Tigers Preparing for Major Scrimmage

Comments from the Auburn coordinators plus news and notes are featured in this football report.

Auburn, Ala.--With hundreds of high school coaches on campus watching Friday's practice, the Auburn football Tigers went through drills in preparation for the first scrimmage of the spring scheduled for Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that he has several areas he will be watching closely at the scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said on Friday that he wants to see improved tackling in the scrimmage.

"I would say the number one thing as a coaching staff we are looking for tomorrow is attention to detail and discipline--kind of the same thing," Lashlee said. "Here we are six days in and we are still too way inconsistent.

"You can have nine or 10 guys doing exactly what they are supposed to do and one guy isn't focused or doesn't line up right and know what his assignment is or doesn't execute properly and it messes the whole thing up."

Lashlee, who doubles as the quarterback coach, said, "The second thing, and just as important, is the mental toughness. I know we are not where we need to be mentally tough. I know their attitudes are great and they are giving us what they think is all they have got. They are hanging on every word their coaches are saying and they are trying to do what we ask them to do. They have to learn to push themselves beyond what we think we can."

The coordinator wants to see more improvement from quarterbacks Jonathan Wallace and Kiehl Frazier, who he noted have gotten better since the opening day of drills. "Neither one are processing the information fast enough," he said. "Six practices in that is probably to be expected. We are putting something new in every day. It is a new system. There is still a lot of thinking going on, not as much reacting.

"They know what to do," he said. "I see them going to the right place with the football and do the right thing, but is maybe a step behind of where we need to be. You can't be late on things."

Kiehl Frazier throws a pass in Friday's practice as Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee watch the junior quarterback.

As the Tigers head into the second half of spring practice, Lashlee said the quarterbacks need "to improve at quicker pace." He noted that there is not a lot of separation between Wallace and Frazier and said that at this point of spring drills he isn't seeing the Tigers being ready to name the starter for 2013 at the QB spot after A-Day.

"I want those guys to keep competing and at the end of spring we will see where we are at and go from there," the offensive coordinator said. "We have been in this situation before. We are in no hurry. We want to get the right guy who is going to help our team. No matter who it is, the next guy has got to be ready to go, too."

Johnson said that he is "pleasantly surprised" with how the Tigers are picking up some of their assignments, but added, "I think we are a long, long way--especially when we are doing fast tempo operations--from cleaning up missed assignments and other things that are hurting us."

The coordinator said the defense needs to do a better job of staying mentally focused for long periods of time. "It causes a little breakdown in assignments or a breakdown in fundamentals and either one of those will get you in trouble."

Johnson noted that the attitude of the players has been the most pleasing aspect of spring drills so far and the tackling is the most concerning. "Tomorrow that will be a huge thing," he said about the tackling.

Johnson said tackling drills have been a point of emphasis every day in practice, noting the players have been better in the open field than making physical stops at the point of attack. "We have got to keep harping on it, keep our finger on it and keep demanding it," he said.

The defensive coordinator noted that execution of assignments will also be a high priority for the scrimmage and added, "The number one thing is effort to the ball--pursuit effort with everybody giving the best effort they can give.

"The number two thing is tackling--we have got to see that improve, the physical part of it, the fundamentals part of it," he said.

Johnson said the No. 3 area of emphasis for the scrimmage is how consistently the defenders execute the part of the defense they have been working on in detail. "These things we have been working on since day one, two and three, we have got to start seeing consistency in the execution of them. Any mistakes have got to start disappearing."

Johnson said as a group the cornerbacks have performed well this spring, the defensive line needs to get more physical and more consistent while the linebackers need to be more assertive.

"We have been extremely pleased with our cornerback play overall in the passing area," he said. "We have already had four or five picks in live situations and I know that three have been by corners."

The coach said that Kris Frost is the most assertive of the linebackers so far this spring, but is making "busts" in assignments. He noted that Jake Holland has been "pretty good" although he needs to be quicker and more assertive with his calls. Johnson said that he likes that Frost is showing a physical style of play.

The Tigers practiced for two hours in full pads on Friday. After the session Lashlee had praise for a trio of juniors. "I think Jaylon Denson has been extremely consistent for us. I?think C.J. (tight end C.J. Uzomah) has been really consistent for us. Reese Dismukes (center) has not only been consistent, but vocal as a leader. I am proud of him for that from him."

Denson said he is feeling good about his potential of having a breakout season at receiver. He has been working at the slot receiver spot and is now getting work as an outside receiver. Denson noted that he is looking forward to Saturday's scrimmage. "It will give us a chance to see where we are when we strap ‘em on and get out there," he said.

"I am working to be one of the guys the offense can count on," added Denson, who noted he is trying to please his new position coach, Dameyune Craig, someone who Denson said he likes. "He is very intense, very vocal," the junior said.

One of the adjustments for Denson this year is getting comfortable with the up-tempo style of play, which requires a lot of sprinting for the wideouts. "In the beginning it was rough, but I think we are all making small steps toward being in good shape for it."

Lashlee said that Denson is a player who has the potential to have a big season. "He has been steady," noted the coach, who said the for Hoover High star is a player he can count on to perform as a receiver and blocker. "He is making plays," Lashlee added. "I definitely see his role increasing."

In other news and notes:

*Tony Dungy, who led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl title, is the featured speaker at Auburn's coaching clinic for high school coaches, the 46th annual edition of the event. Among the featured speakers was former Auburn player Joe Whitt, Jr., who coaches defensive backs for the Green Bay Packers. Approximately 500 coaches are attending the event.

Members of the Auburn coaching staff plus high school and NFL coaches are conducting seminars throughout the day on Friday. The coaches will be guests of the coaching staff for a crawfish boil and barbecue at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Friday night and have been invited to watch the scrimmage on Saturday.

*Lashlee said that all three of the scholarship tailbacks have been practicing well. The group includes Tre Mason, Corey Grant and newcomer Cameron Artis-Payne, a juco transfer. "

*Alex Kozan, who has been practicing at center, worked with the first unit at left guard on Friday ahead of Jordan Diamond. The coach said they are seeing good things from Kozan, a redshirt freshman as is Diamond. "Hopefully, he can have a good scrimmage at guard," Lashlee said.

Offensive linemen Devonte Danzey (53), Tunde Fariyike (65) and Jordan Diamond (76) are shown at Wednesday's practice.

Commenting on the offensive line as a group, Lashlee said that Tigers have work to do on improving the fundamentals. "Up there it is all about their footwork and their steps," Lashlee said.

*Johnson said that "star" rover Justin Garrett has been a "bright spot" with his tackling and physical play this spring while learning a new position. "Hopefully, it will be infectious," said Johnson, who noted he likes the junior's athleticism, closing speed and physical style. "He likes contact," Johnson added.

*After hearing from Lashlee and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson on Thursday night, head coach Gus Malzahn addressed the early risers among the coaching clinic visitors at an FCA breakfast on Friday before sending the Tigers on to the field for their sixth practice of the spring.

More Practice Notes And Discussion:

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