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'We're getting there' - assistant football coaches give overview
Associate head coach Rodney Garner
Aug. 10, 2017

By Jeff Shearer

AUBURN, Ala. - A proponent of tough love, Auburn associate head coach Rodney Garner makes no apology for being demanding.

"I'm going to try to push you a little bit farther every day," said Garner, who coaches Auburn's defensive linemen. "I'm also going to try to put my arms around you and tell you, 'Hey man, I knew you could do that. I knew you could do it. It was in you. You just needed someone to help it come out. But it was always in you. You just have never been strained enough to get that good to come out.'"

Garner, along with Auburn's six other position coaches, met with reporters Thursday morning in the Rane Room after the Tigers took team pictures at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"Bottom line. I want the guys to leave Auburn with the same love that I love Auburn," said Garner, one of three former Auburn football lettermen on Gus Malzahn's staff, along with Travis Williams and Kodi Burns. "That's the thing I try to tell them. When I left here, I didn't know if I was going to be successful in football, and I wasn't at the next level. But I knew I was going to be successful in life because of everything they poured into us.

"I want those kids to love Auburn, and think that Auburn equipped them to go out and compete in life and know how to strain and know how to get through difficult situations. Be accountable, be a good teammate, be a good friend, a good partner. I don't want every time something gets a little tough that they quit. That's what we need to guard against."

With the Sept. 2 season opener against Georgia Southern three weeks away, Garner said Auburn's defensive line remains a "work in progress."

"The guys are bought in," he said. "I think they're working hard. They've had good attitudes. My challenge to my unit has been, our goal is to try to go out there and get better every day. We're going to attack every day and try to get a little bit better, and then let's look and see where we are at the end of camp.

"Then we're going to take it game by game. Let's get ready for Georgia Southern. We need to play as good as we can play in that game. Got to be the best team that Saturday. Then the next week, we've got to be a little bit better. We've got take that mindset, that mentality, that blue collar approach. We're a team that has to truly embrace the process, especially for linemen. That's the grit, that's the dirty work.

"You have to be willing to be strained every day. Go out there and be willing to pay attention to detail, work on your fundamentals, do all of that dirty work and try to improve your game in some area every time we hit that field."

'They bring it every day': Herb Hand, offensive line

Coach Hand

Saturday's second preseason scrimmage presents another great opportunity for evaluation, says offensive line coach Herb Hand, who has spent much of the first two weeks of camp experimenting with varying lineups.

"We'll start probably next week really getting guys as settled as possible, but you still always have to have contingency plans," Hand said. "Our goal is always to have the best five on the field. If that means somebody gets dinged up and you have to move at position to get your best five on the field then that's what we have to do.

"To do that and feel comfortable, you have to work it in practice. There are always going to be moving parts. Certainly you want to get them settled in as much as possible. Generally speaking, the most movement is with your veteran players because they can manage it better than first-year guys."

Austin Golson, who has SEC experience at center, tackle and guard, and Braden Smith, an All-American at guard who has been practicing at tackle, exemplify the versatility Hand values.

"I like their work ethic a lot," Hand said. "They bring it every day. I like the communication, particularly with our veterans. They've got a great synergy amongst them. They understand what we're trying to do, how we're trying to do it. That part has been awesome. I like our depth. We still have a lot of work to do but I like where we are, we just have to keep getting better.

"We talk a lot about playing with one heartbeat, playing with one set of eyes. It starts with our center, our communication progression. That's where Austin Golson is invaluable because of his experience and understanding of the offense. When you have everybody on the same page, the sum is greater than the total parts. That's what we're looking for."

'Win in the fourth quarter': Travis Williams, linebackers

Coach Williams

In every meeting and practice, Auburn's defense emphasizes the importance of forcing fumbles and making interceptions.

"We're preaching turnovers. We want turnovers," said linebackers coach Travis Williams. "Yesterday, I told them, 'I need you to get an interception. I want you to bring me a ball.' Richard [McBryde] got an interception yesterday. He's looking to try to find me to bring me the ball. That's just the fun that we have. We have a good group that's eager to get better."

An All-SEC linebacker in 2004-05, Williams challenges his players to give maximum effort each day.

"Our whole goal is to stack good practices up, every practice," he said. "How many good practices can you stack up? Because the good groups can do that. They really, really want to be coached hard. That's what I like. They don't leak their feelings. Some guys will leak their feelings if they get coached hard. They don't say a word, they just come back the next day, and they try harder. That's what I like about this group. They really try their best to impress the coach.

"We have strong relationships. I don't think the Good Lord blessed me to just be a football coach. I'm here, of course, to coach football, but at the same time be in these young men's lives and know what's going on, and I think that's what gives us the edge, just the relationship part of it.

"So if I bite on them, they don't wear their feelings on their sleeves, they don't leak their feelings, because they know it comes from a good place."

With returning starters at each position, Auburn's linebackers are one of the team's most experienced units. Opportunities still exist, says Williams, for newcomers to earn playing time, especially given the pace of play in the no-huddle era.

"Rotate them. Keep them fresh," Williams said. "If you deserve to be on the field, if you're ready to play, you're going to play. I want to have a plan to win in the fourth quarter. We need to sub guys.

"The days of keeping those linebackers out there for 100 plays straight and don't sub, I don't think you're helping your defense out. I don't think you're helping your team out. If you've got a guy who's fresh, who can play, he needs to play. You need to rotate the guys. I think that helps your team the most. Because if a guy looks good on paper but he's tired, he just looks good on paper. Keep the guys fresh and have a play to win in the fourth quarter."

