Freshman Smith Getting A Look at Guard

Comments from Auburn football players and notes are featured as the Tigers returned to the practice field for their off-week workouts.

Auburn, Ala.--Freshman offensive lineman Braden Smith, who had his most extensive prime-time action of the season vs. Mississippi State, got practice reps at a third position on Tuesday as the Auburn football Tigers returned to practice after a two-day break from workouts.

The six-foot-six, 295-pound tackle doubled as an extra tight end vs. the Bulldogs on Saturday. He is now getting a look at left guard with the Tigers having a week off before returning to competition a week from Saturday vs. South Carolina.

Commenting on his expanded role last week, Smith said, “It felt like it helped as an extra lineman/tight end on some plays--short yardage. I felt like I could get the job done and so did they. I think I helped out pretty good.

“There are always things you can improve on,” he said. “No one feels like they played their best always, but it is definitely like a starting ground.”

The five-star recruit from Olathe, Kan., said he is happy to play wherever the coaches want him to line up. “Honestly, wherever they see me fit. Honestly, I?feel like I can play both.”

Smith said that the Tuesday practice, a two-hour session in full pads, was his first at Auburn as a guard. He said that since he arrived on campus this summer as the only offensive lineman in the 2014 signee class that he has gotten plenty of help and support from the other linemen. “They have been real helpful along with the way,” he pointed out.

Smith said he arrived without any expectations on how much he might contribute as a freshman. “I honestly didn’t know,” he pointed out. “I just knew I was going to have to start at the bottom and work to where I could get to.

“It definitely helps to get some game experience,” he pointed out. “You can gain some confidence by getting out there and playing over time. As the season goes along I got more confident and more confident on my playing.”

Even though he is a freshman, Smith is generally considered the strongest player on the Auburn team. He said that his top bench press this year was two reps of 575 pounds. That strength earned him nicknames over the summer from his teammates and coaches like “The Hulk” and “Drago,” but he noted that most everybody now calls him Braden.

“I didn’t expect all of those names,” he said. “I thought I would just blend in with everybody else, to be honest.”

Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes has not been shy about saying he really likes the freshman’s potential. Smith said that he enjoys playing for Grimes, who didn’t begin recruiting Smith until late in the 2013 season when the coaching staff realized that starting left tackle Greg Robinson was headed for the NFL after having a breakout season as a redshirt sophomore.

“It is nice going to a school at a position where they need you,” Smith said. “I felt like I could help them. He (Grimes) is a great coach. I saw where he has done some great things with players. You want to get coached by a guy like that--definitely.

“It has been great,” Smith added. “I have learned so much over the past couple of months. If were to compare where I ended in high school, I have come so much further.”

Grimes said he has never coached a stronger freshman than Smith, who has been working on getting strong for a long time. “I have been lifting like since fourth grade,” the lineman pointed out. “Everything combined with that has helped me get stronger.”

Smith remembers that his father got him started with lifting weights. “He kind of let off and let me start doing it. If I wanted to continue doing it, I could keep doing it. If I didn’t want to continue doing it, I could just stop.”

The loss at Mississippi State, which is up to No. 1 nationally in this week’s AP Top 25, was in Auburn’s second road game this season. The Tigers defeated another ranked team, Kansas State, in their other road trip. Smith did not get to play in that contest.

“It was kind of nice going home,” he said. “It is kind of hard to explain. Just seeing my family and friends was really nice. Even though I didn’t play being back home was a great thing.”

The big lineman, who is an avid gardener, has not had time to do that since reporting to campus this summer, but said he will get one started in Auburn next year. His family back in Kansas has been managing the lineman’s garden in Olathe and recently shipped him a pumpkin from his patch via Federal Express.

Nick Ruffin signed with the Tigers out of St. Pius X High School in Atlanta.

Another freshman whose role has been increasing, “star” rover Nick Ruffin, said the Tigers had a good workout on Tuesday evening.

“It was a really good practice, just really getting back to basics and working on each other as a team and working on technique and stuff like that,” he said. “It’s good for us. We are getting a lot of guys back, getting a chance to rest and get better and focus on our main problems areas, which is going to be big for us going forward.”

Ruffin said he didn’t see any hangover from the team’s first loss of the season. “No one is hanging their heads still. Everybody has moved on. We’re making sure those mistakes that we made in the last game, they will not happen again.”

Even though he expected to play cornerback when he arrived at Auburn, Ruffin said that with the help of his position coach, Charlie Harbison, and teammates he is making progress as Robenson Therezie’s top backup now that Justin Garrett has moved to linebacker.

“Coach Harbison has definitely done a good job of making sure I keep my composure as well as my teammates--Josh Holsey, Rudy Ford, (Derrick) Moncrief and, of course, Cadillac (Therezie). They have definitely made sure I keep my head level and understood this is no different than any game you have played in. It is still football. Football is football regardless to the level of skill.”

Gimel President has seen a major increase in his playing time this season.

Another defensive player, end Gimel President, said Tuesday’s workout was “pretty intense.” The redshirt freshman, who is a starter, said, “We had to fly around to the ball a lot more. We changed a lot of stuff. We’re trying to get to the ball a lot quicker and hustle more. We had a bunch of loafs so we’re trying to hustle more to the ball.”

In other news and notes:

*The Tigers are planning to practice again on Wednesday and Thursday before taking Friday and Saturday off. On Sunday they will begin game week preparations for South Carolina.

*Kickoff time for the South Carolina game at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be either 6:15 or 6:30 p.m., depending on which TV network carries the contest. Before making the trip to Auburn the Gamecocks will play at home this Saturday vs. Furman. South Carolina is 2-3 after dropping its last two games to Missouri (21-20) and Kentucky (45-38) and Coach Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks are 2-3 in SEC play.

*Following the 38-23 loss at Mississippi State the Tigers dropped from third in SEC total defense to sixth. Prior to the trip to Starkville the Tigers were giving up 306.6 yards per game, a figure that jumped to 333.7 this week.

Auburn remains fourth in SEC total offense even though its average per game dropped from 497.2 yards to 487.8.

*Malzahn’s team leads the SEC in one team statistic. The Tigers have converted 47-87 (54 percent) of their third downs while Alabama is No. 2 in the league at 51.8 percent. Auburn is seventh in third down conversion defense at 33 percent. Tennessee leads the league at 26.4 percent.

*Despite the setback in game six, the Tigers maintained their streak of Top 10 poll rankings and are up to 16 in a row, which is the third longest in the country behind Alabama (58) and FSU (24).

*Auburn and FSU are the only FBS teams ranked in the Top 15 in red zone offense and red zone defense. The Tigers have scored on 25-27 trips into the red zone (opponent’s 20-yard to the goal line) for a .926 percentage. Opponents have scored on 16-23 red zone trips for a percentage of .704.

*Mike Slive, the Commissioner of the SEC, announced that he will retire from his post for health reasons on July 31, 2015 and said that he is resuming treatment for prostrate cancer, a battle he previously fought in the 1990s.

Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs said, “Mike Slive is a true visionary who has left his mark on the Southeastern Conference and all of collegiate athletics in more ways than we can count. He has been a driving force for progress and a dynamic leader who gets things done, whether it’s launching a new television network for his conference, fundamentally shaping the landscape of college football or guiding us through the challenging time of expansion.

“Most of all, Commissioner Slive is a loving family man of the utmost character and integrity. We will enjoy working with him in these coming months and continuing our relationship in the years ahead.”

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