.

In other news and notes:

*Wright said that middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is having a good preseason camp in his dual role, which includes part-time work as a pass rushing end.

“Cass is definitely still the mike linebacker, and he has been doing a good job of it,” Wright said. “He has been getting after guys and that is something we didn't really see too much of last year. It may have been because he wasn’t the mike, but he is the mike now. He has really been setting the tone well.”

Raashed Kennion came to Auburn from First Coast High in Jacksonville, Fla.

*Wright noted that freshman Raashed Kennion is off to a good start at defensive end because of his combination of speed and size. “Honestly, I don’t know the last time we had a six-foot-five, lanky speed defensive end,” he said. “Dee Ford was a little under 6-2, Carl (Lawson) is an even 6-2 guy. He (Kennion) sets the tone with his speed rush. The bigger he gets, the more experience he gains, he will learn how to use more power and stuff.”

*Sophomore defensive tackle Montravius Adams is also having a good camp, Wright said. “I can’t say he’s the most freakish athlete because that may be me. Mon is definitely on the way. He is definitely one of those top-tier guys. He is another guy who has all the high energy all the time. I feel like this season he can really put it together.

“Coach G (Rodney Garner) has been hard on him just like he is on all the guys,” Wright said about Auburn's defensive line coach. “Mon is definitely taking coaching a lot better than he was his freshman year. I can tell he has really grasped not taking coaching personally. It’s easy for me to really praise him.”

*Asked if quarterback Nick Marshall has improved his accuracy as a passer since last season, Uzomah said, “Yeah, 100 percent. We’ve been throwing. He texts everyone. He has a group message where he’ll text all the receivers, all the running backs and he’ll be like, ‘We need to get out there and throw.’

“There’s no question, there’s no ‘Oh, I have this or that,’ I mean unless it’s school. It’s like we’re out there, and we’re throwing, and he wants to perfect it. Jeremy (Johnson) is out there and Sean (White) was out there. He (Marshall) grew a lot last year and it’s just him taking another step.”

*Marshall and Jonathan Mincy, a pair of seniors, got into offseason trouble and as punishment they are not allowed to start the opener. Uzomah said that the seniors have talked about the subject and he said the group is focused on football.

“We are pretty much saying the seniors need to be an example for the younger guys so it won’t be a recurring thing,” Uzomah said. “We kind of nipped it in the bud by saying it is not going to happen again. We are going to focus on the season. We just need to focus on football. That's where our heads have been. That whole thing is behind us.”

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