Gus Malzahn Previews 2016 Spring Practice

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Opening statement…Our players and our coaches are extremely excited that it’s the first day of practice. Our guys are ready to get out there and get after it. The spring goals are pretty simple this year – right to the point – for our players, we want a base understanding of the fundamentals and techniques of the offense, defense and special teams. From a coach’s standpoint, our goal is to get a two-deep by the end of spring, and more importantly, to get them in positions so they can get better during the summer in their base fundamentals.

“Our theme this year is “Earn It.” It’s as simple as that. Earn your teammates’ respect, earn your coaches’ respect, earn it every day on the field and off the field. The players came up with that and I think it’s very appropriate.

“I’m very excited about our staff this year. Coach Steele and our defensive staff have really jelled. They’re doing a great job of working together and are excited to get out on the field and coach our defensive guys. Our offensive staff – I’m very excited about this group. It’s very unique – each one of our offensive coaches has an expertise in what we’re doing. Our offense is a unique offense, and everybody on our offensive staff has either played in the offense and been very successful, or been with it a long time and know the ins and outs of everything.

“Off the field updates, we’ve got four new GAs: on the offensive side, Jonathan Wallace, which all of you know he’s going to be an excellent coach; and Austin Tucker, who was the offensive coordinator at Hewitt-Trussville. We think he’s going to do a great job for us. Defensively, Craig Sanders, who played for us – we feel great about Craig; and Ishmael Aristide is going to be working with our defensive backs and we’re excited about him.

“From our analyst positions, offensively, Jonny Brewer, who’s been a GA for the last three seasons, has moved up to analyst. We really feel strong about having somebody who can really help our new GAs – we think he’ll do a good job with that. Jeff Norrid, who was with us last year, is going to be working with Tim Horton with running backs, and then Eric Munoz, who’s been with us three years and does a great job, is going to be helping Coach Fountain with the special teams. Defensively, Rob Coleman is going to be working with the linebackers; he’s a guy that started working with me back in 1991 at Hughes High School. Brandon Wheeling was a GA the last three years just like Jonny and we moved him up. We think he’ll do a good job with the transition in helping the new GAs, and Devin Ducote is a guy who worked with Coach Steele last year and is going to be his right-hand man. I feel very good about that group.

“Player updates – Chris Laye is no longer with the team. Chris is going to finish his degree here at Auburn. He’s a fine young man and is going to have a bright future. JaViere Mitchell is a guy that’s graduated and he’s chosen not to come back for next year, He’s ready to start his life and his career. He did a great job for us the last three years. Both are fine young men and they’re going to be very successful in life.

“As far as some injured guys who will out for the spring, Tray Matthews will be out with a shoulder injury, Kerryon Johnson had surgery and he will be out this spring and Jeremiah Dinson will be out for the spring. On a limited basis, Josh Holsey will be limited, Stanton Truitt will be limited, but they’ll be participating.

“Overall, I’d say our guys are extremely excited to get out there. They’ve done a super job up to this point with our mat drills, in the weight room – you can tell this is a very close group. You can also tell that they’ve got a chip on their shoulder from last year, which I think is very healthy. Last year, we had an inexperienced team and we had some close losses, but these guys, a lot of them are coming back and they’re looking forward to getting out there and moving forward.

“As far as spring practices are concerned, we’re going to go Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. We will do that for two weeks – we’ll have five practices, then take a break for spring break. Then we’ll come back and have 10 practices after that. Our coaches and our players are excited. We think we’re in a good spot for the spring.”

Does he remember ever being as thin at a position as linebacker… “We’ve got some young guys that are inexperienced. Tre’ Williams is the one guy that he’s kind of the veteran of the group right now. But we feel good about these young guys, and there’s nothing better than getting reps in the spring, and all of those young guys are going to have an opportunity to show what they can do. And, of course, we’ve got some guys that we feel very good about.”

Does he have a chip on his shoulder after last season… “Oh, there’s no doubt. That’s why I’m excited to get out there. It’s a new year. From a coaching standpoint, especially a head coach’s standpoint, you evaluate the things from last year that you need to improve on, and we know what they are and we are going to go out there and redeem ourselves. And so, me personally I’m excited to get on the practice field.”

On his plan for quarterback reps during spring practice… “We are going to start out and they are going to have equal reps. We’ve done that in the past. We’ll chart everything that they do in team setting, 7-on-7 setting, give them all a chance to compete. Competition brings out the best in everyone. My experience is the longer spring goes on, you put the guys in different situations, and I’m not going to rule out the chance of going live in spring. We did that two weeks before our season in 2013 and it cleared up things in a hurry. So we’ll see. And Rhett (Lashlee) and I will evaluate that position on a daily basis.”

