Gus Malzahn Press Conference Review: Fall Camp Opener
Head Coach Gus Malzahn after Auburn's 23-16 win over Vanderbilt on November 5, 2016
(Photo: Tiger Communications/Matt Gaught)
Head Coach Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers opened fall camp on Monday, at the conclusion of the first day, the Head Coach reviewed the day, and also hit on key topics surrounding the Auburn Football program this upcoming season.
OPENING THE NEW SEASON:
Malzahn said that he was pleased with how the first practice of fall went. He said that Monday's focus was on the older players to begin practice, and ultimately ended with underclassman getting reps.
"What I was looking for was effort, attitude, body language, (and) just flying around. I thought for the most part, our veteran guys did that. The second part of practice was so that we could focus on our young guys. We really slowed down a little bit. There's quite a few of those guys that we are going to need to help us on Saturdays."
With a new season, comes change. Head Coach Gus Malzahn addressed a few roster moves, some players moved positions, some players left the program, and some never made it to campus. First off, Jason Smith has moved to defensive back. Smith, a Mobile native, once committed to Auburn as a quarterback before taking the JUCO route, and joining the team as a wide receiver. His senior season will be spent on the opposing side of the ball.
"That's a move that he has been really wanting to do, even during the summer," said Malzahn of Smith. "It gives us depth at the safety position. He's a guy that will understand offenses, and I really think that he can come in there and do a solid job and help us in that area."
Smith approached several defensive coaches during the summer, according to Malzahn, about making the move.
"He was doing defensive drills, I heard, with Tray Matthews. The area at safety that we could use a little more depth. He's a veteran guy. He understands offenses and he's old enough and mature enough I think to come in there and really help that group. We are also expecting big things out of him on special teams."
Jaylen McGriff joins Smith as a one-time receiver that has now joined the defensive backfield.
Signee Carlito Gonzalez will not be a member of this season's roster, he is in the process of searching for a home at a Junior College.
Defensive back Mike Sherwood will graduate and look to play his fifth season of eligibility at another school, to be determined.
Tucker Brown has moved from offensive line to tight end.
5-star OL signee Calvin Ashley participated in his first practice as an Auburn Tiger on Monday, and performed well despite having a minor procedure on his eye.
"He had a minor procedure, and was out there full speed and ready to go."
What exactly happened offensively on the first day of camp?
"Up front with we have some good competition (Coach Herb Hand) was mixing and matching up front. I know Chip (Lindsey) was rotating the quarterbacks. I know our two running backs were rotated. Receivers, there's some great competition going on there. This first two weeks offense is going to be some great competition. It will really feel like things will settle in after that two-week mark. There's a bunch of guys out there that are in the mix for playing time."
How much importance is Malzahn and staff putting on the offensive depth?
"We talked about the depth. I think quality depth has the chance to be one of our strengths. It's just a matter of who the starters are going to be. I'm real big, and I know that Chip (Lindsey) is real big on continuity, and everything that goes with that. Hopefully we can have that lined out after two weeks."
Here we go, the burning question surrounding Auburn's offense in 2017, who will play quarterback? No, Malzahn did not name a starter, but he did give specifics on deciding factors on who wins the battle between incumbent Sean White, and newcomer Jarrett Stidham.
"The simplest answer for that, is who gives you the best chance of winning. There's a lot of things that go with that, I know Chip (Lindsey) rotated them by series today. The first two days are very basic, then you start getting into day three and day four, you start going third down and some redzone, and you put them in as many situations as you can, and of course scrimmages are big, too. Chip has a good plan. Both the guys (White and Stidham) are competing at a high level, Malik (Willis) worked more with the younger guys just so Chip could spend more quality time with him. I thought that he did some good things. There's nothing better than competition. It brings out the best in everybody."
Malzahn talked about depth on the offense, well, he has that gift on the defensive line as well. Despite two of Auburn's best players over the last few seasons in Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams heading to the NFL, Auburn has experience returning in Marlon Davidson, Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, and others.
Does Russell have what it takes to step up and be the leader of the defensive line this season?
"He's so consistent, Malzahn said of the junior Russell. "He does all the technical things right. When he doesn't make plays, he usually helps other people make plays. I really think that it starts with him, and of course we have pretty good depth, so I'm excited about fall camp to really see how everything lines up with older guys and younger guys."
The Auburn Offensive line returns great talent in Braden Smith, Austin Golson, and Darius James, plus the addition of Jacksonville State transfer Casey Dunn and Wilson Bell, a transfer from Florida State. Who will have a starting spot? Where will who play? When will we know?
"I think the two-week mark would be best case scenario. Coach Hand has that planned. It's been thought out and I feel very good about it, I know Chip does, too, about putting guys in some different positions, and it's just a matter of what five guys gives us the best chance of being successful, and putting those guys together, and working that continuity because there is nothing better than knowing exactly the communication with the guy beside you. There is some good competition there up front. I think back on recent years, I don't think that has been the case at this point. I think that is a good thing."
Even though much has left to be decided, Malzahn feels comfortable with one move on the line.
"Moving Braden (Smith) to tackle, we are definitely solid with that. He was a great guard, too. We are going to see quite a bit more out front this year, and of course running the ball effectively out front, your tackles have to win, so that had something to do with it. We felt like some good options at guard, and we think that we have some good competition right now, there's three or four of those guys that are in the mix that will still have a chance to compete for those guard positions."
Casey Dunn, who was an All-American and All-Ohio Valley Conference selection while at Jacksonville State, adds depth to the center position. How comforting is that to Malzahn?
"It is a luxury that you have a guy that has played at a high level, and started. When Casey played against the two SEC teams, us and LSU, he did very well. It's just a matter of Coach Hand evaluating him here, and how he compares. Austin (Golson) is one of our team leaders, and he has great experience. There is nothing better than having experience at your center, especially with what we do. My biggest fear besides all quarterbacks getting hurt, is your center (getting hurt) with snapping the football and the timing and all that. That is a blessing to have that many guys that can snap a ball."
Malzahn is joyed to have players such as Dunn and Wilson Bell, who have proven experience at previous programs, but he will not let that play a role in who wins a staring spot.
"They've done it at a high level at other places. There is some expectation from a coaching standpoint, but at the same time, they have to earn it. There's good competition. We have some young guys that didn't play a lot last year that have raised their levels, too. Right now, it's real refreshing to me to have quality depth on the offensive line."
Since the departure of C.J. Uzomah in 2014, Auburn has very rarely utilized a tight end in the capacity of blocking and receiving. Auburn signed Sal Canella, a tight end from Scottsdale Community College in Arizona that recorded 443 yards on 29 catches in 2016 for seven touchdowns. He worked out as a receiver on Monday.
"When we recruited Sal, we knew that he was versatile. In High School and even Junior College, they put him split out, and of course you saw him in the spring game, he did pretty good, but he also is really learning to play with his hand down and to be able to do some things. He has also done some things at H-Back, so he's a real versatile player, and I think you could see him move around this year."
Auburn continues fall camp for the next month, before opening the season September 2 against Georgia Southern at Jordan-Hare Stadium, kickoff slated for 6:30 P.M.