Gus Malzahn made his SEC Media Days debut Wednesday, and if his offense at Auburn is anything like his press conference at the Wynfrey, it'll be awfully fast.
Malzahn raced through his opening statement and questions from the media in just under 20 minutes, often beginning his answers before reporters could finish his questions. He wasn't the most entertaining character to take the podium, but he certainly showed more life than Gene Chizik during the former head coach's appearances in Hoover. With his thick Southern drawl, Malzahn touched on a number of topics, including the quarterback race, his assistant coaches and the idea that an up-tempo offense is potentially dangerous for the players on the field.
The biggest moment came when Malzahn was asked to comment on safety concerns over his offense, brought up by Nick Saban and Arkansas' Bret Bielema and recently echoed in a story by Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel. Malzahn's response.
"When I first heard that, to be honest with you, I thought it was a joke. As far as healthy or safety issues, that's like saying the defense shouldn't blitz after a first down because they're a little fatigued and there's liable to be a big collision in the backfield.
Regarding Bielema's proposed rule changes to slow down offenses: "If you're going to look at rules changes, officials, we need to look at the guys on defense that are faking injuries to slow down these pace teams. That's an issue of integrity."
During Bielema's presser, the Arkansas coach didn't take kindly to Malzahn's words.
"I'm not a comedian. You cannot tell me that a player after play five is the same player that he is after play 15. If that exposes him to a risk of injury, then that's my fault. I can't do anything about it because the rules do not allow me to substitute a player in whether I'm on offense or defense."
Bielema later admitted he had no proof that up-tempo offenses endanger players and confessed to the crowd that he is, in fact, not a scientist nor a doctor. But he adamantly expressed that his genuine concern was only for the safety of his kids, and he didn't really care about the offensive scheme itself. He mentioned college football's recent rule changes on kickoffs to limit violent collisions, but it should be noted that Bielema exploited that rule change for a competitive advantage.
Bielema once ran his kick team offsides intentionally twice in a row to take advantage of a loophole. But sure, he cares more about safety.— Matt Brown (@MattBrownSoE) July 17, 2013
Safe to say, the annual Auburn-Arkansas game has taken on a bit more color.
The other major topic was Auburn's quarterback race, which Malzahn discussed on multiple occasions.
On Kiehl Frazier:
"Kiehl had a solid spring. The unique thing for us is coming in new with new coaches, it probably took about halfway through spring where we actually got the pieces of the puzzle around him to be in the right spot so we could properly evaluate our quarterback. The fact that he had a background in this offense, I think it helped. But anytime last year they went to a completely different offense, it takes a little bit of time to get back in a routine. Probably the last five practices, it started to click and you started to see him get more and more comfortable in this offense."
On Jeremy Johnson and Nick Marshall fitting into the race this fall:
"Well, that's definitely a challenge. Anytime you're going to properly evaluate four guys, we're going to have to have strategies in place to evaluate them. Put them in different situations as early in fall camp as we can.
"Like I said earlier, hopefully one of them will step up and distance themselves from the others. Anytime you're going to have four guys, that's definitely a concern. I felt very strong we knew about the two guys in spring, but I wanted to give those two new guys a fair chance. We'll be doing things a little bit different in fall camp early, and hopefully one of those guys will emerge sooner rather than later."
On Jeremy Johnson, specifically:
"Yeah, of course, I started recruiting Jeremy Johnson in the eighth or ninth grade. I know a lot about him. NFL-type arm. A lot of ability. Very good athlete. Very good basketball player, too. The future's bright for him. It's just a matter of how quick he can pick everything up."
On Nick Marshall, specifically:
"When he was in high school, of course, a lot of people thought he was unbelievably talented. Of course, he goes to another SEC school and I believe was very successful at other positions. Then he went to junior college last year. He was a guy I was looking at when I was at Arkansas State. Feel like he has a lot of ability to be very effective.
"When we got here, we got him on campus. He'll have a chance. He's unbelievably talented. He has a big-time arm. He's like Jeremy. How quick can he pick up the offense? What we ask our quarterback to do from the sideline, it's tough pre-snap as far as communication, everything we ask them to do.
"But we will give him and Jeremy a fair chance and we'll see what happens."
For a full transcript of Malzahn's presser, click here.
Of course, Malzahn wasn't the only one representing Auburn Wednesday. He was joined by three senior Tigers: cornerback Chris Davis, defensive end Dee Ford and H-back Jay Prosch. Below, you can check out video excerpts of their time in front of the media.
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