On Monday the Tigers had the first of two scheduled major preseason scrimmages. Coach Gus Malzahn said the defense dominated the session in which the only scoring came on field goals.
“I thought we did some nice things,” Muschamp said. “As much as anything we had some good focus and good effort. We tackled well for the first scrimmage. I think we had 12 missed tackles in 90-something snaps so that’s a positive for a first scrimmage, especially as much as our offense creates space plays. You have to tackle well in space.
“We played well on third down and we played well in the red zone,” he pointed out. “We didn’t play the run very well and that was extremely disappointing. We gave up five big runs and over four yards a carry for the entire scrimmage. I’m extremely concerned about that, especially in our league, but overall I was pleased with some good hits and turnovers and tackles and those sort of things.
“I thought we communicated well,” the coach said. “We kept it very simple as well as the offense did. We just wanted to see the guys go play and for the most part being able to watch the tape and see some effort and leadership and some things was very positive.”
The star of the scrimmage was “buck” Carl Lawson, who wasn’t allowed to scrimmage in the spring after coming back from knee surgery.
“He’s a good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s a fast-twitch body guy. He has got very good instincts on blocks. He has got good hand placement and good pad level. He does what he is coached to do.
“He’s a good football player and he’s been involved in thud situations,” the coach pointed out. “There is really not a whole lot of difference in those situations as far as playing football. You can be a really good tackler and do thud all year, bringing your feet and staying off the ground and leveraging the ball the correct way. Certainly he’s benefited from those looks because he had a lot of thud reps in the spring.”
Lawson is expected to boost the pass rush, a huge problem for the 2014 defense. Asked what the defense needs to do in order to be more successful against the run, Muschamp said, “You see if you can’t squeeze out 12 or 13 out there, I guess. We are a very efficient running football team. Gus and those guys do an outstanding job of creating issues in the run game. One or two missed fits with how we run the ball or how we formation you is very difficult, especially when you create the tempo with it. There is a reason why we have led the SEC in rushing since he has been here.
“We have got to do a better job of playing the run,” he added. “It was more of a run fit issue than it was a tackling issue and a gap control issue, and they are very correctable. There are very correctable things involved with that and we will continue to improve.”
Last year’s defense struggled in many areas of its play, including the red zone, but that wasn’t the case in the scrimmage. “That’s huge for our guys,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day you look at seven of the last eight games over 30 points being scored and for our guys to go, they gained some confidence in what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.
“We point out the good and the bad and the ugly. We always tell them the good plays take care of themselves and the negative ones are the things we’ve got to get corrected. That’s what the next offensive coordinator is watching. We’ve got to make sure we address those things and move forward. We have to continue to install for the season, that’s what we’re in right now.
“There are some things that maybe we don’t see offensively that our offense is doing a great job of giving us some looks and some things we need to see to prepare us for the season,” Muschamp added. “We continue to work situational football, one-minute, end of half, end of game, four-minute, short yardage, goal line, red zone. There are so many things we’re going through and exposing the players to every day, they’ve got to have a lot of retention on those things moving forward. You can’t continue to spend day after day on it, we’ve got to continue to move forward. The younger players, especially in my experience, have always been the guys that struggle with that. That’s where you find out a lot about the maturity of a young man and how they’re going to be able to handle it.”
Ricardo Louis will be a senior this season for the Tigers.
On offense a player the Tigers need to perform well as a senior and put together his best season is wide receiver Ricardo Louis. He has 12 Auburn career starts and played in 36 games, but despite having good size at 6-2, 215 pounds and plenty of speed he hasn’t had a breakout season.
Last year he caught 21 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns, but has the potential to do more as a senior.
Duke Williams was expected to be the No. 1 receiver option for quarterback Jeremy Johnson, but Williams hasn’t practiced with the team since last Thursday since getting into trouble with Coach Gus Malzahn. Malzahn hasn’t said what the receiver did to get in the doghouse or when or if the senior receiver will return to practice or be a part of the team this year.
With the possibility that Williams will not suit up again for the Tigers, it is even more important that Louis be ready to handle a larger role, something he notes he is not shying away from.
“I'm a senior, I'm a leader and when things like that happen somebody has to step up and that's my responsibility,” Louis said. “Nobody has to tell me, ‘Ricardo, you have to step up.’ I already know it is time to step up and that is what I’m going to do.”
Louis caught three passes for 36 yards as a true freshman after making a conversion from quarterback, the position he played in high school. As a sophomore he had his most productive receiving season with 28 catches for 325 yards and two scores.
Gus Malzahn said he is looking for Louis and fellow seniors Melvin Ray and Jonathan Wallace to be leaders for the receiver group along with junior Marcus Davis. Remembering the team’s struggles in 2012, Louis said he and the other veteran players want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
“We understand what it takes to win and what it takes to lose,” he said. “With the young guys coming in we try to establish that standard and let them know this is what we have to do, this is what we are going to do, this is what we can’t do, in order to win.”
Tuesday’s practice marked the start of the second week of preseason drills for the Tigers, who are scheduled to practice the rest of week with the second scrimmage of camp scheduled for Saturday. The team’s next day off is on Monday for the start of fall semester classes.
One of the defense’s most experienced players, cornerback Jonathan Jones, predicts the Tigers will be more aggressive this season with Muschamp calling the shots. “We are going to bring pressure,” Jones said. “We are going to rush up front and it is going to be up to the corners to hold up in one-on-one situations and make plays. You can definitely tell that through camp.”
Jones, a second team all-league pick last season, led the Tigers in deflected passes with 11 and interceptions with six. He started all 13 games and was in on 36 tackles, including 23 solo stops.
Jonathan Jones has been a key contributor since his true freshman season.
The senior missed most of spring practice due to a foot injury that required surgery, but he was ready for action when preseason drills opened last week and contributed to the defense keeping the offense from scoring a touchdown in Monday’s scrimmage. “It was great to be out there,” he said.
In other news and notes:
*Austin Golson, the projected starter at center, has been limited the past three practices with what the coaches say is a minor knee injury. The redshirt sophomore said he will be ready to go full speed in practice on Wednesday.
Maurice Swain made the move this year from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
*Muschamp had praise for the play of juco transfer defensive tackle Maurice Swain, who joined the team in January and participated in spring practice. Muschamp said it was the junior’s best scrimmage performance. Swain said his focus has been on improving his technique, which he said is the key to success against the type of talent he will be facing in the SEC.
"You have got to be a technique warrior at the next level so that is the big, key thing I am trying do," Swain said. "I am trying to just work on the little things."
Swain said the defense "played hard" in Monday's scrimmage. "We didn't let the heat get to us," he said. "Our mental mindset was to get ready to come out and play and have fun."
*The Tigers will stay in the camp portion of preseason drills through Sunday before taking Monday off for the start of fall semester classes.