Marquel Harrell (77) is a redshirt freshman who will try to break into the playing rotation on the offensive line. The same is the case with seniors Xavier Dampeer (52) and Jordan Diamond (76), who are looking to bounce back from injuries.
Auburn, Ala.--With one-third of Auburn's spring football practice finished, Coach Gus Malzahn said on Thursday evening that the plan is to continue to rotate the quarterbacks to give each player the opportunity to emerge at the top of the depth chart.
The Tigers practiced for two hours in full pads, their last session until resuming on March 22nd following the university’s spring break.
Commenting on the newcomer in the mix, juco transfer John Franklin, Malzahn said, “I have been impressed with his approach. He wants to be coached. His attention to detail, he’s real hard on himself. He throws the ball well we are just trying to get his timing down on the base offense as far the run game as far as the pass game, but he’s naturally fast.
“When he takes off running, you know he’s got the wow factor,” Malzahn said. “He can really run. He’s competing and it’s been good for all the quarterbacks.
“There is a lot of good competition right now, but I will say the other two that played last year (Sean White and Jeremy Johnson) are quite a bit above where they were at the end of last season. Competition has a way of bringing out the best in everyone.”
“Both of those guys have had times that they have made 'wow' plays,” Malzahn said of Johnson and White. “They are veteran guys. They can make plays even when the system breaks down. I have seen it a few times already. I would say they are much improved from where they were last year, but, of course, that’s normal for guys who have had experience for a year and they have an offseason and come back.”
The fourth quarterback in the mix, redshirt freshman Tyler Queen, is limited to 50 throws per day in practice as he continues to recover from Tommy John surgery.
Malzahn said he was happy with what he saw in the practice as well as the previous sessions this month.
“I just really challenged our guys over spring break to keep their cardio and to work on their own,” he said. “When we come back we will have 10 practices. They will be very important practices. We will start tackling. Most of the things we have done so far are just thud (contact without taking players to the ground).
“When we come back our guys should have a foundation offensively and defensively to start scrimmaging and tackling,” the head coach said. “Overall, I am excited for our guys and I am excited with their effort and energy.”
Asked what the focus was on for Thursday’s practice, Malzahn answered, “It was the fifth day and we just tried to get one thing for each player to improve on. Any time you are installing, especially when you are a young guy, there are a lot of moving parts and they are thinking about scheme, they are thinking about assignment. We really wanted to narrow things down and our goal is to get better each day.”
The Tigers have yet to scrimmage although they have done full speed, full pads 11 on 11 work without tackling.
“We wanted five good foundation days to get our offense, defense right before we go scrimmage-wise,” Malzahn explained. “Now that we've got that our guys should have a good idea of assignments where we can execute things properly, especially to go live with your quarterbacks. If you we do that, it will probably be the first week we come back. Right now, I'm still leaning toward doing that, but have not made a final decision.”
With Chandler Cox back as a true sophomore and Kamryn Pettway returning as a redshirt sophomore, Malzahn said both players could be a bigger part of the offense. This spring the fullback/H-backs have been sharing the carries with senior Jovon Robinson and junior Roc Thomas.
“We are trying to dual-train those guys to play some tailback, too,” Malzahn pointed out. “They are veteran guys. Our two tight ends (sophomore Jalen Harris, true freshman Landon Rice), we are just doing a lot of tight end work, working with the tackles and working with the different things with our hands down. We think we have two young guys who have a chance to be really good so that's been an emphasis in the first five days. When we come back, it will be the same thing.”
Cox said he is enjoying the expanded role, especially carrying the football. “I?have gotten a few touches,” he said with a smile. “It feels great. It's definitely a good time, running the ball. I will do whatever I have to do to help this team. I will contribute either way, whatever I have to do.”
Chandler Cox is a 236-pound sophomore from Apopka, Fla., High, where he played on a state championship team.
Asked if he believes the fullback/H-backs will have a larger role in the 2016 offense than the 2015 attack, Cox said, “Yeah, I think we'll be used more--just the experience. The experience wasn't there last year, of course. We were both young. I was a freshman coming in, he was a redshirt freshman.
“This year, there's a big difference. I feel different and I know he feels different. We're just pushing each other to get better each time. When he is out there on the field, I want him to do great. And he wants me to do great when I'm out there.”
Cox played a variety of positions in high school and at times took snaps as a shotgun quarterback. Asked for his take on the QB competition this spring, he said, “It doesn't matter who's back there. Whoever is playing quarterback, it feels good. Half the time I don't even know who's playing quarterback. From what I've seen the last five practices, it's been great.
“John is new to the system and he has been doing really good,” Cox said. “He is competing with Sean and Jeremy and Tyler. They are all pushing each other to be great. I think it's been a good competition so far.”
Franklin, a track star in high school and at Florida State before transferring to play at East Mississippi Community College last year, is the newcomer in the mix.
“He’s fast,” Cox said. “I was watching tape in the film room, I was like, ‘Wow, he's quick.’ That's something that every team needs back there, really. That's something we also need, some speed. He has it. I know Sean and Jeremy are pretty fast, too. He is fast, and he's a good kid, too, outside of football. That's what impressed me, really. Some of these guys come in and don't really act too well outside of football, but him, he is a good person outside of football. That's what I really like about him.”
In other news and notes:
*Commenting on offensive tackle Darius James, who redshirted last year after transferring from the University of Texas, Malzahn said, “He’s an athletic guy. He wants to be coached and he has potential. Any time you are learning a new offense and you have five days of install there’s a lot of moving parts, but overall we are happy with way he’s responding.”
*Another offensive lineman trying to earn playing time who redshirted last year, Marquel Harrell, was a guard in high school, but has the potential to play tackle if needed there.
“He’s playing guard,” Malzahn said. “Most of those guys that redshirted on the offensive line, we are trying to keep them at one positions so they can get some confidence and improve.”
*The head coach said that defensive is looking like he is back to full speed after being limited last year. “He really is (full speed),” the coach said. “He’s a handful, not just in the pass game rushing the passer, but he disrupts stuff in the run game. If the offensive line can get used to blocking him we feel like we can block anybody in our league. He is an impact player.”