Auburn, Ala.--Back on the field following spring break, the Auburn football team put on full pads for a two-hour practice on Tuesday that featured the defense working on its 3-4 front while the offense focused on installing plays, formations and timing.
Gus Malzahn said he saw some signs of rust at practice six of 15 this spring after being off for 12 days. “It was good to get back on the practice fields with our guys,” Auburn’s head coach said. “It was a little sluggish. You could tell our guys had been off for a week.
“The tempo wasn’t quite what it was the first five practices,” Malzahn said. “That is what I challenged them about at the end of practice, ‘Hey, we’ve got that first one back out of our system. We need to come back Thursday and really rebound and get better.’”
One of the players who was not back for practice on Tuesday was T.J. Davis, the junior cornerback/safety, who is out for the rest of the spring after suffering a knee injury. Following ACL surgery the junior could be back at some time during the 2015 season, said Malzahn, who noted that Davis was making progress in practice when he was injured.
The Tigers worked with three scholarship quarterbacks at the session with Malzahn noting the move of Jason Smith to wide receiver looks like it will be a permanent one. However, the coach added the juco transfer will have a “wildcat) package of plays at quarterback to take advantage of his running ability.
“I really think they are doing a good job,” Malzahn said. “In spring, especially when you are installing, you are rotating a whole bunch of receivers. We’re a timing offense so it takes a little bit to make sure everybody is in the right spot, coming out of their breaks at the right depth.
Auburn’s quarterbacks are shown at Tuesday’s practice. The group includes Sean White (13), Jeremy Johnson (6), Tyler Queen (15) and Tucker Tuberville (16).
“I think, overall, they’re in a good spot,” Malzahn said of the quarterbacks. “We will have another day or two of install and we’ll really start to try and narrow things down and get our guys with specific guys on specific routes, and I know that will help our timing.
“I will say this, overall just running the offense and feeling comfortable with the communication and everything, I really think they’re in a good spot.”
Commenting on Smith, a redshirt sophomore who played quarterback last fall at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Malzahn said, “We are really trying to transition him into the wide receiver spot. He will still have some type of package or role as far playing quarterback. We are still trying to find out what that is. In defense of him, we want to give him a chance to learn the wide receiver position and everything that goes with it.”
Malzahn pointed out that Smith asked to make the move to receiver. “It was kind of one of those deals. He has got the ability. He is a very talented quarterback, too. We wanted to give him a real chance to play quarterback. He just felt, came to the coaches and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to transition into receiver,’ and so that’s kind of where it went.”
The head coach said he likes Smith’s potential at receiver. “He is extremely talented, he wants to be good and he is coachable. I think he has got a real chance to really help us.”
Senior linebacker Kris Frost agreed with his head coach that the Tigers weren’t as sharp as they were prior to spring vacation. “We definitely had some issues getting lined up, running around after the break, but for the most part I felt like the effort was definitely there,” he said.
“This team doesn’t really lack when it comes to effort,” Frost pointed out. “We are always out there trying our best to fly around. It is just making sure we have everything polished up as far as the plays and getting lined up correctly, and the urgency of everything.”
Kris Frost is shown at Tuesday's practice.
Frost noted that he and the other inside linebackers are being coached by defensive coordinator Will Muschamp while Lance Thompson is working with the trio of players at the buck position in the 3-4. That group includes Carl Lawson, Raashed Kennion and Justin Thornton.
Carl Lawson missed the entire 2014 season with a knee injury, but is back on the practice field this spring as a redshirt sophomore.
Frost also pointed out that so far this spring there has been a lot of movement with different players getting looks at the weakside and middle linebacker spots as well as the buck position, which is a cross between an outside linebacker and a defensive end.
“It is exciting to see all the things we can do and the problems we can give the offense,” Frost said.
Commenting on what he has seen of Thompson so far, Frost said, “He is definitely a big-time players’ coach. He is always there to teach. It is great having him in your ear.
“Personally, not being my immediate coach, the little tips he gives me and the other inside linebackers it helps us a whole lot tracking the near hip and doing things like tackling. He gives me advice on different guys in the NFL to watch and model my game after, just basically what to pay attention to when I am watching other guys play the game. It has helped me.”
One of the team’s more experienced players, Frost said, “They put in a new defense, Coach Muschamp has, and the 3-4 look that we are playing this week is something we have to learn, we have to adjust to. I feel like for the most part we have been doing a good job of it, but we just have to get in extra. The more effort, the more work we put in off the field outside the mentor meetings, the better off we will be.”
Kennion, a sophomore who noted he is up to 243 pounds this spring after arriving at 225 last summer, is one of the players making a push for playing time at buck position.
“It was hard at first, I am not going to lie,” he said about carrying the extra weight. “I am getting used to it.” Kennion said he likes his role “a lot” as a buck and said it is a natural position for him.”
Raashed Kennion contributed last season as a true freshman after expecting to redshirt in 2014.
The sophomore said that with Muschamp calling shots practice is more intense this spring. “We work on tackling way more than last year,” he said. “Also, in the film room there is a lot more camaraderie so there is a lot more communication and a lot more understanding of the defense and the scheme coach puts out.”
In other news and notes:
*The Tigers will return to practice on Thursday and will wrap up the week with a scrimmage on Saturday. Commenting on what he wants to get out of that session, Malzahn said, “We have been physical and we have done a lot of things, but there is nothing like putting the ball down in the stadium and moving the ball and seeing how people react in certain situations so it will be really good for our coaches to see that type of evaluation in the stadium.”
*Senior receiver Ricardo Louis said the quarterbacks are off to a good start this spring. “They’ve been really good. They really worked with us in the offseason on certain routes that Coach Malzahn wants us to work on, and they really have been improving every day.”
Ricardo Louis, a senior wide receiver, is shown at Tuesday’s practice.
Asked specifically about Queen, Louis said, “I see that he really wants to play. He has learned the plays, he is learning his reads. He’s doing everything Coach asks him to do, and he’s just really learning from Jeremy and Sean, the two veterans.”
*Alex Kozan, who missed last season with a back injury, got practice time at left guard on Tuesday. “We’re trying to slowly acclimate him,” Malzahn said. “He is not completely full (speed), but he has dressed out most practices. Today we had him out there doing some things. That was good.”
*The annual A-Day Game is set for 1 p.m. CDT on Saturday, April 18th at Jordan-Hare Stadium.