"Fast And Physical" The Goal For Opener

News and notes from the Auburn football Tigers practice are featured along with comments from preseason All-SEC cornerback Jonathan Jones and Gus Malzahn.

Auburn, Ala.--Senior cornerback Jonathan Jones, one of the most experienced players on the Auburn football team, said he likes what he is seeing from the Tigers as the season opener draws nearer.

“I feel good about where we are at as a team and as a defense, especially being on that side of the ball,” he said after Thursday evening’s practice. “I feel good about the improvements we have made in camp. Having this extra week benefitted us to get better.

“I feel good about where we are at heading into game week,” the preseason All-SEC pick added.

Auburn’s coaches have said the Tigers made strides in practice this week, but still have a lot of prove.

“We just finished up a good three days of work,” Coach Gus Malzahn. “I think all three days our coaching staff would say was positive so that is a good thing a week before we play.”

Looking at the big picture with little more than a week before the opener, Malzahn said, “I like our overall team. Guys are coachable. They are trying to do what their coaches ask them to do with a great attitude, with great effort, and that is really the most important thing. I like where we are at.”

Asked about what he is seeing at practice this week from a player’s perspective, Jones said, “It was kind of a shift from camp starting to transition into Louisville. Next week it will be straight Louisville.

“It has been exciting to go against somebody else’s looks instead of our offense, getting into some of their formations,” Jones added.

Malzahn said he is seeing signs that this team has good chemistry like the 2013 SEC Championship squad developed. The head coach said the plan is to nurture that with the 2015 Tigers. “We will see what happens. That team got better each week and won close games at the end of games. We have our work cut out for us to follow those footsteps. That is the plan and I like the makeup of our team.”

Jones noted the Tigers are making progress in that area. “Guys get along and hang out more. That plays a part on the field. You are lining up with somebody you have to trust to be there when you need them and that is a big deal.

“This team now has a lot of chemistry, a lot of trust heading into the season,” Jones noted. “We need to maintain it.”

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino is keeping Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp guessing about what style of quarterback the Cardinals will play in the opener. “Coach has got a good plan whether they have a running quarterback or the pocket passer,” Jones said.

“As far as the defensive backs, our job is always pass-first no matter who they put in there,” he said while adding the first job of the defense as a whole is “to stop the run.”

Jones pointed out that a key to playing against Petrino’s offense is to be sound with assignments and alignments. “He does a lot of motions,” the senior said, noting the reason for that is to try to confuse defenders. “He kind of has an NFL flair to his offense,” the cornerback said.

Jonathan Jones

The Tigers will take on Louisville on Sept. 5th at the Georgia Dome in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Asked what he expects from the Auburn defense, Jones said a “physical and fast” style is what the Tigers are looking to show.

“There are always going to be mistakes in the first game,” Jones added. “You want to eliminate the missed tackles and things like that, explosive plays--just being physical, knowing what to do and play fast.”

In other news and notes:

*Gus Malzahn said by Tuesday he will be ready to announce the depth chart for game one, but said there is just a “handful” of spots where there is still competition for starting spots.

*Malzahn said the Tigers will do a dress rehearsal for game one on Friday, take Saturday off and return to practice on Sunday.

Kevin Phillips is a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

*The head coach said “we feel as good as we can” about the special teams play, which has been a point of emphasis this preseason. He wouldn’t say whether or not walk-on Kevin Phillips would beat out scholarship freshman Ian Shannon for the starting punting job, but it will be a surprise if Phillips doesn’t open the season No. 1 on the depth chart because of his consistency in practice.

Malzahn noted the plan is to use some of the team’s less experienced players on special teams for coverage and returns. While saying that coaches can’t be certain how newcomers will perform in game situations, he added, “I think we have got some guys who will bite, who want to get out there and do what we ask them to do in that area.”

*Jones said that getting redshirt sophomore Tray Matthews back in the lineup on Tuesday is a big deal. “Tray Matthews is a big key in our secondary. He is a physical guy and we are going to need that.”

*Despite missing nearly two weeks with a pulled muscle in preseason, there are no plans to redshirt freshman running back Kerryon Johnson, a player who has earned praise from Malzahn, running backs coach Tim Horton and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee who say that Johnson has a good understanding of the game. “You put him back and it is not like he missed much,” said Malzahn. “He should definitely help us this year.”

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