Jonathan Jones (above) is a starting cornerback for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--Coach Gus Malzahn and two of his seniors said Tuesday’s practice was a back-to-basics session as the Auburn Tigers worked out for more than two hours in full pads following a day off during which star receiver Duke Williams was dismissed from the team.
Wide receiver Jonathan Wallace and cornerback Jonathan Jones also were supportive of their head coach’s decision to dismiss fellow senior Williams from the team.
“You hope the best for everybody and personally I love him to death,” Wallace said. “I am sad to see this had to take place, but it was needed to be done so we can move forward and get better as a team.”
Wallace said he thought the Tigers did move forward at Tuesday’s practice.
“There was a different sense of urgency from the wide receiver group,” Wallace said. “A lot of young guys are excited about stepping up and got that opportunity today and guys are playing great.
“We had a really good practice and got a lot guys laying out for balls, catching them everywhere, making crazy catches so it was really exciting to see a lot of the younger guys get an opportunity to step up today so it has been a good start.”
Malzahn called the practice a “spirited” one. “It was really focused on just us getting better,” the coach said. “We went a little bit old school and did some one-on-one drills and just tried to get better. We let our guys compete a little bit, too, which I thought was very good.
“I really feel like we improved in all three phases,” Malzahn said. “We had some situations at the end, some two-minute situations, that gave us a chance to go good-on-good and I thought that was good.”
Commenting on the Tuesday practice, Jones said, “We definitely came out physical today, kind of put concepts to the side and just focused on basic football--tackling, effort, you know the simple things in football, backyard football, some one-on-one stuff and got after it.”
The cornerback noted he liked the practice that featured “running around and hitting--it’s definitely fun to be able to do that.”
Jones added, “It’s fundamental. It helps and you’ll be able to see that in people’s everyday game.”
Malzahn said he doesn’t have any regrets on how he handled Williams, a player who was suspended from last season’s bowl game and then again during preseason in August. ‘I gave him a chance to prove himself and I am disappointed it didn’t work out,”?the coach said. “Our team will be fine. We will move on.”
Asked who he is looking to step up at wide receiver, the coach said, “What we talked about is just opportunity. You have got Ricardo Louis. You have got Melvin Ray. You have got Tony Stevens. You have got guys we feel very good about.
“Also what it does is it opens up opportunities for some young guys to step up,” said Malzahn, who noted that true freshmen Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, who have yet to play, are possibilities to see action.
Malzahn said that Davis made some good plays in Tuesday’s practice and is working on special teams, too. “Those two freshman receivers both will have a chance to help us moving forward,” he said.
“We feel good about our receiving crew,” Malzahn added. “You could see some really good energy out of the receiving crew today.”
Asked how the team reacted to the dismissal of Williams, Jones said, “I think we’re staying positive. You want to try to keep all distractions out of the way and try to stay positive as a team. That was unfortunate, but as a team we’ve got to come together and continue on. We still have the season to continue, continue these games and finish out and play.”
“I wouldn’t say it was a personal distraction to the team,” he added. “I feel like the coaches were able to put that aside and as a team we were able to focus together and move past it.
“All teams are going to have people get in trouble and things happen on and off the field, but it’s up to the team to come together and put that to the side and say, ‘hey, we’re going to focus on football.’ We have always been able to do that.”
In other news and notes:
*The Tigers are scheduled to practice through Thursday and the players will take Friday and Saturday off before returning to practice on Sunday, which will be the equivalent of the team’s normal Tuesday workout.
*Next week’s Thursday contest at Kentucky will be just the 17th time the Tigers have played a football game in Lexington. The Tigers have a 12-4 record in those meetings, but had a too-close-for-comfort victory on their last trip to Commonwealth Stadium. The 2010 national champions won that contest 37-34 with a fourth quarter comeback.
*Overall, Auburn leads the series vs. Kentucky 25-6-1. The Wildcats had lost 10 consecutive matchups to the Tigers before pulling off a 21-14 victory at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2009.
*The Wildcats have a 4-1 record this season and are 2-1 in SEC games. The Tigers and Wildcats don’t have any common opponents so far. UK?opened the season with a 40-33 home win vs. Louisiana-Lafayette and then won 26-22 at South Carolina before losing a home game 14-9 to Florida. The Wildcats defeated visiting Missouri 21-13 and last season rallied from 14 points down in the final quarter vs. FCS (Division I-AA) opponent Eastern Kentucky.