Football Tigers Work On Getting Physical

News, notes and quotes from Auburn's fourth spring football practice are featured.

Jason Smith (above) signed with the Tigers in December.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers opened week two of spring football practice with newcomer Jason Smith seeing practice time at wide receiver.

The transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College enrolled at Auburn in January with three seasons of eligibility remaining. The first week of practice he worked at quarterback and as a return man.

On Tuesday the former McGill-Toolen High star from Mobile saw his first practice time at wide receiver.

“He is going to play some (quarterback),” Malzahn said on Smith’s role. “We are still going to have him do quarterback. He has done a good job, but he is the type that we definitely need him on the field. He has got a lot of skills as far as athletic ability. This spring we will have him do both (quarterback and wide receiver). He is still getting reps at quarterback.”

Asked how Smith has performed at receiver, Malzahn said, “He just did a little bit, but he’s an athlete. When we recruited him I think he was MVP of the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game playing wide receiver. He has got the skill set to do a lot of different things.”

Last year’s top backup, junior Jeremy Johnson, and redshirt freshman Sean White are getting the work with the first unit at quarterback. “They are both competing for the job,” said Malzahn, who noted the expectations for Johnson are “extremely high” as he heads into his third season with the Tigers. “Right now they are pushing each other, which is good,” the coach noted.

Malzahn said he saw a “lot of energy” in practice, which he noted is what he wants as the Tigers try to get “their edge back” that he said was missing during the later parts of the 2014 season.

“We weren’t happy the way we finished,” the coach said. “We really take pride on that. The first year we were here we finished extremely strong. We didn’t do that last year so we are going to make sure this spring we focus on being very physical and being able to trust the guy beside us.”

He pointed out that through four spring practices he has been relatively pleased. “For the most part I have liked our players’ approach,” he said. “I really believe they are trying to do what their coaches are asking them, but we just have to raise that bar every day as far as fighting through the physical part, fighting through the mental part and just getting better each day. That is what we are working on.”

Commenting on Tuesday’s session, Malzahn said, “We had a good, physical practice--the offense went against the defense a lot. There wasn’t a whole of individual (drills) today. We were really trying to strain our guys.

“We are really trying to develop that trust--that trust that the coaches can trust the players and the players can trust the guy beside them.”

Redshirt freshman linebacker DeShaun Davis runs through a drill at Tuesday’s practice.

Asked about his team’s leadership, the head coach said, “I think it’s starting to happen. Any time you get strained the leaders are going to find a way to come up. They’re getting strained so we’re starting to get some guys in position, but the key to leadership is consistency so we’re still working through that.

“That is kind of what I said with the trust factor with the defense and our defensive players, Coach (Will) Muschamp, their position coaches, being able to trust them. Offensively, same thing. There are a lot of young guys out there, there are new quarterbacks, we lost a lot of older guys so we’re still trying to find who we are from a leadership standpoint--not only on both sides of the football, but overall as a team.”

In other news and notes:

*Tuesday’s practice was Auburn’s fourth of the spring. The Tigers will work out again on Thursday before taking off for next week’s university-wide spring break.

*Jonathan “Rudy” Ford said that he has spent a bit of time at practice this spring at cornerback, but Auburn’s leading tackler last season is getting most of his work at safety, the position he played last year after moving from running back. The junior said it doesn’t matter to him where he lines up. “I just want to play,” he said.

Ford, who is working as a kickoff returner, said that Tray Matthews, the safety who transferred from Georgia, is off to a good start this spring. “Tray has been great, very physical in contact,” Ford said. “He is going to be a great player playing alongside of him. He’s going to help us out a whole lot.”

Maurice Swain is a newcomer for the Tigers, who the coaches are hoping will be an immediate contributor this fall at defensive tackle. Swain, who is shown at Tuesday’s practice, graduated from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in December where he played with Jason Smith.

*The Tigers will return to practice on Thursday for what Malzahn said will be another physical session prior to the team taking its spring break. The coach said that the staff has “been rotating everybody and we want to continue doing that” so they can get a good feel on how much they can count on each individual this fall.”

*Asked about offensive guard Alex Kozan’s return to practice, Malzahn said, “He was a Freshman All-American and a big part of our game in 2013. Just his presence out there, even though he is out doing the physical stuff, he is doing everything else and running well and all of that--it is good to have him out there.”

Malzahn said there is a possibility that the redshirt sophomore will be allowed to have some contact later in spring drills.

Alex Kozan, who missed the 2014 season with a back injury, is shown at Tuesday’s practice.

*Gimel President, a returning starter at defensive end, did not practice on Tuesday. Malzahn said the coaches are hoping to have him back by practice six. “He is a little banged up--hopefully, he will be back full throttle when we come back.”

*Malzahn said that the coaches are giving junior wide receiver Tony Stevens plenty of opportunities to prove he is ready for a starting assignment. “It is just a matter of him being consistent,” the coach said.

*Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Dontavius Russell is expected to push for a starting spot this fall. Russell said that he is up to 295 pounds. Asked what he is focusing on this spring, the lineman said pass rush technique is a big deal. “I want to be able to contribute on that part. I feel like I can do good enough in the run, but I want to be able to help in pass rusher situation as well.”

*Asked if he has talked to the players about being safe on their spring breaks that start after Friday’s classes end, Malzahn said, “I think every year, from a coach’s standpoint, when you have 100-plus guys going off to different places we try to do our best to educate our guys to stay out of the wrong situation, to be in the right situation and all that.

“We have got a good group of kids, but we are always going to address it and try to look at examples around the country like you’ve seen the last two weeks.”

*This year’s A-Day Game is scheduled for Saturday, April 18th.

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