“The big emphasis right now is we play our first game at 3 o’clock,” Malzahn said. “We have got to be able to handle the heat. Really, up to this point, it has been fairly mild. It was a good day for our guys to feel what it feels like. We practiced outside, primarily, the whole day.”
The head coach said the Tigers did a lot of work with the best offensive players going vs. the best defensive players with the second practice of the day a light workout devoted to special teams and special situations.
“I think our guys handled themselves well, being the first day it was really hot, the first day we were all primarily outside,” Malzahn said. “That is a big part of our success, being mentally and physically in shape, and being able to focus.
“When you get tired, being able to focus, not just being able to survive, but being able to execute your assignment--that is the big challenge. It was good for us to be out there.”
Senior Trovon Reed agreed with his head coach about Saturday’s practice being a productive one. “I saw guys really flying around,” said Reed, who made the move from wide receiver to cornerback in spring training.
“Even though the heat was out there we saw guys really trying to finish and push it,” he said. “I am talking about barely being able to breath and putting cold towels on their head, but when called their group was up and ready to go. We had a few minor errors, but that is what is practice is for. We are going to continue to get better every day.”
Reed said he is feeling comfortable at cornerback, a position he has wanted to play since his freshman year. He noted that he has dropped seven pounds since last season and is currently at 188 pounds, a weight that he says helps him run with speedy wide receivers.
Another player who made the move from offense, Johnathan "Rudy" Ford, has boosted his weight from 184 to 205 pounds. The sophomore said he agrees with Malzahn and Reed that Saturday’s practice was a good one and added, “I feel like camp is going very great for us. Just being out there in the heat, and us just running around, I think it is making us focus more and get locked in.
“When you get tired out there you want to lose yourself a little bit,” Ford said. “I think it is helping us out a whole lot. We are focusing on our communications, running to the ball, staying in shape. It is going great for our defense--flying around out there.”
Ford said the extra 21 pounds has not slowed him a bit. In fact, he said he is both faster and stronger than he was as a freshman.
Asked if he is feeling comfortable at safety after splitting his time between running back and cornerback last season, Ford replied, “Very comfortable. I am learning a lot from (Jermaine) Whitehead, a senior and Coach Cheese, Charlie Harbison. It has been very great and a blessing.”
Johnathan "Rudy" Ford is much bigger and more physical in year two with the Tigers.
Ford is playing boundary safety and field safety. “I want to know both of the safety spots,” he said. “I feel comfortable at either one.” The sophomore said he is “dialed in” to make sure he learns both of the spots and Harbison said that Ford is doing a good job with that assignment.
“I have really been pleased with the progress he is making,” said Harbison, who noted that Ford is a physical player. “He is a hard worker and a young man I really enjoy coaching.”
The Tigers didn’t practice on Friday, but the coaches worked on going over the first week of workouts, a time frame that included seven practices. “It was good for our coaches to have an evaluation day to really evaluate after six days, to evaluate the older guys--who’s improved and the younger guys,” Malzahn said.
“We have a lot better information about the younger guys. We have a plan going into this week. There are a few more guys we have a few more looks at. Before you get into the season you just want to make sure you are right.
“The good thing is we have some very talented young guys and newcomers that could have a chance who can definitely help,” Malzahn pointed out. “That is what we are still trying to do this week and we will know by the end of the week. We will have a pretty good grip on everything. Then we can really start focusing on our opponent for the first game.”
Asked if the Tigers are going to make any position changes, Malzahn said, “We had a little bit of discussion, but nothing that we are ready to say for sure. At the end of this week, that is when things really start to narrow down. You get two weeks out and you start focusing on your opponent. They have got to get the specific reps at that. There are a few discussions out there, but nothing to really talk about at this time.”
Commenting on the first preseason scrimmage held on Wednesday, the head coach said, “We had some guys really flying around.” He noted there weren’t as many “loafs” as a coaching staff normally sees in the first scrimmage. “I thought that was the positive. There were some normal mistakes that are going to be made when you rotate just about everybody on your team, but our attitude was good and I was encouraged.
“I was encouraged from the standpoint that quite a few young guys and newcomers could help us,” Malzahn added. “We will have another scrimmage in a few days that will really tell us a whole lot with those guys.”
Auburn’s defensive players have been predicting improvement on their side of the ball. What is the head coach’s take on Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson’s group?
“They have a better understanding of Coach Johnson’s defense,” Malzahn said. “There is a lot of good communication, especially the older guys. They line up and get ready to play while the freshmen are getting used to it.
“The retention and familiarity, knowing how Coach Johnson wants it and how he expects and alignments and assignments and stances and everything that goes with it, I think it’s fair to say right now they are very comfortable with that, and they should be. We went through a whole year, and like I said earlier in the spring, we were very specific. We didn’t do a lot, we just tried to get really good at a few things. There should be a really good foundation.”
The Tigers had a group outing on Friday night to a local bowling alley. “It was really good for our players and coaches," said Malzahn, who joked, "I’m a little disappointed in my team personally. We were the defending champs and we were leading after the first game, but we folded like a cheap tent. Besides that it was a wonderful night of fellowship, but it disappointed me on the way home. I’ll be honest with you it’s still on my mind.”