Feb. 18, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. – Auburn football players, to a man, will tell you that it was at this time a year ago that a fractured team became whole again and the march toward the BCS Championship Game really began.
And they are at it again. With strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell running things for the second season, the offseason program was ratcheted up a level Tuesday as 6 a.m. workouts began. Coaches were there to watch.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn met with reporters Tuesday, mostly to talk about his disdain for the proposed rule that would force offenses to wait 10 seconds into the 40-second play clock before snapping the ball. But he talked about other things, too, including the offseason program.
“We are ahead of where we were last year, which is to be expected,” Malzahn said. “We are just working on the mental and physical toughness element. Coach Russell has done a great job of preparing our guys.
“It’s always good for me to sit back and watch and see the new leaders emerge and help you later on once the season gets here. It was real good to be around the players. There was a lot of excitement. I don’t feel like they were dreading it. It was completely different than last year.”
And last year ended up with the Tigers coming up 13 seconds short of a national championship in Malzahn’s first season.
Malzahn touched on a couple of subjects that have been oft-discussed. He said he was still gathering information and had made no decision on the status cornerback signee Kalvarez Bessent, who was arrested on marijuana charges and then had the charges dropped.
“When I get it all,” he said, “I’ll make a decision.”
Malzahn touched on one of the hot topics, answering without hesitation when asked if a gay football player would be welcome at Auburn.
“No doubt,” he said.
We also learned that offensive guard Jordan Diamond has had arthroscopic knee surgery probably won’t do contact work in spring practice. Safety Josh Holsey won’t either, but Malzahn said no one doubts what he can do.
If position changes are coming – and it’s reasonable to expect at least some are – Malzahn wasn’t ready to talk about them just yet He said, if there are to be any moves, he’ll talk about them before spring practice starts on March 18.
Nick Marshall will give Malzahn something he hasn’t had before in college football, a returning starter at quarterback. There’ll be lots of experience around him, and also on defense. It’ll be a different kind of spring than a year ago when new offensive and defensive schemes were being installed and coaches were still trying to get to know players and even each other.
“It will be different,” Malzahn said. “Last year there was a whole lot of evaluation. We will still be very simple offensively and defensively. There will still be some evaluation, especially with the new guys and to see who has improved. We will be able to go a little bit faster as far as our installation.”
In the 14-plus months since Malzahn was named Auburn’s head coach, the Tigers have signed up two strong recruiting classes, won one of the more memorable Iron Bowls of all time, won the Southeastern Conference championship and suffered a gut-wrenching loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game.
“I’d say,” Malzahn said, “that our expectations are a little bit higher this year than they were last year at this time.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: