Malzahn delayed the beginning of spring practice to accommodate more strength and conditioning training, a necessity for any team learning such a high tempo system. At 8 a.m. Wednesday, that training was put to the test in Auburn’s first practice.
“Very fast for the first day,” said wide receiver Trovon Reed after practice. “But Coach Russell pushes us and trains us for this fast paced offense.”
Reed is one of the Tigers who is already familiar with Malzahn’s expectations from Malzahn's stint as offensive coordinator under Gene Chizik. However, Reed said that Chizik would slow the team down occasionally, something Malzahn has no thoughts of doing.
“Coaches set the tone of each drill,” Malzahn said. “When it’s individual time, we’re going to slow down. But when we’re in a team setting, we’re going to be flying around.”
And yet, Malzahn isn’t delusional about his team’s abilities. He’s not expecting them to know every play and formation. On the first days of practice, Malzahn simply wants to teach his team, well, how to practice.
“I told our team at the very end of practice that we just need to learn how to practice at the pace, intensity and tempo offensively and defensively,” Malzahn said. “The Xs and Os, they’ll come, but our main focus right now is learning how to practice and being able to process things by learning how to practice fast.
“We didn’t play fast enough today. We really weren’t even close, but we’ll get there.”
While Malzahn and his players insist that last season is no longer looming overhead, the head coach did admit some players had “mental scars” from the team’s 2012 debacle.
With a new system comes a new mentality, however, and the players seem eager to take the lead, something lacking from the team the past few seasons.
During the 2010 national championship season, Reed was one of the youngest wide receivers on the roster. Now he’s one of the oldest and the speedster is looking to step up for his younger teammates.
“My goal is to become a leader on and off the field,” Reed said. “I did my time here. I saw what it takes to win. I went out there with Darvin Adams and Terrell Zachary. I know how to win, now I have to brainwash the younger receivers.”
Sophomore linebacker Kris Frost attributes the lack of leadership to the team’s lack of success but said the change in coaches, system and structure has helped the team come together.
“When you’re having a hard time in the win category and everything it’s hard to really have a leader, have somebody step up when times are hard,” Frost said. “It’s a lot easier to lead when everything’s going great. Compared to last year, I feel like guys are making it a priority to lead and show how important this season is.”
Wednesday was the first day practicing new installations and safety Demetruce McNeal said his defense only learned approximately four plays. Instead, the coaches are focused on fundamentals.
“This spring’s going to be more about us,” Malzahn said. “It’s going to be very basic, just the basics of our offense and defense and getting very good at a few things.”
LaDarius Owens, used as a defensive end and linebacker in his Auburn career, will be practicing solely at linebacker for now. Sophomore tight end Chris Landrum is also moving back to his high school position of linebacker.
Wide receiver/return man Quan Bray, a former high school quarterback, saw some time with the quarterbacks Wednesday and could possibly see time as a wildcat-type player.
Linebackers Justin Garrett and JaViere Mitchell were the first to work out in the “star” position of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense. Malzahn emphasized after practice, however, that there is “really no such thing as a first unit or second unit now.”
Demetruce McNeal said he felt like a robot last season and secondary coach Charlie Harbison’s relaxed approach makes him feel more comfortable as a ball-hawking centerfield-type safety.
Malzahn hardly watched the quarterbacks throw individually, but said collectively, “they threw the ball decent.”