Optimistic Tigers Start Practice This Week

A pair of veteran players discuss the Auburn football team as the Tigers head into preseason drills.

Auburn, Ala.--As the coaches and players put the finishing touches on preparations for preseason workouts, the 2013 Auburn football team will officially start practice on Friday with high hopes of bouncing back from one of the most disappointing seasons in school history.

A revamped coaching staff led by Gus Malzahn has made major changes, both offensively and defensively. A pair of the team's most experienced players contend the Tigers are on a path to improvement.

"I feel like we have a lot of potential," says fourth-year senior Chad Slade, one of four returning starters on the offensive line from an underachieving 2012 team that won just three games.

"We have a lot of talent," Slade says. "You can't say what happened last year was based on talent. I couldn't really tell you what it was based on, but I know we have a lot of talent and I feel like we are going to use it this year and get the job done."

The 6-5, 310-pound guard from Moody High School claims the Tigers have been focused on getting better since the new coaching staff took over beginning in December. He adds that has not changed throughout the summer.

"We are all about football," Slade says. "If you ask anybody on the team they will tell you our minds are straight on football and getting better for the first game on August 31st. Everybody is talking about leadership and we have so much leadership on this team right now."

As the Tigers get ready to hit the practice field with their coaches preparing for the opener vs. Washington State, fourth-year senior linebacker Jake Holland agrees with Slade that the players are focused on getting better.

Looking at the big picture on a defensive group that finished 13th of 14 SEC teams last year, Holland says, "As a unit I feel like we play a lot closer. We swarm to the ball and that type of thing. There are lot of other things that go into it. As a unit I think we have a lot of upside and we are getting there. We have to do it and I think we can get it done."

Jake Holland can play both the middle and weakside linebacker positions.

Holland says he likes the attitude he is seeing from the team and notes that Malzahn and his staff have done a good job of fostering improvements in that area.

"They came in not knowing who we were," he points out. "I feel like they have really put a lot of effort into saying, ‘Hey, we care about you guys and we want the best for you guys.' It is not all about football. It is about the people you meet and the character you build here. We even have had character building meetings about becoming Auburn men."

Slade agrees with Holland that those meetings have helped improve the team's attitude and develop more leadership.

Slade says he and his teammates up front on offense can't wait to get the season started. "I think we are going to be 10 times better than we were last year," he predicts.

"I feel like this group of offensive linemen we have now is dedicated and wants to get it done," he adds. "We want to be the first people on the practice field and the last to leave. I feel like last year's group can't compare to this year's group because of how dedicated we are."

Slade notes that with the Tigers running Malzahn's offense again, he and fellow returning OL starters Reese Dismukes and Greg Robinson are very familiar with the system and they have been helping their teammates learn their assignments during the players' only workouts and meetings this summer. "We feel like we still remember everything about it," he says.

The junior also points out that the entire squad has stepped up its strength and conditioning levels, something they have been challenged to do by Malzahn as well as strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.

"I feel great," Slade says. "I feel like I have gotten in better shape during the offseason with the help of Coach Russell and the great group of guys on his staff. I feel like this was the best offseason I have had so far."

With the Tigers switching to the hurry-up, no-huddle offense they ran when Malzahn was the coordinator, the players understand the need to be in the best shape possible, Slade notes. "We might have like a 15-play drive. You know you are going to get tired, but you have to learn to be mentally tough as well as physically tough.

"Coach Russell always says, ‘You have got to be able to do the things in the fourth quarter you can do in the first quarter,' so that is the way we condition," Slade adds. "That is what we have been working on all summer."

On defense Holland's position coach, Ellis Johnson, doubles as the coordinator. He has switched the Tigers from a 4-3 alignment to a 4-2-5.

"He is a great guy, but the main thing about Coach Johnson is that he is a great teacher on the field," Holland says. "He puts a lot of time into making sure we know what we are doing. I have grown close to Coach Johnson and I?hope to continue to grow closer."

Holland notes that Johnson really enjoys his job and the players like his excitement. "He really does like football," the senior says. "He has told us as a linebacker corps he really appreciates us and he is looking forward to this season."

Chad Slade started every game last season for the Tigers.

Like Slade, the linebacker predicts improvement from his position group for the 2013 season.

"From what I have seen this year, we are light years better than we were last year, especially as a linebacker corps," Holland says. "Don't get me wrong, we have got a long ways to go, but we have put in a lot of work this summer and our focus is we have got to get better."

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