The No-Huddle Notebook is back, tracking the Tigers through Day 2 of spring practice on the Plains.
Auburn spent another day in shorts Friday, continuing to adjust to new systems on both sides of the ball. Post-practice, Gus Malzahn, new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, and new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson spoke with the media.
Here’s what they said:
Coaches are finding their chemistry together. Not surprisingly, with how much experience is on this coaching staff and how much time the different pieces have spent together at different places, coaches on both sides of the ball have found that it hasn’t taken long to start meshing with their co-workers.
That’s been especially true of the defense which is good for the Tigers, as the players are also making the tough transition to the 4-2-5.
“It’s been good,” Johnson said of the coaches’ chemistry. “I think the first thing you have to realize is the experience level we each have. I like to use the word ‘experience’ and not ‘age.’
“There’s a lot of coaching experience in that group, and so all of us have seen a lot of ways to do things. Personally, I don’t think there’s one way to do things. I think the Auburn way is the way you do it. And we’ve put it together as a group.”
Johnson has worked with co-DC and safeties coach Charlie Harbison on three different staffs before the two were again reunited at Auburn. Johnson also worked with cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith for a time at Mississippi State.
“Communication is easy,” Johnson said. “And the second thing is the fact that I’ve worked with Harbison in four different places and Melvin before also. And they’ve worked together in the secondary at the same organization, splitting it up. So there’s a lot of things that we’ve been able to hit the ground running with and not have to adapt to each other quite as much.”
On the offensive side of the ball, some pieces are back or still around from Malzahn’s coordinator days, but according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, the other, new coaching additions have found a way to fit right in as well.
“It’s good,” Lashlee said. “Honestly, it’s a work in progress for us. Myself and Coach (J.B.) Grimes have done our system in practice. We know what to expect. Coach (Scott) Fountain has been around. Coach (Dameyune) Craig, Coach (Tim) Horton are big-time professionals.
“They’ve bought into everything we’re doing. We’re all on the same page. We’re all moving in the same direction. They understand what they want now. They’re coaching exactly how we want it. The five of us — I think we’re doing real well together. I’m excited to have all four of those guys in my room with me.”
More of figuring out what this whole ‘4-2-5’ thing is. Johnson shed a little bit of light on what he expects from his inside linebackers in his new system, and he even broke down who he’s working with as a first group and a second group as practice gets under way.
Johnson says he’s working Kris Frost at “Mike” linebacker and Cassanova McKinzy at “Will” linebacker for the time being, with Jake Holland ‘double-learning’ both positions behind them, since Holland is older and should have a better opportunity at grasping both positions than the younger guys.
Behind them, Johnson says he’s doing the same thing with a second group, have Chris Landrum learn both positions while LaDarius Owens works at the Mike and Anthony Swain is at the Will.
“They’re somewhat interchangeable,” Johnson said of the positions. “Physically, they need to be about the same guy, the Mike and the Will. We ask the Mike to do a lot more of the quarterbacking of the defense. The Will probably has a lot more variation in his coverage drops. So both of them have their amount of complication, if you will.”
Johnson emphasized, of course, that those groups are in “pencil,” and nothing is set in stone.
As for Malzahn, he had a pretty simple answer for what excites him about the Tigers’ new defensive system.
“I’ve coached against Ellis Johnson,” Malzahn said. “That’s what stands out. His teams are very disciplined. They get after you. They stop what you do best. They take it away. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
Looking forward to pads. The Tigers will move on to their first practice in pads on Saturday morning, and the spring ramps up another level. By rule, the team is allowed 12 practices in pads, eight of them in which they can tackle.
After a couple of tough days trying to evaluate talent in shorts, every coach is looking forward to seeing what their players can do fully dressed out.
“That’s what football’s about,” Malzahn said. “You can do a lot of teaching, alignments and techniques with just helmets only but until you get the pads on, that’s where you can really judge a player a lot better than helmets-only. A lot of guys look great in helmets and not great in pads and vice versa.”
All of it leads into one of the new coaching staff’s biggest goals this offseason: becoming more physical.
“We have to be physical across the board,” Lashlee said. “The wideouts, with their blocking on the perimeter. I’d like the backs to be physical and protect the football now that they’re going to be getting hit. Up front, we’d like to see who can be physical. I’d like to see how the quarterbacks are when pads are popping around them.
“We’ve got to be extremely disciplined at every position for us to be successful.”
Next up: Pads!! And then an off day on Sunday before returning to practice on Monday.
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