Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Coaches: AU making good progress

A week into spring practice, it’s all but impossible to find a coach who will say his team is ready to win a championship.

It’s no different at Auburn, where coaches have maintained their stance throughout the first eight days that their team is improving but still has a long way to go.

Both coordinators, however, found a silver lining with their units’ performances – significant improvement from where the groups were at this time last year.

“I think it’s the continuity with the staff, it’s the second year in the system with the players,” defensive coordinator Ted Roof said. “We’re working to get it better now that they’ve heard it and the newness of things has worn off.”

Roof finally has additional depth he desperately missed last year, especially at linebacker. He said true freshmen LB Jessel Curry and DE Craig Sanders will have every opportunity to work their way into the playing rotation, as will every other player in the defensive white jerseys.

On offense, there are only a few positions to fill, but they are vital roles. Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is searching for a new starting quarterback and tailback as well as a new right tackle.

Still, he’s convinced his group has made more progress in the first week than it made last March.
“The veterans definitely have a better understanding, as they should,” Malzahn said. “Our expectations are a lot higher, though. We’re just trying to focus on the little things. We’re trying to be demanding on the guys and strain them so they can be as good as they can be.”

ARMS RACE: Malzahn said he hasn’t trimmed the quarterback field down.

Yet.

Sticking with his original timeline, Malzahn said Wednesday that could change in a matter of days.

“We’ve been evaluating each possession. We’re to a point now we can start working on narrowing things down,” Malzahn said. “Obviously, you can’t rotate four quarterbacks equally all spring. I’ve told our guys it’s getting to the point where we need to start making some decisions.”

Malzahn said he has installed as much of the offense as he plans to at this point in the spring, so he can start evaluating the players on their abilities instead of how well they learn on the fly.

He didn’t limit himself to a certain number, saying he wasn’t sure if he would cut the process down to two or three. He did, however, recommit to whittling the number down as quickly as possible.

Deciding who will be left behind, it seems, is the toughest part of the equation right now for Malzahn.

“That’s a good thing,” he said. “That’s a really good thing. We feel like we have four quality quarterbacks and we’ll be in better shape depth-wise going into this season than we were last season.”

CATCHING ON: One of the offensive themes this spring has centered around the coaching staff finding a reliable third receiver.

The most prominent and consistent names to come forward have been Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton. Now another name might be surfacing toward the forefront – walk-on Ralph Spry, Jr.

“I think he feels like he can play now where before he knew he was going to be scout team and there was no light at the end of the tunnel,” receivers coach Trooper Taylor said. “It’s hard to get kids to see that he should be getting himself better whether or not he’s playing. That would have put him ahead. Now that he’s doing that he really looks good. He’s fast. He can run.”

Spry is the son of Auburn track and field coach Ralph Spry and went to Auburn High School.
He ultimately decided to sign well away from home – with Minnesota.

There, Spry started six games and played in 12 contests as a freshman, catching 23 passes for 226 yards. He was suspended for a violation of team rules, though, and couldn’t regain his starting position.

He decided to transfer back home in January 2009 and went through spring practice with the team last season.

After sitting out the 2009 season because of NCAA transfer rules, Spry now has a chance to work his way into the playing rotation.

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