AUBURN -- Auburn Head Coach Gus Malzahn met with the media Tuesday afternoon in advance of the start of spring practice for the Tigers. The team takes the field Wednesday morning in the first of 15 sessions of the spring.
"I'm excited about spring practice starting tomorrow. I know we're starting a bit later than a lot, but that's for a couple of reasons. We felt like we needed to get physically stronger in the weight room, and Coach (Ryan) Russell has assured me we have. I really felt like we needed to get mentally tougher, and we've worked hard with these 6 a.m. workouts, really strained our guys and we feel like we have a good foundation going into spring practice.
"Our spring goals are pretty simple. Number one, I told our players today we've got to get our edge back. That's physically and mentally tougher, and we're going to be very physical during spring practice. We're going to have the pads on, and we're going to be getting after it with the basic fundamentals of football. We're going to stress discipline on the field, and that's a big part of what we're doing.
"Number two is player understanding of our base offense and defense; I think that's very critical. We want our guys when they leave spring to have a very good understanding of the responsibilities of our base offense and defense -- the reason being this summer, we want them to build upon things and not develop bad habits.
"Number three, we want to develop a two-deep depth chart. All position are open, every one of them. We want to leave spring with a depth chart order by positions.
"A couple of notes here: Blake Burgess
will no longer be with the team. He is going to graduate early. We really appreciate Blake and everything that he did for our program. Erique Florence
is no longer with us on our team -- matter of fact he has not been with us this spring. He's taking care of some personal issues, and we wish him nothing but the best.
"I'm real excited about tomorrow. It's been a long time coming. I'm looking forward to getting on the practice field with our players, and I know I can speak for our coaches. They're very excited, too."
On the players being ready to win:
"I can tell they are excited and are hungry, and that is very important for our staff. We are a work in progress. We know that, and we understand that, but there is nothing better than getting out there and improving each day, and that is our goal."
Is Florence gone from the team: "Yes, he is."
Will any specific players move positions?
"It is really hard to single anybody out. There will be some players that we will see how they do getting started in their positions, and we will move some people around if they do not fit into that position. The unique thing for our new staff coming in is putting the guys in the best place to help us win. So there will be some movement, and I will definitely keep you updated throughout the course of the spring."
Any position moves that he is going to look at early in spring practice:
"None that stand out specifically."
Will some guys move to running back during spring practice?
"It is a possibility, and that is something we talked about. We are going to have a very physical spring, so hopefully we will stay healthy. The good thing is that those guys will get a lot of reps and have a very good understanding of the offense when we get finished."
Are some open positions more important than others?
"We are completely starting over. It is a new day, so there are no specific positions. Everyone is wide open, and when I say that I completely mean that. There are no positions that are any more important than the others."
What does his goal of discipline on the field mean? "The little things, the little things -- we are going to make sure that we can count on each one of them, and that they can count on each other as teammates. We are going to strain. Our standards are going to be extremely high, no penalties, but it really comes down to the execution of the little things."
Who may take Onterio McCalebb's place as the speedsters on offense?
"There is a list. It is not just one or two. There is going to be some movement as we go with the speed guys. Obviously, Corey (Grant) is a guy that can run and did a little bit of that before we left. Quan Bray
is also a guy that can do some things, but we may make room for some other positions. Possibly even a defensive guy that can run and have him coming over, too."
What's the importance of tempo going into the first practice?
"That is who we are. Tempo is going to be a very big factor for us, offensively and defensively. We are going to be a no huddle team, and that is a mentality. We are going to learn to play fast, practice fast, and do everything fast. We think that will be a definite advantage."
Who will play the star position for the first day of spring practice?
"Coach Johnson has got a couple of different guys. Matter of fact, he has a list of them, and will be rotating those guys through. There are too many to name right now."
How the junior college transfers are fitting in...
"At first, I am going to bet that they would all tell you they had a little shock to their system to getting used to the way we do things and the pace at which we do stuff. They have all responded extremely well, and I am curious to see them in pads."
What did he hear about the off-season workouts?
"Coach (Ryan) Russell is excited from the standpoint that our guys are getting stronger, like I said earlier. But really, more than anything is the mindset. We are demanding a lot of them downstairs, and you can tell our guys are buying in. Of course, they do not have a choice, but they are excited to work out. Any time you get players excited to work out and looking forward to spring ball, that is a good feeling from a coach's standpoint."
How he plans on splitting the reps between quarterbacks during spring practice...
"The good thing is they are going to get a lot of reps, and we will start out with equal reps. Probably the biggest concern that you worry about is their arms. You've got to protect their arms. We went through this the last year I was here with only two scholarship quarterbacks in spring, so Coach (Rhett) Lashlee and I will really keep an eye on both of those guys, but the positive is you are getting a lot of reps, and they both need that."
What questions does he have about the team entering spring practice?
"On my mind right now, I am trying not to have anything in the past, any pre-conceived ideas. When I say a new day, I am looking for a fresh start, and I am excited to see what the guys can do. I do know that there will be guys who have improved greatly from the time that I was here, and there are a lot of guys that I haven't even watched, so our coaches are keeping an open mind about everything. Really from my standpoint, I am just excited to actually see what the guys can do on the field."
On beginning spring practice tomorrow...
"I've really enjoyed everything up to this point with the job, but boy, there is nothing like being on that field. I've been excited probably since Sunday, and I can't wait to get on the field and get with our coaches and our players."
Are there any players who won't be able to participate in spring practice because of injuries? "We are pretty healthy going into this thing, and that's encouraging, too. We actually have some depth up front on both sides of the football going into spring, so that is going to allow us to be a lot more physical, and it will help us evaluate our guys by being physical and letting them play, too."
What position will Robenson Therezie play to start spring practice?
"We are going to start him off on the defensive side, but he is also going to do some return things. He's got a lot of versatility. He's a good athlete, and he's had a good off-season."
How did the players handle the off-season conditioning program?
"I would say at this point we're pretty well pleased with where we're at as a team. It's a process. It was new to a lot of them. A lot of them were very uncomfortable, but that's a good thing, and I think we are in a good spot right now as we move forward to spring. We are going to strain them again, and they will be uncomfortable again during spring, but like I said, the goal is when we get out of spring, we get our edge back."
What he has learned about being a head coach in the SEC during the off-season...
"Being a head coach at the college level, and I learned this last year, there are a lot of things that go with the job that don't have to do with football on the field, and I learned that last year. That gave me a really good foundation coming into this job, and then the fact that I am very aware of everything -- I've got a good understanding of how everything works -- but the biggest difference is being a head coach is not a lot of Xs and Os up to this point. But that will happen in the fall."