On Sunday, after the Tigers finished their final “camp” practice before fall semester classes start on Monday, Offensive Coordinator Rhett Lashlee was upbeat about the progress made on his side of the ball.
“I think overall it was a good camp,” Lashlee said after the Tigers worked out in shorts and shoulder pads. “Offensively, we were fortunate to get through without any major injuries, which is good, obviously, other than Al (guard Alex Kozan), who we knew coming in wasn’t going to be around.”
Kozan injured his back while lifting weights at home in Colorado and will redshirt. He was an Freshman All-SEC selection in 2013.
“I think we got accomplished what we needed to,” Lashlee said. “We got some good work and had a lot of carryover from the older guys. We got to really see what a lot of the younger guys could do.
“Overall we’re very pleased with our freshman class on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “We feel like all those guys are what we thought they were and maybe even more. That was positive.
“Now you get to these last couple of days of camp and coaches and players, everybody is tired. Now we get to give them a day off tomorrow and let them get school started and start focusing in on Arkansas.”
Lashlee said the emphasis in practice will be changing a lot when the Tigers return to the field on Tuesday. “You get a little more detailed personnel-wise,” he said. “You get more specific on what you rep. You don't just call plays and rep things because now we have been able to evaluate everybody. We are going to put them where they need to be and now we can really focus in on a game plan and scheme.
“We are not going against our defense as much, and our defense is maybe nothing like Arkansas,” he pointed out. “We may not be anything like Arkansas to them so we will really be specific on what we are calling and to what looks to make sure we are maximizing every rep and every moment to give our guys a picture of what we expect to see, to some degree.”
Lashlee added, “It really just gets more narrowed down, more specific, very detailed, not a lot of wasted motion of any kind. Guys that aren’t going to be in the mix aren’t getting reps and that is just the way it is so we can really just kind of hone in on exactly what we want to carry.
“For a guy like a true freshman, he is learning the whole book--or at least what we have put in to this point,” Lashlee said. “Well now he can narrow down and learn the game plan.”
Jeremy Johnson, a sophomore, is expected to be the starting quarterback vs. Arkansas.
Lashlee, who doubles as the quarterback coach, said he hasn’t set up the practice plan for how the reps at that position will be split heading into the opener. Gus Malzahn has said that Nick Marshall won’t start. Jeremy Johnson is expected is expected to open the Arkansas game at quarterback, but how long he plays and when Marshall appears is something the head coach has not revealed.
“Talking to Coach (Malzahn) I think probably here in the next couple of days we will go ahead and decide how we want to handle that,” Lashlee said of the practice plan. “We have not made a decision yet. Both those guys have repped and had a good fall camp so I think probably pretty soon, at least internally, we will know how we’re going to handle it and then Coach will address that when he’s ready and we will have a good plan.”
Nick Marshall is shown in practice. The senior was named the Preseason All-SEC quarterback at media days.
Marshall has won praise from his teammates for how he has responded since running afoul of the law on a traffic stop in Georgia during the summer. The quarterback wasn’t arrested, but received citations for having too much tint on his car windows and less than one ounce of marijuana.
Asked if he was surprised how Marshall has handled the adversity, Lashlee said, “Honestly, I haven’t been surprised. I would say I would be disappointed if he didn’t handle it this way. He’s handled it very well.
“We get close to our players. It’s kind of like your kids--they’re going to mess up and you get disappointed in them, but you love them. We all go through things in life, we face adversity, it’s how you handle it is what matters. You can’t do anything about it.
“I think he’s handled it extremely well to this point,” Lashlee added. “I fully expect him to continue to do that. That’s what he’s going to have to do--he’s going to have to handle himself well. I’ve been really proud of him. I think what his teammates say should probably speak volumes of kind of how he’s handled everything.”
The quarterback coach notes that Marshall and Johnson have worked together instead of against each other on and off the field. “They really do a good job of pulling for each other and that’s hard at quarterback because only one plays,” the coach said.
“Last year I challenged the guys when we didn’t know who the quarterback was going to be--there were four of them. I said however you handle it in this room was going to bleed over to how our team handles it. You guys have that task of pulling for each other and still at the same time compete against each other.
“From the moment Nick was named the starter and Jeremy the backup and Wally (Jonathan Wallace) the third guy, those three guys have been tight and pulled for each other in a genuine and honest way ever since,” Lashlee pointed out. “It was that way last year.
