Franklin Talks Practice and Personnel

Tony Franklin talks with Inside the Auburn Tigers about some of his practice routines, run and pass balance, as well as terminology of the offensive skill positions.

Auburn, Ala.--Auburn's offensive bowl performance against Clemson was impressive in many ways. Coming in for only nine practices and installing enough of the offense to get by while ignoring many important techniques of the offense, Tony Franklin guided the Tigers to 423 yards and 23 points in the overtime victory.

Ignoring details, however, isn't what Franklin is about, and the Tigers offense will spend a healthy portion of the time during the 15 practices and scrimmages working on all of the aspects overlooked last December.

"The biggest thing is that we didn't have time to get good at the little things," Franklin says of the preparation before the bowl. "We didn't have time to spend an hour on correcting some horrible mistake that is going to cost you in the long run, because we had to learn plays. Learning plays is usually the least important thing, but if you're going to play a game in nine practices you've got to learn those. The biggest thing is just focusing on the details: quarterbacks learning to see the rush, to slide to avoid the rush; the receivers learning to get a great stance on every snap and that their bodies are down nice and low; running backs are getting their feet hot on blitzers and staying right down in the middle of them, just little things like that.

"The main thing is," he adds of the spring, "I hope to get a lot better in the little things--the details. For example, when an inside receiver is running a vertical route and he's going to be contacted, he goes through the outside pad and that he gets his body level and that he bends into the grass; that a receiver exaggerates the look of the ball into the tuck on every drill that he does; that on every release that they stem the defender. Those are things that I'm looking for in the spring, not an emergence of 16 new plays that we do better. Just doing the little things right with the little bit that we do."

Spring practice began on Sunday afternoon with a highly up-tempo session lasting just over two hours. Not only were the reps quicker in most of the offensive team drills, but often times all four quarterbacks (Chris Todd, Kodi Burns, Neil Caudle and DeRon Furr) would each throw a ball to a different receiver on one play.

"When you come to practice you'll see a ton of reps and a fast tempo all of the time," Franklin explains. "That's just the way that we always practice. To be good at throwing the football you have to practice it 70 to 80 percent of your practice time. Whereas you can be effective running the football by practicing 20 or 30 percent of your time in practice in doing that. We've proven that by doing it. Last year we probably spent 10 percent of our time in the run game and we were 35th in the nation in the run and playing great competition. It's just that we've proven over the years is that you have to spend your practice time unequally, but you still may be equal in your balance in numbers."

Franklin spent a good deal of time toward the beginning of the practice working with all four quarterbacks on fundamentals covering everything from throwing motion to footwork. The QBs also worked in team drills running the zone read as well as going over many pass plays.

The zone read is a big part of several successful run-based spread offenses around the country, and Franklin says it will also be a big part of Auburn's offense. However, the Tigers will be a pass-first team, but not as heavy as the Hawaii's and Texas Tech's of the college football world.

"When people say ‘the spread' they think it entails everything, and it doesn't," Franklin explains. "You have people who run it all the time out of a spread offense and you have people who throw every time out of a spread offense. Then you have people that try to do a little bit of both, and that's what we do. We want to run the ball. We're going to throw it first, we're going to run it second, but the numbers are probably going to even themselves out. It's probably going to end up somewhere around 50/50 before it's over with."

In the bowl game the balance was fairly close to even, as the Tigers ran 47 times for 190 yards and passed 43 times for 233 yards.

The spread is sometimes associated with finesse, but Franklin notes that with his personnel it's also going to be more physical than in his previous college stops at Kentucky at and Troy.

"The biggest difference for me is that we have true tight ends, more than one, who can block and who can run routes and catch the ball," he explains. "They can do both. We have offensive linemen who are dynamic as far as being physical and being tough. They're athletic. I think that's the biggest difference, is that there is more depth in the offensive line and there are true tight ends that can make plays.

"It changes your thinking a little bit about how you play the ball game," Franklin adds. "There are going to be times where I'll be able to run the clock out here, whereas I would have struggled to do it without throwing the ball some when I was at Troy."

Sunday's practice turned out to be as expected from a personnel standpoint. The outside receivers, called X and Y and coached by Greg Knox, were Rod Smith, Montez Billings, James Swinton, Robert Dunn, Quindarius Carr and several walk-ons. Billings practiced with a slight limp and Swinton was sporting a new No. 16 jersey.

The slot players were all of the tight ends (Tommy Trott, Gabe McKenzie, Bailey Woods and Brent Slusher) as well as tall receivers Tim Hawthorne and Chris Slaughter. Mario Fannin, John Douglas and another handful of walk-ons worked in the slot, coached by Steve Ensminger.

"The X for us is usually on the left, not always," Franklin explains. "He's usually a wide receiver on the left. The H is a slot who, in a base formation, starts on the left, but he can line up everywhere on the field and he can be in the backfield or out of the backfield. Most of the time with us he'll be out of the backfield in the slot. Sometimes we'll have a big H where one of the tight ends will take that position. The Y can be the tight end and will be the tight end, but there will be 30 to 50 percent of the snaps where there won't be a tight end. It could be a big Y still in the game in the slot or it could be a little Y in the game in the slot. The Z in the base formation will be on the right, but he moves all over the field as well. He's almost always outside. He's an outside receiver. The F is the feature back. He's usually in the backfield by himself, but sometimes there will be two-back sets."

The F is coached by Eddie Gran, which on Sunday was primarily Brad Lester and Tristan Davis. Ben Tate wasn't present as he was receiving a long-awaited high school award while also nursing a slightly injured thigh. He is expected to be back soon. Douglas, a redshirt freshman who was recruited as a fullback, could also see time in the backfield.

"John Douglas is actually going to play Y, H and F," Franklin states. "He's kind of a hybrid. I've actually been really excited about him because he's shown in the drill work that he's much more agile than I thought. They tell me that's he's got really good hands, too. I'm excited about him and what he can do."

The Tigers return to practice on Tuesday at 7 a.m.


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