'Every day, they go full speed': Tim Horton, running backs, special teams

Coach Horton

Even though Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, did not play in Auburn's first scrimmage, running backs coach Tim Horton says the SEC's top returning rushing duo will be fully prepared for the season opener.

"Every day, they go full speed," Horton said. "The only thing they don't do is get tackled to the ground. They still get thudded up, there's still a lot of contact there, but they just don't get physically taken to the ground."

Kam Martin, Malik Miller and C.J. Tolbert are competing for third spot.

"One day it's one guy, the next day it's probably the next, so that's continuing to be filtered through," said Horton, adding that freshman Devan Barrett and JaTarvious Whitlow have also impressed.

"Really pleased with them," he said. "They're going to be good players. They've got the skill set you're looking for. They can run it, they can catch it, they can block, they display toughness. We feel like we have a good group. Now, you're just in the process of determining what everybody's role is going to be. We've got good depth. In the SEC, you better have good depth."

Auburn's special teams coordinator, Horton says building depth is also a priority for those units.

"Really appreciate everybody's attitude because they've very much taken on the 'coach me, Coach' attitude," Horton said. "The thing that happens on special teams that I'm learning is you better have depth there because you get a kid banged up, you've got to go to that next guy. We're really trying to make sure that we're establishing enough depth."

'Become a playmaker': Kodi Burns, wide receivers

Coach Burns

Watching John Franklin III transition from quarterback to receiver, Kodi Burns can relate. It's the same position change Auburn's receivers coach made nearly a decade earlier for the Tigers.

"I think he's doing a good job," Burns said. "Doing everything we've asked him to do. Obviously, he's a guy who can really run. He can flat out go get it. We've just got to get him cleaned up on some fundamentals of playing receiver. Just new to him, but he's progressing pretty well."

While Auburn's quarterback competition dominates talk radio and social media, Burns oversees an equally spirited competition among the players who will be catching passes from the starting QB.

"Letting these guys get reps, seeing what they can do," Burns said. "Getting a feel for everybody. Once we start narrowing things down, we can get some time with the quarterbacks, whoever that quarterback will be."

Freshman Noah Igbinoghene, a track star in high school, hopes to be part of Auburn's receiver rotation.

"He's showing a lot," Burns said. "I've been very impressed with what he's done. He's very explosive. Can flat out run and do a lot of things with the ball in his hands. He's just got to keep progressing as well, and I think he's got a chance to really help us out."

Sophomore Sal Cannella, a 6-foot-5, 228-pound tight end, has been working with Auburn's receivers.

"A longer, rangy body kind of like C.J. Uzomah, who can play a little bit of tight end, can play a little bit of receiver," Burns said. "He's just a really versatile guy. Red zone. He's just a longer, big body that quarterbacks can target. He's doing a pretty good job splitting time between both positions and I enjoy having him in my room."

Nate Craig-Myers, who made five catches for 154 yards in Auburn's A-Day game, is part of a sophomore group that includes Eli Stove, Kyle Davis and Darius Slayton.

"He had a big spring," Burns said. "This summer, he's put in the work, which all of the receivers have. This fall, he's playing multiple positions and doing a really good job. He's one of those guys who we're looking to take the next step for us and become a playmaker.

"This year I think you're going to see multiple guys be able to make plays. We've got a lot of good young players, still have a lot of growing up to do. I think as a whole, we're really getting better."

'They're making the most of it': Greg Brown, secondary

Coach  Brown

One of two first-year position coaches (not counting offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Lindsey) on Auburn's staff, SEC coaching veteran Greg Brown believes the Tigers have all the necessary components of a winning secondary.

"We have pieces," Brown said. "It's all about getting our act together, understanding what this defense requires to compete at a high level in this league, up to Auburn's standards. We're working toward that daily and we're confident that we'll reach that."

While Auburn must replace NFL draftees Rudy Ford and Joshua Holsey in the secondary, Brown likes the secondary's experience, especially at safety.

"We're blessed that we have some senior elder statesmen who are terrific leaders," Brown said. "Tray Matthews, been there, done that. He just exudes confidence. It comes out in his pores at practice. Everybody knows that, they can feel it in the locker room, at meetings. Same with Stephen Roberts. Carlton Davis is a good leader.

"We've been blessed because we've got multiple guys who have played and been in big games, been in intense battles and proven themselves, and they're in a position of leadership now, and they're making the most of it."

'The most dominant person out there': Larry Porter, tight ends/H-backs

Coach Porter

Larry Porter, Auburn's other first-year assistant, is not ready to list a depth chart at the tight end and H-back positions.

"I feel that the tight end/H-back group here at Auburn has to represent what I could being 'Auburn tough,'" Porter said. "I want us to play the game with the intent of being the most dominant person out there on the field.

"We're still working toward that. I have a tremendous group. When you talk about the dynamics in that room, from a personality standpoint, it's been awesome. I do think that each guy in that room truly is a great ambassador for Auburn University on and off the field. I'm excited about that.

"During camp is when you kind of mold your team. There are going to be times where you strain them and put them in situations to see how they respond. They have responded at times the way we need to, and at time, not. You just continue to try to teach them to grow through things and encourage each other. I think the primary focus, purpose and attitude has been tremendous.

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at Follow him on Twitter:

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