The Auburn Tigers spent two hours Friday focusing on the basics to prepare for tomorrow's scrimmage.
The team practiced in shells today inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.
"Anytime you scrimmage, you've got to have third downs and red zone plays and all that, so we tried to put in a few of those," said offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. "But at the same time we had a blitz period versus our defense, which was very good, to find out how our line and quarterbacks and receivers and backs pick up blitzes too. So that was very good for us. But for the most part it was a teaching day.
Although tomorrow's scrimmage is important, it will be limited.
"We don't have a lot of the offense in," Malzahn said. "We're trying to be very basic. We're doing a lot of teaching. Very similar to the first spring that we were here. We've got so many new faces out there and we're just trying to perfect the base things. So our scrimmage tomorrow will be limited somewhat with number of plays and the different plays that we run. But we're in an evaluation mode right now."
The two quarterbacks competing for the starting job, junior Barrett Trotter and sophomore Clint Moseley, continue to receive equal reps during practices.
Malzahn believes the scrimmage will give him a better indication of who is capable of what during games.
"Who has the ability to get the group in the end zone, it's very important," Malzahn said. "Who will protect the football. And when those live bullets start coming around you, a lot of quarterbacks respond differently. So I'm real curious to see how they respond tomorrow."
Offensive line, another position with a lot of question marks surrounding it, will also be closely evaluated tomorrow.
"We're trying to find our top five guys," Malzahn said. "And then past that we're trying to find the top two or three backups. And we'll be moving some people around and we'll meet after tomorrow's scrimmage and hopefully we'll be closer to finding our top five."
'It's a family'
Although last fall was a thrilling time for the Auburn football family as the Tigers marched through an undefeated season, some players had to simultaneously cope with tragedies in their personal lives.
Owens' close friend and former Jess Lanier teammate Nick Bell tragically lost his short battle with cancer Nov. 2. Bell had been diagnosed with a brain tumor known as synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer typically found in young male adults, in early October. Less than a week before his passing, Bell learned that the tumor was malignant and the cancer had spread.
Owens admitted that the news of his friend's illness and eventual death hit him hard. He was not able to visit Bell when he was sick.
"When I found out, he was basically brain dead," Owens said. "I was locked up in my room. I couldn't take it. Coach (Ted) Roof came and got me and I was with the coaches all day. I went home later that night and spent time with his family and my family."
Roof talked about the importance of the player-coach relationship, especially when tragedies occur.
"We're dads. We're not just coaches. We're dads too," Roof said. "When people lose people, that's tough. Especially when it's somebody close to you, somebody that there was no reason for it. Just bad luck. Maybe that's your first experience with it. It's not just a part time job. We coach them on the field, watch tape, and we're involved in their lives and they're involved in our lives. It's a family."
Owens said attending the funeral helped him.
"On the obituary, it had the message of: Don't cry because I'm not gonna; I'm with you every step of the way," Owens said. "I keep that with me every day. I take advantage of that every day. You never know. I try to get better every day and try to be the best player I can be."
The memory of Bell will stay with Owens and keep him motivated.
"I play for him in a way," Owens said. "When I'm in the weight room and I get tired or hurting, and I feel like stopping or skipping a rep, I say: Nah. I'm going do it for Nick. He'd kill to be here and to do another rep or play ball. I keep going strong for him. There's two players on the field when I'm on the field."
*** On the field, Owens is improving tremendously. After spending his true freshman season on the scout team, he is now working at weakside linebacker with Jonathan Evans.
"I'm way ahead of where I was when I first got here," Owens said. "I was a deer in headlights. I spent time watching film, learning, watching other linebackers in the NFL. There's a whole 'nother feel to it. My eyes are the most important thing. I can see better. I can see things better, quicker.
Owens, who was a defensive lineman in high school, said he's able to answer questions like anybody else in team meetings. He is still working on keeping his pads low and playing with a base.
"Every day, I get our equipment manager to put the little chute cage in the indoor for me," Owens said. "Every day, after I'm done with study hall, I go in there by myself and set up drills under the cage and work on staying low. I'm going to do it until I stay low without even thinking about it."
Roof has noticed Owens' hard work and believes he will contribute to the team.
"There's no doubt in my mind that if he keeps working like he's working right now, he's going to be an awfully good football player," Roof said. "He's just got to keep working, working through the process."
*** Owens isn't the only one who needs to keep his pads low. Roof said he hopes to see all the defensive players play that way in tomorrow's scrimmage.
"Would hope to have better execution than we did today and I'd like to see the tackling improve," Roof said. "But every single practice, we're talking about being more and more physical, playing with lower pads. Sometimes inexperienced players, they tend to want to peak. You've got to find out that it's better to strike and play behind your pads this way and not that way. If you keep doing that too much, you learn pretty quick."
*** Certain players had to do up-downs during practice today. Roof was asked why.
"Here's the thing," Roof said. "We ask them to do certain things and when they don't do certain things we ask them to do, there are consequences.
"Here's what happened: I asked that whenever we recover a fumble, everybody point. Yesterday on tape, everybody didn't point. So everybody in that group, didn't do what we asked them to do. It's reminders."
What's the reason for pointing?
"Just to be excited about it and say that Auburn's got the ball - no matter who has it," Roof said. "Because what's legal at the bottom of a pile? Everything. So the good guys got the ball."
*** Neiko Thorpe continues to excel at safety after moving from cornerback.
"I'm 100 percent convinced that this is going to be a good move for our football team and a good move for Neiko as well," Roof said. "He looks like he's much more natural at safety and his range shows up much more than it does at corner."
*** Ladarious Phillips, according to Malzahn, had a stomach virus two days ago. Phillips is still working at fullback.
"We're giving him a great shot to try to win that position," Malzahn said. "He seems like he is urgent. He seems like he's attentive. Tomorrow will be very important for him as well."
However, he isn't getting many carries.
"He needs to worry about blocking first," Malzahn said. "But he does have the ability to carry the football. He does have some running back skills, but this spring we're really focused on him doing the dirty work and taking care of business up front."
*** Moseley admitted last week to the media that he has grown up a lot since he's been at Auburn. Malzahn agrees.
"There's no doubt," Malzahn said. "He's matured greatly the last two years. Mentally, he wasn't ready to play the first year or even last year. But you can see the urgency. He's competing for the starting job here at Auburn, so I've really seen a difference. He's competing hard and he wants to win the job."
*** Trotter, according to Malzahn, has been solid.
"He knows the offense better than anybody out there, so our expectations for him are extremely high," Malzahn said. "But he's performing well and I'm curious to see how he does tomorrow."
*** Although they're competing, Trotter and Moseley remain friends.
"They're very good friends, but they both want to win the position and they respect each other," Malzahn said. "They encourage each other, but make no mistake, when they're on that field, they both want to be the starting quarterback."
*** Offensive lineman John Sullen started out as a tackle in 2009, but moved to guard after he lost about 50 pounds last year. He is mainly working at right guard now. However, he's put on about 15 pounds since last season. He's now approximately 330 pounds, but is trying to lose weight.
*** The Tigers' Saturday scrimmage will start at 10 a.m. inside Jordan-Hare Stadium.