Defensive lineman DaVonte Lambert (above) practices on Sunday at Hoover High School.
Hoover, Ala.--Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he is encouraged by what he is seeing on the football practice field and praised his rebuilt defensive coaching staff for its work in helping the Tigers prepare for Wednesday’s Birmingham Bowl game vs. Memphis.
Lance Thompson is directing the defense in practice while Rodney Garner continues to coach the defensive line. Travis Williams, a defensive analyst, is coaching the linebackers and graduate assistant coach Blake Gideon is in charge of the secondary for the bowl game.
“Our seniors are really stepping up on the defensive side,” Malzahn said. “Coach Thompson and the rest of the defensive guys have done an excellent job of getting the guys ready. They feel very prepared.”
When defensive coordinator Will Muschamp left Auburn earlier this month to become head coach at South Carolina, secondary coach Travaris Robinson moved, too, taking a job as defensive coordinator for Muschamp.
Malzahn has yet to announce who will replace Muschamp and Robinson. “As far as our defensive coordinator search, it is going very well,”Auburn’s head coach said on Sunday afternoon. “We should have someone hired in the near future.”
The Tigers practiced for one hour and 45 minutes on Sunday at Hoover High School after having a full pads workout the previous day back on the Auburn campus after returning from a break for Christmas.
“Our guys have had two very good practices since we have been back from the break--very spirited practices--so I am very encouraged as far as that goes,” Malzahn said.
Auburn, 6-6, and 9-3 Memphis will play at 11 a.m. CST on Wednesday at Legion Field. The game will be televised on ESPN.
“Overall, we are just happy to be here in Birmingham,” Malzahn said. “Our kids are excited. They are ready to play.”
It will be just the third meeting between the two programs. Memphis won regular season matchups in 1975 and 1976.
“Before the break we had some very good practices,” Malzahn said. “We were really focusing on some on our young guys, getting those guys some work, and keeping our old guys sharp.
“Since we have been back it has been mainly game plan and getting ready for Memphis,” Malzahn said.
“From a coach’s standpoint these bowl games are really determined on how much your team really wants to play and really wants to win. I have been very encouraged by our guys since they have been back.
“They are very focused,” Malzahn said. “We have had two excellent days of practice. It is a tribute to our seniors, and not just our seniors, but our other guys, too, and it is going to take that against this team.”
Jeremy Johnson (left) and Sean White (right) are shown at Sunday's Auburn football practice.
Malzahn has yet to announce whether Jeremy Johnson or Sean White will start in the bowl game. “Both quarterbacks have performed well in practice,” the coach said. “We have not made a decision on who is going to start. You could see both of them.”
Malzahn added, “Both of them have done a good job. Here in the near future we will start narrowing things down and get a plan for the game.”
Commenting on White, who has been limited by a knee injury suffered vs. Arkansas, Malzahn said, “He has moved around very well. He has moved around well even before the break and then we had four days off there and he came back. I am not going to say he is 100 percent, but he is close.”
The Tigers took 16 days off for final exams before returning to practice earlier this month. “We tried to go very physical before the break,” he said. “We had a full padded practice yesterday that was very physical. We felt like we needed to get that back. We gave them four days off and the guys really responded.
“We had a pretty physical practice today even though we are in shells. Our offensive and defensive line really competed and got after it. You can really tell they are chomping at the bit ready to play and that is encouraging.”
Senior defensive lineman DaVonte Lambert agreed with his head coach. “These past two days have been real great, especially the D-line and O-line,” Lambert said. “We have worked real hard and helped each other. I think we really got better the last two days.”
Practice Notes: The normal scout team quarterback, Tucker Tuberville, hurt his knee in a practice prior to Christmas and is not available this week. In his place former pro baseball player Tyler Stovall, who is also Auburn’s holder for field goals, is handling that assignment. Stovall has a strong arm...Another walk-on, wide receiver Gray King, is injured and will not play in the bowl, according to Malzahn...Lance Thompson, who coaches the “buck” position, worked in the press box during the regular season, but will be on the field for the Memphis game now that he is calling the signals for the defense on Wednesday.