On what he’s seen from John Franklin III… “He’s off to a good start with Coach (Ryan) Russell. He had good mat drills with our coaches. I think he is a guy that is very eager. He’s done a good job so far of just being a good teammate, getting to know his teammates. So we’ll see what he does.”

On having familiar faces on the staff… “Rob is a guy that was with me when we first started out. From a coach, sometimes you look and the guys that helped you get to where you’re at, he’s one of those guys. He had a great high school career, won a lot of state championships. He was just ready to take the next step to college. He’ll do very well. As far as being comfortable and having guys that have been with you, I think there’s great value to that, guys that know how you operate, played in our system. A lot of guys have just been with me a long time, and I think there’s something to that. It’s a comfort. Our offense is unique, and the more expertise that you have doing something is nothing but a positive. I’m very excited about this offensive staff and very comfortable.”

Will he push tempo more this season… “Yeah, that is one of the things that we’ve got to do. You get a chance to evaluate everything, and tempo is a big factor with us. At times we didn’t have great tempo last year, and so we will play extremely fast in the spring and just get our guys back in that mode.”

On Tyler Queen’s health… “He will be on a pitch count of I think 50 throws a day, but everything else he’ll be ready to go. That’s still a lot of throws, and that’s after he warms up. So Coach Lashlee will definitely keep up with that. But he’s in a good spot right now. He’s excited to get out there and get back participating.”

On the mindset of Jeremy Johnson and Sean White… “Both of those guys are looking forward to a fresh start during spring. Both of them are looking to compete. That’s the great thing about it — right now we’ll have good competition in that room, and everything they do we’ll make sure we chart, we grade everything and see what comes of it. But my experience is when you’ve got good competition, it brings out the best in everybody. And I expect that quarterback room to do that this spring.”

What he is looking for from Jeremy Johnson… “I think Jeremy is just in a spot where he’s ready to get back out there. It’s a new year. And he’s done a good job of putting last year and even when he was successful the two (previous years), he’s put that behind him. He is laser-focused moving forward. I think there is some freshness with that. And he’s got that look. Sean has got that look, too. That was last year. This is a new year. And that is what we have been preaching to our guys. You can use those things as far as having that chip on your shoulder to help motivate you, but they’re moving forward and they’re looking forward. This is a new team and there are new dynamics to it.”

Are there any position changes going into spring… “Not right now. But take the offensive line for an example — we will be moving some guys around, especially the first five days. Coach (Herb) Hand has a good plan to give guys different opportunities, and then hopefully after we come back from spring break, we’ll have a little bit more position specific. As far as the rest of the offense, you could see Chandler Cox and (Kamryn) Pettway getting some reps at tailback. Both of those guys played some of that in high school, and we’re just wanting to get more depth at that position. As far as defense goes, everything should be status quo the way they ended. But at the same time, Coach (Kevin) Steele has got the flexibility to look at some things during spring.”

On Devin Adams… “Yes, he will be a walk-on quarterback, and we’ll see what he can do.”

On the nine early enrollees… “The good thing is that the nine guys that came in, we have more information about those guys. I’ve been very impressed personally with the way they’ve responded to our mat drills, and the way they’ve responded to Coach Russell. He’s been impressed, too, because a lot of times they are getting into something new. Their heads are spinning with everything that goes on. But there is a lot of maturity with that group, and that’s a good thing. So we’re excited about spring practice seeing how they get out there and compete. There’s quite a few of those guys that could help us next year, so we’ll know more after spring. But we feel very good about the group, and we’re getting reports about how they’re doing off the field, too — academically, socially, everything that goes with it.”

Could Kyle Davis compete immediately… “He’s got the ability. He’s got that ability that could definitely help us next year. But it kind of comes back to what I said — just the earn it attitude — he understands that.”

Is there an adjustment period with defensive staff… “Coach (Kevin) Steele is a veteran guy, and there is quite a bit of carry-over as far as the foundation of our defense last year. From a coaching standpoint, there’s nothing better than getting out there and competing against each other and getting used to working together. All those guys are true professionals, and they are all going the same direction. That’s what is exciting for me.”

Is Kyle Davis limited by his shoulder… “He could be limited some. We’re going to see how that happens, but he has really done a good job with his transition from his minor surgery earlier in the year.”

