Auburn Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Ian BergCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2013

Auburn Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    A new era of Auburn football is beginning this spring as Gus Malzahn and his staff takes over a broken program that stumbled to a 3-9 season a year ago. There were a number of factors that led to the disaster that was 2012 with development being the most apparent issue.

    Over the next 15 practices the new staff will look at their new team and determine which players are set to grow in the new schemes, and find guys that want to work. Every position is open for discussion, and this will be your guide to the top battles heading into spring.

    Auburn didn’t lose much after last season with only four seniors and one junior departing the program. There won’t be many new faces on the field, but there will be a new look to this program.

    The annual spring game is set for April 20 at 1 p.m. CT, and the game will be televised on CSS (via al.com). Check back with us as we keep you up to date on all the happenings throughout spring on the Plains.

     

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 9

    Last season the cornerback play was not the best for Auburn. Josh Holsey was the best healthy coverage guy by the end of fall, and he was a true freshman.

    The secondary finished with only one interception last year, and none came from the corners. That is expected to change after a shift in focus for the defense under Ellis Johnson.

    Johnson told the media (via Montgomery Advertiser) that it was “amazing” there were no interceptions by the corners last year, and that “We have been extremely pleased with our cornerback play overall in the passing area this spring.”

    Auburn fans are likely taking the wait and see approach to the results that are being talked about this spring, but any good news is a positive.

    The Tigers took off Monday from practice to let the coaches digest and comb through film of the first few weeks of practice (via al.com).

    Names of note so far this spring have been Justin Garrett at the “Star” position, and Jaylon Denson at receiver. Both have carried heavy praise and should head into fall as leaders on offense and defense.

    The quarterback race is still wide open and will be until after the opening of fall camp. Nick Marshall will be a factor in the competition.

    The biggest surprise that I have seen during limited film viewings of practice is Corey Grant. He is by far the most explosive running back on the Plains and will factor into the offense somehow this fall.

    A once forgotten star in the Scot Loeffler offense should be a star in the Malzahn speed sweep. 

     

    Update: March 26

    The Auburn Tigers are preparing to begin the first spring practice session under Gus Malzahn. The team has been pushing through its first winter workout session with new strength and conditioning coach Ryan Russell.

    Gabe Wright spoke with the media about winter workouts and his words were "intense.” He went on to say that “He (coach Russell) puts our standards high and lifted all our goals, as a team, we feel comfortable with that” (via auburnsports.com).

    Coach Malzahn continues to repeat it’s a new day, and it appears that the players are beginning to believe in that mantra.

    One player that draws a lot of intrigue is rising senior fullback Jay Prosch.

    Prosch is a transfer from Illinois that has stepped in and become a star for the Auburn Tigers at a very inconspicuous position. His strength and dedication in the weight room are what draws the most attention, but his devastating blocks on Saturdays are also watch closely.

    There were questions as to where he would fit in the Malzahn offense, but Prosch cleared that up with the media last week.

    He said, "It's just like a typical H-back, I'm going to be lined up behind the tackle running different plays, doing different things, blocking, spread out at some times, going out for passes.”

    When asked what he thought about the move and the new year Prosch had this to say (via al.com):

    I'm excited about it. I'm not really the kind of guy that's going to be like, oh, I have to do this or I have to do that. I'm more the kind of guy that's going to say, I want to play for you, tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do the best I can.

    Think Eric Smith from 2009 and 2010. Prosch is a pure blocker, but he is athletic enough to make plays with the ball in his hands. It should be an interesting senior season to watch unfold.

    Auburn’s practice schedule has also been released (via al.com) with a surprising amount of open media time every day. Here is a look at the schedule:

    Wednesday. March 27: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Friday, March 29: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Saturday, March 30: Practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium, open to media 9:55-10:25 a.m.

    Monday, April 1: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Wednesday, April 3: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Friday, April 5: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Saturday, April 6: Practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium, open to media 9:55-10:25 a.m.

    Monday, April 8: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Wednesday, April 10: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Friday, April 12: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Saturday, April 13: Practice at Jordan-Hare Stadium,  open to media 9:55-10:25 a.m

    Monday, April 15: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Wednesday, April 17: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Friday, April 19: Practice open to media 8-8:30 a.m.

    Saturday, April 20: A-Day, 1 p.m., Jordan-Hare Stadium

    Check back for more updates as spring begins. 

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    Quarterback

    Jonathan Wallace (So.) vs. Kiehl Frazier (Jr.)

    The quarterback position is the most talked about for the Tigers heading into spring. There aren’t many believers in Kiehl Frazier that remain, but most are unsure if Jonathan Wallace can be the answer for 2013.

    This competition will be a long and grueling one that won’t finish with the end of spring practice. Jeremy Johnson arrives this summer and the most recent Mr. Football from Alabama is looking to win over the starting job as a true freshman.

    This spring is the time for one of these two players to prove they can run this offense. If neither player steps up, Johnson and JUCO transfer Nick Marshall will have a legitimate shot at winning the gig heading into the new year.

    Malzahn isn’t afraid to start first-year players, and the Tigers need a leader. With only two scholarship options this spring, a leader may not be found.

    Projected Starter: Kiehl Frazier

    Actual Starter: TBD

     

    Running Back

    Tre Mason (Jr.) vs. Cameron Artis-Payne (Jr.) vs. Corey Grant (Jr.)

    Tre Mason put together a surprisingly successful 2012 campaign finishing the year with 1,002 rushing yards during the three-win season. Mason was a highlight last year, but he will have a lot of competition to hold onto the spotlight heading into the spring.

    JUCO transfer Cameron Artis-Payne is a player to watch in the competition as he is coming off a 2,000 rushing yard season in the California JUCO circuit and is expected to challenge for the starting job.

