Jovon Robinson runs into traffic as he carries the football in Saturday's scrimmage.
Auburn, Ala.--A week before A-Day, Coach Gus Malzahn put his Tigers through the second major scrimmage of the spring that included more work for the second and third units than the first stringers, who were on the field for only 20 plays.
While the first Auburn spring scrimmage was evenly matched between the offense and defense, on Saturday the defense was aggressive and physical as it outperformed the offense. The defensive front on the first and second units had strong days while the secondary played with a physical style.
Malzahn said he likes what he is seeing from the defense under the direction of new coordinator, Kevin Steele. “They have got great spirit,” the head coach said. “They are playing together.
“They are playing extremely hard,” he added. “They are very disruptive up front. We are getting Rudy Ford back and healthy and they are starting to gel. They have had a very good spring.”
Ford, the leading tackler on last year’s team, made a move from safety to the nickel role last fall. He said although he has practiced at the other positions in the secondary this spring, he is expecting to get the majority of work at the nickel spot for his senior season.
“We have adapted really well,” Ford said of the defense, which is working with a new secondary coach, Wesley McGriff. “We have got a lot of guys back and our communication. We have all come together and we all stay on the same page. If we mess up, we just lean on each other. Nobody gets down on each other. We just stay together and just keep rolling.”
Playing with energy has been a theme for the defense this spring. “It has been our No. 1 emphasis, our effort to the ball,” Ford said. “As long as you surround that ball it can’t get deeper down the field. As long as we are all around the ball we have got a great chance at stopping the ball. That has been our biggest emphasis.”
Senior quarterback Jeremy Johnson led the first offense on a well executed touchdown drive that was capped by a short touchdown run by Jovon Robinson. Quarterback John Franklin, who got the most reps of any of the QBs, showed his quickness running the option and scored on a run from 20 yards out. He also had a run of around 35 yards.
Sean White looks for a receiver during Saturday's scrimmage.
“Our quarterbacks, Sean (White) and Jeremy, did not go live,” Malzahn said. “John Franklin did go live. We just felt like it was important one more time to see how he can protect the football, just let him make some plays with his feet. It was a good evaluation from that end.”
Tyler Queen, a redshirt freshman quarterback coming back from Tommy John surgery, worked with the threes. “He was on a pitch count earlier in spring and the doctors cleared him to go live two weeks ago and I don’t think there have been any effects negatively,” Malzahn said.
Commenting on Franklin, the speedy juco transfer, Malzahn said, “He protected the football quite a bit better than he did last Saturday, which is to be expected. It's just a matter of him feeling more comfortable. We know quite a bit about the other two guys, and the other two guys have had very good practices the last couple of weeks. We're just going to make sure we get a really good evaluation of John and let him play and see what he can do.”
John Franklin did not wear the orange "no contact" jersey in Saturday's scrimmage.
A focus for Franklin has been learning the offense this spring after joining the program in January after transferring from East Mississippi Community College. Prior to that he was a backup at Florida State.
“We have been impressed the way he has picked up all the things from the sideline--the pre-snap things,” Malzahn said. “There is a lot to playing quarterback in our system before the play even starts, but you even look at the defense. I have been very impressed the way he's done that.
“He's a learner," Malzahn added. "He has studied hard. We're just kind of waiting until the game becomes slow. Kodi Burns (AU wide receivers coach) was talking the other day about when we first got here in 2009 and he was playing quarterback, and just how it takes a little bit to start feeling comfortable. You can see he's feeling more and more comfortable, but it's just going to be a matter of time.”
Tre Williams and DeShaun Davis continue to run with the ones at linebacker where the Tigers have to replace their starters from last season. “They are veteran guys and they really have had solid springs,” Malzahn said. “Darrell Williams and the other young guys they are flying around, they are playing, they are getting a lot of reps, and that’s by design.
“Coach (Travis) Williams is doing a great job with them," Malzahn said about his new linebacker coach. "The two older guys are a little bit ahead of the younger guys, but that’s to be expected. They are veteran guys and they have been extremely physical. I will say this, from the linebacker position, they have been extremely physical this spring and that’s a good thing.”
Malzahn pointed out that junior Austin Golson is making progress after moving from center, where he started last season, to offensive tackle, a position he played in high school and at Ole Miss.
“He is starting to feel more comfortable,” the coach said. “It takes a while out there on the edge, and blocking our defensive ends has been very good to see the pass rush and all of the games people play. He has done a solid job.” Golson ran with the ones at left tackle on Saturday with Robert Leff at right tackle.
Malzahn said that he likes what he is seeing from senior Xavier Dampeer at center, but noted it is too early to say for sure that Golson will stay at tackle. “I would like to wait until we get through spring to really say that, but there is a possibility," he said.
“Xavier is very comfortable,” Malzahn pointed out. “He’s been in our system for a long time. He’s just so much more confident and his snaps have been excellent and he’s had a very good spring.”
In other news and notes:
*Malzahn said he hasn’t finalized the format for next Saturday’s A-Day Game, which is set for 3 p.m. CDT at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He noted it will likely be like last year’s that matched the ones vs. twos and threes vs. the threes. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.
*The Tigers are scheduled to practice on Tuesday and Thursday
*Junior Daniel Carlson was 3-3 on field goals, including a 55-yarder at the scrimmage that Malzahn moved indoors because the grass at the stadium was wet from heavy rains the previous night.
*Markell Boston, a safety who has won praise this spring from the coaches, intercepted a pass that he deflected before catching it.
*Malzahn said that Ford had a good kickoff return. "Him and K.J. (Kerryon Johnson) and Roc (Thomas), we’ve got a lot of guys coming back that have had success," the coach said. Johnson is not practicing this spring while recuperating from shoulder surgery.