Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gus Malzahn and his staff split practice on Saturday between a short scrimmage at Jordan-Hare Stadium featuring young players followed by a workout at the football complex focusing on the guys expected to see the most playing time this fall.
Two weeks before Auburn opens its season vs. Louisville, Auburn’s third-year head coach said, “Overall, I thought it was good today to get out there on the game field. We wanted to really focus on our kickers, our punters and our returners, especially with a jumbotron being on and all that and then we got the majority of our work done here in the indoor.”
The scrimmage was a very short one, around 30 plays featuring guys looking to break into the playing rotation for the opener vs. Louisville. The older guys took center stage for the second part of practice that did not include any tackling, but there was “thud” contact with the first and second units getting some work against each other.
Daniel Carlson, who handled the punting and kicking duties last year, continues to focus on field goals, extra points and kickoffs. He had a good day with his field goals in the short scrimmage.
Marcus Davis is in a competition with Jason Smith to be the No. 1 punt returner. Commenting on that pair, Malzahn said, “I think they have done a good job. Being a returner, specifically a punt returner, is catching the football and being consistent with that with people around you. I think we're in a good spot with that. Of course, our kickoff returners have done a solid job so far, too.”
Davis said he likes his chances to fill the shoes of Quan Bray, awho did a good job with the punting duties last year. "I definitely feel like I'm in a good position," he said. "May the best man win. I'm for the team and I just want to do whatever helps the team.
Asked how close the Tigers are to making a decision on special teams starters, Malzahn said, “We’re getting there. We would like to see a couple of those guys a couple more practices this week, and then we’ll make those calls.”
Ricardo Louis and Roc Thomas are expected to be the main kickoff returners. “We have worked extremely hard on special teams in fall camp, probably a little bit more than we have done in the past,” Malzahn said.
Marcus Davis is a player who has also received praise from Malzahn and position coach Dameyune Craig for how he has performed throughout the preseason. "I am really hoping that Marcus has a big season," said Craig, who notes that the junior has been a guy he can count on since the day he arrived on campus.
Davis said he has high expectations for the 2015 team as a whole and the offense in particular. Commenting on what the offense is focusing on with two weeks before the opening game, Davis said, "I think the most important thing is just executing the plays, creating a good foundation so we can do the little things right and make plays."
In other news and notes:
*Former starting quarterback Jonathan Wallace has worked at wide receiver through spring training and preseason, but on Saturday got plenty of snaps at quarterback. With only three scholarship QBs on the roster, having Wallace ready will allow the Tigers to avoid burning a redshirt season for true freshman Tyler Queen if something happens with Jeremy Johnson or his backup Sean White.
Commenting on the move with Wallace, Malzahn said, “He is a guy that has played in game situations that does understand this offense, but he’s been doing a great job at receiver, too, so it’s just kind of...this time of year sometimes you got to be thinking in the season, the what-ifs. What if this happens? What if that happens? So, it’s just kind of like that security blanket.
“He has responded well,” the coach added. “He’s a senior. He can do both without it taking away, so we’re starting to give him some snaps.”
*Asked about the running back competition featuring sophomores Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber plus junior Jovon Robinson, Malzahn said, “It’s really about the same. You’ve got three guys that you feel you can line up and run your whole offense.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a little bit more information before the first game, but right now I think we’re in a good spot--at least going into the season. It may be by committee early, we’ll see.”
*Malzahn said the competition continues to replace Reese Dismukes as the starter center with Austin Golson battling Xavier Dampeer. Asked the latest he would feel comfortable picking the starter at such a key position, Malzahn said, “You would rather go earlier rather than later, but both of them are very solid.”
*The left guard competition continues with senior Devone Danzey and junior Alex Kozan split first team reps at left guard.