Malzahn Adjusting Spring Training Schedule

Auburn's head football coach discusses spring practice and other topics with the Tigers a week away from taking the field for practice.

Auburn Ala.--With spring football practice a week from its start date, Coach Gus Malzahn said on Tuesday that the format for the 15 spring practice dates will be different than what the Tigers did last season.

“Last year I believe we went five weeks straight for spring practice,” Malzahn said. “We decided to split it up a little bit, have five practices and then have our spring break and then come back and have 10 (practices).

“Strategically, with a new defensive coordinator (Will Muschamp) coming in we have a little more time to put our defense in and teach everything,” the coach added.

The team has been going through offseason strength and conditioning workouts and on Thursday will end the pre-breakfast “mat drills” designed to build mental toughness.

Asked how the workouts have been going, Malzahn said, “Winter workouts have been very good--a lot of energy, a lot of excitement.

“Our players, I can tell they are hungry,” he added. “That is very important.”

Malzahn said that every position will be open in spring training on both offense and defense, but noted that the backup behind Nick Marshall the past two seasons, Jeremy Johnson, will begin spring training at the top of the quarterback depth chart. The competition includes newcomer Jason Smith, an early juco graduate, redshirt freshman Sean White and early high school graduate Tyler Queen.

Commenting on Smith, who will be a redshirt sophomore this season, Malzahn said, “Jason Smith is a guy that we have known about for a long time. We recruited him a long time. He has got some outstanding skills. We are going to give him a chance to compete for the quarterback spot. He is very talented, very athletic and we are glad that we have him.”

Malzahn pointed out that he is looking forward to seeing his players compete. “That is the great thing about spring,” he said of opening up spots to be won. “We are going to put the ball down, let guys compete.

“We have got a bunch of young, inexperienced guys that we think are going to be very good football players, but in the spring, that is when you evaluate everything and give everybody a chance to compete for positions.”

With Muschamp the new coordinator, it should be a busy spring for the Tigers. Malzahn said it is a “very important” time for the AU defense to learn a new system. “He is going to install his defense from the ground up and spring is going to be that foundation where he is laying the foundation so it is very important.”

News and Notes: Spring training will mark the return to practice of defensive end Carl Lawson, who missed the 2014 season with a knee injury. “At this point right now Coach Muschamp’s got a good plan,” Malzahn said about Lawson. “The doctors have cleared him ready to go, but Coach Muschamp will have a good plan of exactly how much he will do.”...The coach said that another defensive end coming off of a knee injury who missed the 2014 season, Keymiya Harrell, should see some limited action this spring along with former starting offensive guard Alex Kozan, a 2013 Freshman All-SEC pick who missed the 2014 season with a back injury...Attendees at AU’s pro day said that two returning players won’t be back for the 2015 season--linebacker Anthony Swain and punter Jimmy Hutchinson. Malzahn avoided answering a question about their status and said he would have a roster update next week.

Carl Lawson (right) is shown with Jeff Whitaker during the 2014 season.

Jeff Whitaker, who was limited during his senior season due to knee problem, was the star of Auburn’s Pro Day on Tuesday in the bench press test. With pro scouts watching the defensive tackle did 41 reps of 225 pounds as his teammates cheered him on. “He is kind of like the grandfather to all of our players--just a lot of wisdom,” Malzahn said. “He has been an extension of the coaches since he has been here. He will definitely be missed.”...New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick attended AU’s pro day and spent some time talking with Malzahn. “I have a lot of respect for him,” the Auburn coach said. “He is a cutting-edge guy and he wins, and you know he is one of the best in the business.”

One of the offseason debates in college coaching circles this year is whether or not to change the rule that allows offensive linemen to be up to three yards downfield on pass plays and not be illegally downfield. Malzahn is a strong supporter of not changing the rule. “That is part of the creativity of the game, and you know, that has been a rule that has been in place for a while and you see a lot of offenses utilizing that,” he said. “My whole deal is just make it a point of emphasis to start calling it if guys are downfield, but I'm not into anything that takes the creativity out of the game. You see a lot of coaches around the country, specifically high school coaches that are coaching in college, that’s very important to them. My suggestion is we just make it a point of emphasis for the next cycle and go from there.”

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