Prior to going into his first spring as the Auburn Tigers head football coach, Gus Malzahn did not have a tangible goal sitting atop his list of objectives for spring practice.
Instead, he just wanted the Tigers to "get their edge back" by becoming tougher, both mentally and physically. "We've got to give our edge back, that's physically and mentally tougher. We're going to be very physical during spring practice," Malzahn said on March 26, the day before the Tigers started spring practice (per Charles Goldberg of auburntigers.com)
After 15 very intense spring practices, the verdict is in—mission accomplished.
"The big thing for me was to bring our team together and to play together, to get our edge back, to get that mental toughness, and we've improved," Malzahn said. "I like where we're at right now as far as our attitude" (per Joel Erickson of al.com).
The 83,401 fans in attendance at Auburn's A-Day April 20 got to see the intensity up close and personal. The Tigers defense swarmed to the ball, Auburn's running backs ran with purpose and players celebrated good plays like they just made a game-winning play in the Iron Bowl.
What is usually a low-key, watered-down atmosphere in the spring game was the opposite for Auburn. Just ask Auburn CB Jonathan Mincy and WR Dimitri Reese.
Mincy was ejected in the spring game—which has to be a first—after a vicious hit on Reese that drew an audible "oooooh" from the crowd and had him laying nearly motionless for a couple of minutes after the hit.
Reese was able to walk off the field under his own power and is expected to be fine and compete for playing time in the fall.
Mincy was ejected for the new rule in college football concerning "targeting above the shoulders" but replays show that it would have likely been overturned if it had happened in the fall.
Why was this hit important?
Aside from the unacceptable actions of unsportsmanlike taunting and hurting a fellow teammate, Mincy's hit shows the intensity that members of Auburn's football team have been wired to play with in just three short weeks.
It's a far cry from the lack of interest Auburn seemed to play with many times in 2012.
After a close loss to LSU in late September, Auburn's 2012 team turned in apathetic performances for the remainder of the year. Apathy even seeped into the Auburn fanbase, which allowed fans of opposing teams to make Jordan-Hare Stadium into its home in the second halves of games.
Like the football team, the crowd seems to have regained its edge as well. Auburn's A-Day crowd was tops in the nation, according to Brandon Marcello of al.com.
It may not equal more victories in 2013, but simply having the "edge" back will give the Tigers and their fans a puncher's chance.
That's a start.