After taking Sunday and Monday off the team has put together back-to-back practices that ran more than two hours on Tuesday in full pads and on Wednesday in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts as the Tigers continue to install the game plan for the opener vs. Louisville.
“Practice was really good today and yesterday was as well,” said Lashlee, who is in his third season as offensive coordinator and quarterback coach for Gus Malzahn’s Tigers. “We are treating it like game week. We are within 10 days of practice. Today was a good, long practice and I thought we got a lot of good work done.”
The Tigers, who will open the season on Sept. 5th at the Georgia Dome, still haven’t settled on a starting center or left guard on offense.
Austin Golson, a transfer from Ole Miss, emerged from spring training as the heavy favorite to be the starter. However, he missed practice time with a knee problem allowing senior Xavier Dampeer, the No. 2 center last year behind Reese Dismukes, to make it a competition to be No. 1 on the depth chart.
Dampeer is a junior college transfer as is fellow senior Devonte Danzey, who started seven games at guard last year. He and 2013 starting left guard Alex Kozan are competing to be No. 1 at that spot. Kozan missed the entire 2014 season with a back injury.
Running backs coach Tim Horton and Lashlee have both predicted that all four running backs would see playing time this year with sophomores Roc Thomas and Peyton Barber competing with junior Jovon Robinson for the starting spot. True freshman Kerryon Johnson is expected to play, too, after recovering from a pulled muscle suffered in a scrimmage.
“I feel good about them all,” Lashlee said when asked if there is a leader. “Peyton and Roc are probably, just because they’ve got the most experience, but Jovon has been getting better. Kerryon is a young guy and he’s getting better.
“We’re going to need all four of them. We’re going to plan on playing them all and kind of see how that works itself out. We think they all do a lot of things well, some different than others. We feel good about them all.”
Thomas, who was Mr. Football in the state of Alabama like Johnson was last year, finished the spring as an improved player. Now up to 200 pounds, that should help him with power running plays.
“Hopefully having more weight will help keep him healthy through the season,” Lashlee said. “He’s not small, he’s over 200 pounds, 5-11, 200-something pounds is a good sized back.
“Some guys that run hard and violent and with a lot of cutting like him sometimes you’re more concerned about them with durability,” the coach added. “I think that’s the number one thing we’re most excited about. We hope that will help keep him healthy.
“And two, it has probably given him confidence to be tougher. He’s been tough all fall camp. He’s been great in pass protection. He’s been great in short yardage situations. He’s really grown up so far in practice from where he was in the spring.”
Carl Lawson, a player who Lashlee said was unblockable in Auburn’s first preseason scrimmage, is expected to be a key performer for the Tigers when they take on Louisville. The contest will be the first for the redshirt sophomore since playing in 2013 national championship game after missing last season following knee surgery.“
I'm really excited to get back out there and test myself,” said Lawson, who noted that despite receiving lots of praise his focus is totally on ways to improve everything he does as a player. “The mistakes are what need to be talked about.”
He admits that he worries about making mistakes whether it is practice or in a game. “You have to,”?he said. “If you want to be a good player that's what you've got to do. And that's what I'm trying to do. I want to be a good player.”
Commenting on freshman Johnson, Lashlee said, “Before he exited for a little bit, he was doing really well mentally. Already you felt like things were not too fast and it wasn't too much for him. He's entering back in to getting reps, and it's more of the same. He's doing a good job handling the mental part of it.
“I think he did a good job getting mental reps when he wasn't getting physical reps,” the coach added. “He's doing well. When he showed up, he already had the presence of 'he's someone who can help us this year.' As of right now, it's still our plan.”
Carl Lawson is shown in a preseason practice.
Playing the “buck” position he is expected to be a force as a pass rusher this year, something the Tigers were lacking during the 2014 season.
“I feel good,” he said about his comeback. “I feel great. I'm running around and every day is a blessing to get out there because you never know when you last play is.”
Lawson makes it clear that he is passionate about football. “If you play this sport, you have got to have a love for it because of the constant amount of hours and work you put into it,” he said. “I love the game. I really do love this game and I really do want to be good.”
Asked if he feels like he has become more knowledgeable as a football player than he when he played as a true freshman, Lawson said, “Anybody in this defense has become a smarter player because it's a lot of NFL concepts. Each day I go out there and see different things I'm gaining experience.”
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