“They enjoy hanging out together,” Lashlee added. “I have even teased them before about their Bro-mance on Instagram. They are just good friends. They get along. They are good in meetings. They are good on the practice field. I have never one time thought one had ulterior motives over the other. They get along and that has been a huge plus for our team.”
Wallace went into preseason camp No. 3 on the depth chart at quarterback, but finished it No. 4 behind freshman Sean White.
“Sean White has had a phenomenal camp from a freshman quarterback standpoint,” Lashlee said. “Now he’s not ready to play tomorrow, but he’s been very impressive not only throwing the ball, but mentally from a maturity standpoint as a freshman he’s handled a lot of things.
“You have got to understand that Nick, Jeremy and Jonathan, they had already been exposed to everything so we went a little quicker than normal,” Lashlee noted. “It wasn’t like starting from ground zero. He had to kind of play catch-up and go at their speed, and I thought by now at practice 20 or wherever he’s at that it’s starting to slow down for him. That has been impressive.”
Asked to compare White with Johnson, who played six games and started once last season as a true freshman, Lashlee said, “Both of them come in and impress you with their arm talent. They can both really spin it, really throw the ball. They can make every throw on the field. Big arms. They are different. They are both athletic.
“Jeremy was a really good high school basketball player, but Sean is a pretty good athlete now. He is deceptive. He will sneak up on you. He can do some things with his feet. He can really extend the play and keep things alive. He has great anticipation.
“Sean, for a young guy learning a system, he can really anticipate a throw and make it happen so they're very comparable. Jeremy had played in a similar style offense (in high school). Sean is also very bright so I was impressed with both--how quickly they were able to grasp things, because usually for a freshman quarterback the first week to 10 days, it's like, okay, it is too fast for him. He can't pick it up. He's just not ready.
“Neither one of those guys came in and made me think they're not ready,” Lashlee said. “There is no fear in both of them. They attacked it and competed like they wanted to play and I think that is why Jeremy was in the mix last year and I think that is why Sean has at least warranted (an opportunity) to be in the conversation if we needed him.”
Lashlee noted that in a best case scenario White will be redshirted. “That means those other two are healthy so it's kind of one of those deals where you can travel him if Nick and Jeremy and stay healthy, and are playing well, you would love to not waste a year for him to come in at the end of a game to hand the ball off. But situations dictate things sometimes, out of your control, so what I have told him is, ‘You have got to continue to progress and not just know what is going on for you, but continue to learn the offense and be ready when your number is called. It could be week one or week nine.’ Hopefully, in a perfect world it’s not until after this season, but he has got to prepare himself and be ready.”
Jonathan Wallace finished the 2012 season as the starting quarterback during his true freshman year.
Commenting on the demotion of Wallace on the depth chart, Lashlee said, “I think that speaks highly of Sean more than negatively of Jonathan. Jonathan is solid. We have put Jonathan is a lot of other scenarios this fall camp to try to get him involved in more ways to help our team. Jonathan hasn’t been with me as much. He is 100 percent a quarterback, but he's been doing special teams and other things.
“Sean has also gotten more reps at times because we are trying to see if he is ready. Where is he at? He is the new guy. We have got a lot of information on Jonathan. I think we're in a great situation. We feel like we have four quarterbacks we can play in an SEC game--three we know we could: Nick, Jeremy, Jonathan because they have done it, and Sean. You never know what you are going to get with a true freshman.
“You hope you don't have to play him, but he has done enough in the first 20 days of practice to warrant to be in the conversation if we get into a scenario if we need him,” Lashlee said about White. “We feel like it is not where the moment will be too big for him. It's just a matter of he's performed exceptionally well. We've had Jonathan in some other roles. We feel like we have four guys who will travel, and if we need to put them in the game, I do have confidence in Jonathan.”
Lashlee said the transition on the offensive line has been going smoothly with Chad Slade moving to left guard to fill in for Kozan and Avery Young moving to right guard to take Slade’s spot. Patrick Miller is starting at right tackle, Shon Coleman is the No. 1 left tackle and Reese Dismukes is scheduled to be a fourth-year starter at center.
“Chad, he's played a lot of ball and he's played on both sides before, so that helps,” Lashlee said. “Avery playing on the right side in the spring helped him quite a bit. Him and Pat have done some things together on that side in the spring,so that was a positive. Definitely, the continuity has really improved there and having your rock at center helps because he makes all the calls, he kind of makes things goes. Having Reese there has helped keep that glue there as well.