We're rounding up the news from Auburn's spring practice provided by the Tigers' beat team. Those guys -- Aaron Brenner, Joel Erickson, Ryan Wood -- provide the notes and quotes; we'll provide the analysis.
Ah, spring is in the air. It's a time for renewal and rebirth, and the Auburn football team certainly isn't excluded. Now that spring practice has arrived, the Tigers can finally turn the page on that awful 2012 season and look forward to better things in 2013. Head coach Gus Malzahn and co. held the second practice of the spring early Friday morning, and while it's still early to get a good idea of how this team is taking shape, there are some small developments that should be of interest to Auburn fans.
As expected, the offensive line is going through a bit of a shuffle. Alex Kozan and Devonte Danzey, two players projected as guards, have been getting some work at center behind starter Reese Dismukes. Meanwhile, Tunde Fariyike, who was the backup center in 2012, has been working at guard -- Fariyike did play some guard last season. This isn't a huge surprise, as there wasn't exactly a ton of depth at center in 2012, and while Fariyike wasn't awful in filling in for Dismukes last year, he wasn't great, either. Kozan and Danzey probably bring a little more talent to the position. The pair is also working at guard, which is where they're more likely to break into the offensive line rotation.
Malzahn, on Fariyike: "He is really focusing on guard," Malzahn said. "He has done the center thing, and we know that, and he has the ability to do that, but we're giving those other two a chance to see what they can do in the spring."
Redshirt freshman Jordan Diamond has been working with the first-team offensive line. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee explains: "Thing about him is he's got unbelievable work ethic. He cares." That's awfully encouraging. Don't be surprised if Diamond is holding down a starting job by the time Week 1 rolls around.
It's a toss-up at running back right now, with Lashlee calling the depth chart and rotation "dead random." Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Tre Mason all bring talent to the table, and Lashlee seems impressed with Grant's speed so far: "He's definitely a guy we'll take a look at with that. ... Straight-line, he can really run." Injuries really held Grant back last season, and while he has talent, Artis-Payne and Mason should probably be seen as the top guys, with the former holding the power back role and the latter taking over Onterio McCalebb's speed back role.
Robenson Therezie won't let the dream of playing running back die, but it just doesn't seem to be in the stars for him. On Wednesday, Therezie told the media he'd be playing "part-time offense" this spring. On Friday, Lashlee squelched that idea: "Right now, he's 100 percent defense."
Wide receiver is a bit of a jumble, too, but on Friday, Ricardo Louis received the most praise from Lashlee: "I've been impressed with the way Ricardo Louis can stretch the field. He looks really fast right now. We'll see when we get pads." Considering what Auburn has returning at the position, Louis would make sense as one of the favorites to be a playmaker for the Tigers.
As far as Trovon Reed is concerned, Malzahn says it's time for the senior to step up and make his presence known: "We have high expectations. It's time, and he knows that." Preach, Gus, preach. Are the coaches giving Reed a short leash? That would probably be a good thing. Reed needs to know that if he doesn't perform, he probably won't be given many more opportunities.
Both Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace bring assets to the quarterback position. Lashlee: "They're both locked in. They're eager, and they're trying to do everything I'm asking them to." Wallace looked better than Frazier last season, but considering Frazier's background and experience with the type of offense Malzahn will run, we'll tentatively call him the favorite to be the starter against Washington State. Playing in a system with which he's comfortable could do wonders for Frazier's game. Then again, he could be permanently damaged after 2012. There's really no way to make a confident guess as to who will be the Tigers' signal-caller this year.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says the defensive line is deep: "Since the college scholarship limitations were changed 20 years ago, I've never seen this many live bodies." However, he's not declaring as ready to compete: "That doesn't mean they're all players. We'll find that out." Honestly, it's nice to know Johnson sees the line the same way most everyone else sees it. In 2012, there was plenty of raw talent, but because it hadn't been developed, the D-line was pretty bad. Sounds like Johnson knows he has to work to turn that talent into production.
Only two true linebacker positions in Johnson's 4-2-5. Right now, Johnson is working Kris Frost and LaDarius Owens at Mike, Cassanova McKinzy and Anthony Swain at Will, and Jake Holland and Chris Landrum are learning both positions. So, what exactly does that mean for Frost, McKinzy and Holland. It's possible that Holland is learning both positions because Johnson knows he'll likely have to receive a lot of snaps at one or the other. But, maybe Johnson is confident in Frost and McKinzy holding down the starting roles, and Holland is seen as their backup. That may be too good to be true, but a man can dream, can't he?
Justin Garrett and JaViere Mitchell are getting looks at Johnson's safety/linebacker hybrid "Star" position. Considering their respective sizes -- 6'1, 214 pounds and 6'2, 211 pounds -- that makes sense.
Johnson's got jokes. When speaking on his defensive coaching staff, which isn't the youngest group in town, he said, "I think first thing that stands out is experience we have. I like to use word experience and not age."
Not a whole lot of news on the secondary, although Johnson did praise Demetruce McNeal at safety: ""He's been really good, and it's easy to tell his experience level. He picks up things quickly." Auburn's defensive backs have been pitiful at best since the dawn of the Gene Chizik era, and if even one player could turn it around an play well, it would be a welcome change of pace. McNeal is a senior with experience, so maybe he'll help to lead a renaissance in the Tigers' defensive backfield.
Auburn will practice in pads for the first time Saturday, which means we'll really start to see which players are impressing and which are falling behind.