Malzahn Sorts Out Postions For Spring Drills

The Auburn football Tigers look to improve this spring after a disappointing 2014 season. The Tigers' head coach said he is looking for more toughness among other things this year.

Gus Malzahn (above) is beginning his sixth season at Auburn and third as head coach.

Auburn, Ala.--With Gus Malzahn’s team starting spring football practice on Tuesday, Auburn’s third-year head coach sorted out where several players will line up to start the 15 practices that include the annual A-Day Game on April 18th.

Josh Holsey, who started games at cornerback and safety last season as a junior, will open spring drills at cornerback.

Jonathan Ford, who started every game last season at safety after moving from running back, could get a look at cornerback this spring, the head coach noted.

Avery Young, who should be one of the top players on the offense, will start his redshirt junior spring practice at tackle, a position he has started at in addition to guard.

Austin Golson, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Ole Miss who practiced at tackle, guard and center while redshirting last fall, will be in a three-way competition at center with senior Xavier Dampeer and redshirt sophomore Deon Mix. The Tigers must replace four-year starter Reese Dismukes, a consensus All-American at center.

Sophomore Braden Smith, who started the bowl game at tackle, will begin spring drills at guard, the position he played in high school.

Two other offensive linemen, guards Alex Kozan and Jordan Diamond, will be able to practice on a limited basis this spring after missing the 2014 season with injuries. Kozan started in 2013 when he earned Freshman All-SEC honors, but hurt his back in the summer of 2014 while lifting weights at home.

On Tuesday the head coach announced his team’s slogan for the 2015 season and said the goals in the spring are to learn the offense, defense and special teams, develop an “edge” with mental and physical toughness.

“We are going to be very physical in the spring and we are going to get that (edge) back,” he said. The coach added, “We definitely lost our edge, especially towards the end of the year.”

The Auburn coach, whose team posted an 8-5 record after winning the SEC title a year early before losing to FSU in the national championship game, said, “The third goal is to really develop trust between coaches and players. We have some new coaches on our staff. Our theme is really ‘Count On Me.’ It is going to be that each player can count on each other, count on from a coach’s standpoint and everything that goes with that.”

With quarterback Nick Marshall gone, the starter the past two seasons, the head coach said that he feels good about last year’s No. 2 QB, Jeremy Johnson, who will be a junior. Malzahn noted that Johnson, redshirt freshman Sean White, redshirt sophomore juco transfer Jason Smith and true freshman Tyler Queen will all get plenty of chances the first week of practice to show the coaches what they can do.

Jeremy Johnson is a six-foot-five junior who started one game last year vs. Arkansas.

Asked about Johnson’s head start in the competition after being the top backup for two seasons, which included a pair of starts, Malzahn said, “I think the experience factor of just the overall offense first of all. Then you throw in the fact that the position coach and coordinator is back. The offense is the same. I think that’s got to help. I think he has a very good understanding. I would say he is thinking like coaches, it’s got to help, no doubt.”

Malzahn said, "We have a lot of confidence in Jeremy. He is going to go have to go out there and win the starting job, but he is in a very good spot. We have a lot of confidence in him."

News and Notes: Malzahn said that senior linebacker Anthony Swain will graduate this semester and not use his final season of eligibility. “We really appreciate everything he did during his time to help us at Auburn.”...Punter Jimmy Hutchinson, who struggled last season, “has decided to explore other opportunities,” the coach said. Daniel Carlson, the No. 1 punter and kicker last year, will punt this spring along with walk-ons. In August the Tigers will add signee Ian Shannon to the mix at punter...Malzahn announced that former Auburn defensive end Kenneth Carter is working in an “operations role” with the football program, something he has been doing all year. He also said that he hired Jeff Norrid for an analyst role. Norrid was Malzahn’s a graduate assistant coach at Arkansas in 2006 when Malzahn was there. “I have got a lot of familiarity with him,” Malzahn said.

The coach said he expects a good competition to take over from Cameron Artis-Payne as the featured running back with sophomores Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber facing a challenge from newcomer Jovon Robinson, a juco transfer. Malzahn said those running backs will get “equal” practice opportunities this spring...Former Prattville High running back Kamryn Pettway, who moved from running back to fullback/H-back during practice last fall, will compete for the starting fullback job this spring with newcomer Chandler Cox, an early high school graduate and’s No. 1 rated prospect at that position in the 2015 signee class. Walk-on fullback Gage Batten did not return to the team this season so another walk-on, Greg Hall, will be the other player at that position...Malzahn said the coaches will be closing watching Pettway and the other redshirts from last year during spring drills. “It’s very important for those guys. They have been on the scout team and this is their time. This is their time to go ahead and compete for a job. All those redshirt freshmen, I’ve seen urgency even in our mat drills and stuff like that. I’ve seen a difference in those guys. Obviously, a day like this when they actually feel like they’re competing for a position, it brings out the best in people.”

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