On players getting used to new coaches… “You know, that player-coach relationship, there’s nothing better than going out on the field and getting used to each other and the expectations for each position coach. I will say this, our defense coach and our offensive ones that are new here have done a very good job of spending time with our guys, trying to get to know them, developing that relationship and telling them the expectations. There’s nothing better than getting out there, so it’ll be good to see how our guys respond.”

Will the defensive scheme be different… “There’s going to be some differences, but the foundation is kind of from the same tree. As far as the foundation of the defense, which I think will be very good for our players with the carry-over, especially the way the defense finished the year. I think that’ll be a good transition moving forward.”

On Herb Hand having a hands-on role with the offense… “You know, Herb is a guy that I have a lot of trust in, just because of our experiences before. Herb was our co-OC before at Tulsa. We kind of combined some of those things that first year in 2007 and 2008. He’s a guy that our personalities really complement each other, even on game day. He is a guy that definitely we can rely on to help us, but at the same time you can probably say that about each one of our offensive coaches. Tim Horton has been with us for four years and has a great understanding of what we’re doing. Scott Fountain has been with us for four years, and as matter of fact, when I was the OC here before, he was in my room for three years. Rhett (Lashlee) played in this offense. Kodi (Burns) played in this offense, so we’ve got a very unique group that has a great understanding of our offense. All those guys will be able to help our offense moving forward. I’ve got confidence in all of them.”

On Kerryon Johnson missing spring… “Kerryon is a very smart young man. He is football savvy and football smart. If you look at last year, just being a true freshman, he was a wildcat, he was a tailback, he was a slot. We had him doing a lot of different things. He’s the type that I do know that he will be in every meeting. He will be focused. Schematically, he’ll get it. His challenge is once he’s going to be healthy, he’s got to get out there in the summer and get back into playing shape and all that. He’s a very football savvy young man.”

Will Kevin Steele coach a certain position… “He will. He’ll help with our bandits and our sams and our nickels. He will run our defense and will have the opportunity to roam, too, when he needs to.”

On wide receiver signees’ reaction to Dameyune Craig leaving… “I think early on obviously there was some disappointment, but Kodi Burns has done a great job with those guys. They already knew Kodi and knew a lot about him. They are excited to get in our offense and are excited for Kodi to coach those guys.”

On players’ reactions to coaching changes… “Our players have responded very well. We’re going to have a veteran group this year, and they’ve responded very well. But the new coaches coming in have done an excellent job spending time with them, developing that relationship. The guys that we brought in a lot of our players were already familiar with, which I think makes a big difference as far as that goes.”

Will he invite Duke Williams to Pro Day… “I’m going to update Pro Day as it gets closer, probably this weekend, as far as all the different people and all the different things that go with that.”

Expectations for John Franklin III for spring… “Can he and the other guys — can they be successful running our offense? That’s really the bottom line, and everything that goes with it from on the field, off the field, leadership, making your teammates better. The unique thing about our offense, our quarterback’s got a chance to really influence the rest of his teammates. That’s what we’ll be looking for.”

Will Herb Hand having more influence on game day than J.B. Grimes… “First of all, J.B. Grimes is a great offensive line coach, and did a super job for us. Herb — just because I’ve worked with him before — he was my right-hand man when we were up in the booth at Tulsa. We worked very well together. Right now, I want to get through spring first and then we’ll go from there.”

Difference between Malzahn and Herb Hand in personality… “He’s on one end, and I’m on the other. I’ll tell you that. He’s got a personality. He’s got a good personality. We’re different, but at the same time, I think our personalities complement each other on the field and off.”

Does the secondary have more depth this spring… “That’s probably a question I’ll be able to answer a little bit better after spring. We do have some young guys, and we’ve got some guys who could potentially be really good, but that’s probably a better question to answer after spring once everything is said and done.”

On Jordan Diamond… “Jordan is a guy that was highly recruited. Matter of fact, I recruited him when I was offensive coordinator here. He’s battle through a lot of injuries, and he’s had a lot of adversity. He’s one of those guys that I’m really hoping this spring that finds a position and gets confidence in playing and stays healthy. I think that’s his biggest thing, but we’re rooting for him.”

Thoughts on Jim Harbaugh taking Michigan’s team to Florida for spring practice…Yeah, whatever. I don’t really have an opinion one way or another. I don’t want to get in that deal.”

“I’d like to remind everybody to vote.”

Quotes provided by Auburn Athletics.