Auburn, Ala.--Will Muschamp, Auburn’s new defensive coordinator, made it clear after three days of practices in shorts without contact that it is way too early to make judgements about individual players he is coaching.
However, Muschamp did say on Thursday evening that there is no reason the Tigers shouldn’t have a goal of winning the SEC Football championship because there is enough talent in Auburn’s preseason camp to allow that to happen in December.
Included in that talent is a highly-regarded group of newcomers in the 2015 signee class that features players who arrived in either January, May or early June.
“This is the earliest because of the school calendar than anywhere Ihave ever been to have the freshmen here in May,” Muschamp said. “That is a huge benefit for them because they get an entire two months of training before this.
“Normally, the situations I have been in it is mid to late June so really they only have one month and really the first couple weeks are sort of an orientation. In the weight room and football-wise, they get another four weeks to train and that’s really good.”
Muschamp said in the past he has had success playing true freshmen and pointed out that he believes that will be the case again this year.
The Tigers, who practiced for more than two hours on Thursday, spent much of the session indoors because of lightning in the area. The first full pads practice won’t take place until Saturday.
Asked if the defense arrived for preseason camp in good shape, the veteran coach said, “Ryan Russell and our strength staff do a fantastic job. I think our guys are in pretty good shape.
“Pee-Wee (Davonte Lambert) coming off a knee (surgery), we have to be careful with him in camp,” Muschamp said. “He is right at eight months out, seven months out. He is a big guy carrying 280 pounds--we have been smart with him.
Jonathan Jones, a projected starting cornerback, is a bit behind on his conditioning, too, Muschamp said.
“I am very pleased with the third practice with the conditioning of the team,” the coach said.
One of the players Muschamp will be counting on to be a key performer is junior Johnathan Ford, a returning starter at safety after making a successful move to defense from running back. He led the Tigers in tackles last season with 93 after making just five the previous season.
Asked if he feels more confident heading into the 2015 season than he was a year ago, Ford said, “Yes, sir, I feel a lot more comfortable. I know the schemes and I make all the checks quicker. I’ve just got better comfort back there.”
Ford is a player Muschamp and Coach Gus Malzahn will be looking to for leadership as a proven performer. The safety, who intercepted three passes last year, said he is ready for that challenge. “It came up quick now I’m a junior, but everything has been a blessing,” Ford said. “I have learned a lot since I’ve been here, and this year is going to be very great.”
Johnathan Ford is shown last season when he started all 13 games.
Ford, senior wide receiver Ricardo Louis, sophomore running back Roc Thomas and freshman running back Kerryon Johnson are candidates to return kickoffs. Ford noted that he knows his running back days are finished, but is hoping to carry the pigskin as a returner. “That would be great,”?he said. “I’m going to go out and compete every day to get that starting job.”
Ford has also practiced at cornerback because the Tigers are short in numbers of experienced players in the secondary. “Right now we are training our guys for multiple spots because at the end of the day we have got to get the best four, five or six DBs on the field at the same time and we are trying to expose as much as we can to our players at this point.
“When we start to narrow down after practices 17 18 and 19, that is really where you start getting guys in slots and say this is where you need to be with this guy.”
In other news and notes:
*Muschamp said he likes what he has seen so far of graduate transfer Blake Countess, who made the move from Michigan. “He can play inside as a nickel, he can play outside as a corner and he also has safety instincts as far as playing the deep part of the field. He seems to be a willing tackler and is a guy who has a lot of experience and is extremely bright.”
*Muschamp, who also coaches the linebackers, said that Scout.com four-star recruit Darrell Williams from Hoover High is off to a good start in practice.
*Redshirt sophomore running back Peyton Barber is trying to make a move and become the starter this year after playing very little last season. Asked what would be a successful year for him, Barber said, “The truth, you know, to start. I want to be the guy. I want to do what Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne and those guys were able to do.”
Peyton Barber runs a drill in Thursday’s practice.
*Another running back in the competition, Roc Thomas, said he feels more prepared to challenge for playing time as a sophomore. “I feel a lot different. I also feel a lot more confident out there. Last year I felt pretty uptight. Now, it's pretty much fun every practice, and I think it will be pretty much fun in the games also.” Thomas noted he is up to 204 pounds.
*Fan Day is set for 3:30-5:30 p.m. CDT on Sunday at Auburn Arena. The gates will open at approximately 3 p.m., Auburn officials said.