    Rising junior Corey Grant is also a player to watch after being buried on the depth chart last year. He is a burner in the open field, and could find a lot of success in the speed back position for the Tigers.

    Auburn will welcome in a few newcomers in the summer, but the primary back position will be filled from this group of three this fall.

    Projected Starter: Tre Mason

    Actual Starter: TBD

     

    Receiver

    Sammie Coates (So.) vs. Ricardo Louis (So.)

    Auburn lost its primary receiving target with the departure of Emory Blake after 2012, so finding a replacement immediately this spring is a major focus.

    With a quarterback battle unfolding as well it won’t be an easy process, but the Tigers have to zero in on a star early to help build the attack heading into the summer. Sammie Coates and Ricardo Louis are the leading names in the discussion.

    Both players showed flashes of explosive play last year, but they did not put in a full season of work to show off their skills.

    This spring they will battle for the lead role in the passing game, with the competition leading to a very talented group of top pass catchers for the Tigers.

    Projected Starter: Sammie Coates

    Actual Starter: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    Linebacker

    Cassanova McKinzy (So.) vs. Jake Holland (Sr.)

    Cassanova McKinzy and Jake Holland are set to battle for the middle linebacker position in the new 4-2-5 defense this spring. Holland is the most experienced of the two, but McKinzy is the most talented linebacker on the roster for the Tigers.

    With a new defense being implemented it is open season for both linebackers to step in and earn a starting position.

    McKinzy is a beast against the run, but he needs work in the passing game. Holland is beat often by more athletic receivers, but he has a better presence against the pass.

    This may be a battle that is settled by the lesser of two evils taking the starting position. Can the Tigers bite the bullet in pass coverage as McKinzy develops, or do they risk a lot of missed plays and put the technically sound Holland on the field?

    This is the premier defensive battle for Auburn heading into spring.

    Projected Starter: Cassanova McKinzy

    Actual Starter: TBD

     

    Defensive Tackle

    Jeffrey Whitaker (Sr.) vs. Ben Bradley (Jr.)

    Last season the interior of the defensive line for Auburn was one of the worst in the country. The Tigers were unable to gain penetration through the middle, and they rarely held gaps against the run.

    This season incumbent starter Jeffrey Whitaker returns, but incoming JUCO transfer Ben Bradley will be a strong contender heading into spring.

    The Tigers will rotate a lot of bodies along the front this fall, but the primary defensive tackle will see the most time. It will be a battle between Whitaker and Bradley this spring.

    This is a position that needs a major upgrade in production so a change may be on the horizon.

    Projected Starter: Jeffrey Whitaker

    Actual Starter: TBD

     

    Star

    Jermaine Whitehead (Jr.) vs. Ryan Smith (Sr.) vs. Robenson Therezie (Jr.)

    The Tigers will enter the new year with a new defensive scheme taking over the program. A third safety will become a permanent fixture in the defense, and the new role will be labeled as the ‘Star’ position.

    There is no clear leader for the position, but watch past performances and gauging where the Tigers defenders will fit in this scheme, three guys stand out as leaders heading into spring as starting options.

    Jermaine Whitehead, Ryan Smith and Robenson Therezie have all proven to be invaluable against the run in the secondary, and they will be the leading candidates for the fast attacking third safety spot.

    This competition could finish with a complete different set of bodies by fall, but these three have already displayed what it takes to be the ‘Star’ in the 4-2-5.

    This is the biggest mystery position of any for the Tigers heading into 2013.

    Projected Starter: Ryan Smith

    Actual Starter: TBD

Early Enrollees’ Spring Grades

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    Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, 5’11”, 212 pounds (3-star)

    Cameron Artis Payne is stepping onto the Plains looking for a starting position immediately.

    He rushed for 2,048 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2012 (via 247Sports) and showed a lot of promise as a lead back at the JUCO level.

    He will battle Tre Mason and Corey Grant for the starting position this spring, but his skill set may be too much to keep off of the field. He is a very talented challenger that will play this fall.

    Post Spring Grades: TBD

     

    Devonte Danzy, OG, 6’3”, 303 pounds (3-star)

    The Tigers are only losing one starter along the offensive line this season and it is John Sullen at offensive guard. The Tigers are looking to rebuild a talented unit that struggled to find consistency last fall.

    Devonte Danzy is a player that will get a look as a starter this spring and will head into spring as a challenger for playing time.

    Post Spring Grades: TBD

     

    Ben Bradley, DT, 6’2”, 302 pounds (4-star)

    Ben Bradley is expected to walk in and challenge for a starting position immediately this spring.

    The Tigers needed help along the defensive line and Bradley is the type of player that Auburn is looking for to lead the defensive line.

    Expect him to finish spring as a member of Rodney Gardner’s starting defensive line rotation. 

    Post Spring Grades: TBD

Sleepers to Watch

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    Melvin Ray, Receiver

    The Tigers are filled with talent that was signed over the past few seasons, but Melvin Ray is a unique walk-on for Auburn. Originally an Alabama signee, Ray left high school and played professional baseball for a few years before landing in Auburn.

    He is a 6’3”, 215 pound receiver that has taken the past year to work his body back into football.

    With no star standing out at receiver just yet Ray is in a great position to become a rising star for the Tigers. He was an elite recruit out of high school that was listed as a 4-star (via Yahoo!) and top 20 player at his position in in 2008.

     

    LaDarius Owens, Defensive End

    The loss of Corey Lemonier is a blow to the defensive line for Auburn, but there is talent waiting to take over.

    One of those players is LaDarius Owens. He has been a contributor over the past few years, but he has not been a major impact player just yet. That changes this season as his skillset will be highlighted by the style of coach Rodney Gardner and the 4-2-5 defensive scheme.