Tigers Start Bowl Preparations In Full Pads

A report on the Auburn football Tigers features comments from Gus Malzahn and Sammie Coates.

Auburn, Ala.--Back on a football field for the first time since their regular season finale vs. Alabama, the Auburn Tigers were “rusty,” according to Coach Gus Malzahn, who put his team through a full pads workout on Monday.

The Tigers are scheduled to practice throughout the week and again on Sunday before taking a Christmas break. They will reassemble in Tampa on Dec. 26th where they will resume preparations for their Jan. 1st Outback Bowl game vs. Wisconsin.

The defense has new leadership with Charlie Harbison serving as defensive coordinator in place of Ellis Johnson, who was fired after the loss to Alabama.

Will Muschamp, the new defensive coordinator, watched practice as an observer while Travis Williams coached the linebackers. On the staff as a defensive analyst, Williams was a standout linebacker during his playing days with the Tigers.

“Our big emphasis was on our younger players just like it was last year at this time,” Malzahn pointed out. “We got a chance to show what they can do, especially a lot of the guys who have been on the scout team and some other things. I think they were excited. There was a lot of positive energy out there with that.”

Jovon Robinson practiced for the first time with the Tigers on Monday.

A member of the 2014 scout team, tight end Jakell Mitchell, was shot and killed early on Sunday morning. As part of the mourning process, Malzahn said the Tigers will remember the freshman from Opelika when they play Wisconsin. “In honor of Jakell in the bowl game, our players are going to wear No. 31 on their helmet, which I think is very appropriate,” Malzahn said.

Asked how he is trying to handle the loss of a player in his role as head coach, Malzahn said, ‘You just try to be a strong leader for your team. You really want to be there for the family. It's tough.”

Police have arrested a suspect in the shooting of Mitchell, who the head coach said was not with any of his teammates when he was killed shortly after midnight on Sunday. Malzahn said that Mitchell will be missed.

“Any time you recruit someone, you get to know them, you get to know their family,” he pointed out. “He is from right down the road. I have known him a long time and there are a lot of memories. I think about the off-the-field stuff, the type of person, the smile and everything that goes with it.”

Malzahn added, “He was an outstanding player. He was an outstanding person. Had a lot of winner in him.”

In other news and notes:

*Malzahn predicted that Sammie Coates, who has declared for the NFL Draft, has a chance to be an early selection and a very successful pro. Coates, a redshirt junior, graduated on Saturday and will finish his college career in the Outback Bowl.

Commenting on his decision, Coates said, I talked to Coach Malzahn. I talked to Coach (Dameyune) Craig, I talked to my family, I talked to a guy back home--just a lot of people around me who I trust and who are going to give me the best answer. I just prayed about it, and God just put it on me to come out.”

Coates said that he is getting back to full speed after being limited by a leg problem for most of the season.

“It was one of those things,” he said of his junior season. “As a player or as a coach, you are going to have ups and downs throughout the season. You have got to learn to just get over it and get over that hump. That is what I had to learn throughout this season.

“I had to learn that when something didn’t go my way, I?have still got to help my team win. I still have to be out there and be a leader. That is what I did. I had to overcome a lot this season, being hurt, but I did my best, and I gave my all every time I went out there.

“I had to play for my brothers beside me, and they helped me get to the situation where I'm at now. I give all the credit to all the Auburn people.”

*Monday’s practice was the first at Auburn for junior college running back Jovon Robinson, who has transferred in from Georgia Military College. He will be a junior for the 2015 season. Robinson, who is from Memphis, originally signed with the Tigers as a high school senior.

*The New Year’s Day matchup will be just the fourth time Auburn and Wisconsin have played in football. The last was 10 years ago when the Badgers won 24-10 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando. Barry Alvarez was the coach then and he is expected to be back to coach against Auburn in an interim role in Tampa after Gary Andersen left Wisconsin to become head coach at Oregon State.

*Malzahn said it wasn't surprising the Tigers weren't sharp at Monday's practice. "We were a little rusty this time last year after the break before we played for the national championship. I really feel like the rust will be off when we come out there tomorrow. The older guys will have a better practice. The young guys were very excited. It was good for them. There was some real positive energy. It was good to see those guys do their thing."

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