Auburn, Ala.--After the Auburn Tigers returned to the practice field after taking Monday off for the opening day of fall semester classes, Coach Gus Malzahn said he is still not ready to talk about how the practice reps are being divided at quarterback between returning starter Nick Marshall and last year’s backup, Jeremy Johnson.
Malzahn repeated what he said on the first day of football practice in August that Marshall will not start the opener vs. Arkansas as part of his punishment for an off-the-field incident in July. The coach has yet to name the starter, but with Johnson No. 2 on the depth chart the six-foot-five, 230-pound sophomore from Montgomery is expected to be the choice.
Asked if he has decided how the reps will be split in practice between the quarterbacks in the rest of the workouts before facing the Razorbacks, Malzahn said, “No, not yet. As soon as I do I will definitely let everybody know.”
Malzahn said Tuesday’s session in full pads was a solid one as his Tigers prepare for their August 30th home opener vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks. “We had similar to an in-season Tuesday practice,” he said. “We are slowly starting to put in our game plan vs. our first opponent, but we are still focusing on basic fundamentals.”
The coach added, “Really, for a Tuesday full padded practice, and you are still a good week and a half away, I really thought our guys were out there focused trying to get better. I thought our attitude was really good. I didn’t see any lackadaisical stuff, or anything like that, so that was encouraging that we had guys who were wanting to practice.”
Last year the Tigers credited part of the reason for their success to working hard in the offseason. Malzahn said there is “no doubt” that has continued with the 2014 team.
“Last year as coaches we were really straining them,”?he said. “We were trying to bring them together, we were trying to learn information about them, how they would respond to adversity, how they would respond to success, but really we didn’t know until we actually got in the stadium on Saturdays.
“This group has worked extremely hard,” he added. “I think we’ve got some leaders that have really stepped up. You know when you come that close it has a way of motivating guys that have been through that experience and that went through a different experience a year before, but we went through a different experience this year because you get that close, that has a way of motivating guys, and I’ve seen that.”
Asked if there were any newcomers who have come on strong in recent practices he wanted to mention, the coach said, “Not that I am ready to talk about yet. Next week we will have a depth chart out. It will enlighten some on that. There are still some guys competing. There are some guys, especially the freshmen, you learn about them as you go. Like I said earlier, I think there will be quite a few who have a chance to help us this year.”
One of the newcomers from the junior college ranks the Tigers are hoping will be an immediate contributor, sophomore defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence, is still not back to full speed. “He battled some minor injuries that kept him out of a practice or two, but he when he has been in there he has got after it and for the most part he has looked okay.”
Asked if Lawrence would be ready to play vs. Arkansas, he said, “We’ll see. I am not for sure.”
A player who is expected to miss the whole season is walk-on Patrick Young. “That was kind of a tough deal,” Malzahn said. “Patrick Young hurt his knee--a senior walk-on, a guy who has been phenomenal for our program and was finally in a spot where he was going to get a chance to help us and had a knee injury the other day.
“It is kind of one of those tough deals,” said Malzahn, who had earlier mentioned Young as a player who could help at fullback with Gage Batten out for the season with a knee injury.
“He has battled through,” Malzahn said about Young. “We are very proud of him. It is a tough deal and he is still going to be a big part of what we are doing. He has been on the scout team for three years and then he gets to be a senior and it is pretty tough. We are definitely thinking about him.”
Young was in a group of walk-ons with freshmen Hunter Wood from Spanish Fort and Kyle Sitzler from Vestavia Hills competing for playing time in the fullback role behind seniors Brandon Fulse and C.J. Uzomah.
LaDarius Owens is competing for a starting position.
Malzahn said that senior defensive end LaDarius Owens, who has missed practice time with an infection, was back on the field Tuesday evening. Wide receiver Jaylon Denson missed the practice. Malzahn said the junior had “something he had to take care of.”