Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said he is excited to return to calling the plays for the Tigers offense this year, even if he doesn’t yet know who will be under center to receive those play calls.
“When I decided to go back and call plays, that’s really who I am. I’m an offensive guy,” Malzahn said at SEC Football Media Days. “When I’m back in the swing of things, the day-in and day-out coaching on the field, what happens is the whole team takes on my personality. It just feels natural. I wasn’t really good at standing back and watching you.”
Malzahn is entering fall camp without knowing who his quarterback will be.
“Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix, two freshmen fighting for the position,” Malzahn said of the candidates to start at quarterback. “Both of them are very athletic. They can create things when things break down. They have big-time arms. Both of them are really hungry for the job.”
Malzahn said he expects a starter to emerge from fall camp.
One of them will take the first snap when Auburn faces Oregon in Dallas to kick off the season.
Auburn returns running backs Kam Martin and Boobee Whitlow, along with an offensive line that Malzahn says feels like they’ve “got something to prove.”
“All five starters are back. They are five seniors,” Malzahn said about the offensive line. “They went through some growing pains last year. They got beat up. They kind of got an edge about them. They went through spring against our defensive line and really held their own.”
Malzahn’s confidence extends to the team’s wide receiving corps. Will Hastings and Eli Stove are back in the fold after injuries last season along with young receivers who got playing time last year.
“We’re really feeling good with the overall depth of wide receivers with the playmakers that we have,” Malzahn said.
The confidence includes the defensive side of the ball as well, with Malzahn saying he believes this could be “the best defense that we have at least in the 10 years I’ve been at Auburn.”
“It really starts with our defensive line, and the three guys that chose to come back, you know, with Derrick, Marlon and the addition of Nick Coe,” Malzahn said. “With the other guys they have, we really feel like we have a chance to be dominant on the defensive line.”
The defensive backfield, though losing some members, still feels solid to Malzahn.
“We feel like we’re really in really good shape with the leadership of K.J. Britt and Chandler Wooten. We really don’t think we’ll miss a beat at the linebacker position,” Malzahn said. “In the secondary, we have them all back but one and really the three seniors that are leading the way are Daniel Thomas, Javaris Davis and Jeremiah Dinson. They have some big-game experience and are a very confident group, had an outstanding spring.”
Auburn faces one of its toughest schedules in recent years, but Malzahn looks at it as an opportunity.
“It’s not a shock to our system,” he said. “I really believe we’re used to it. We’re really looking at it as a great opportunity for us.”
Malzahn noted that “we end it with Georgia and Alabama, both at home, and of course two years ago that worked out pretty good.”
“Ride for the Brand” is the mantra of this year’s Auburn Tigers with Malzahn saying it came from “a combination of a lot of things,” and it’s about the mindset to “put Auburn first.”
“We’re in a day and time that is real selfish, and we’re just trying to get back to Auburn. We play for the guy beside us,” Malzahn said. “So just putting Auburn first, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s a player, everything. I think there’s great power in that. And we got a lot of tradition.”
Malzahn, who is entering his seventh season as the Tigers head coach, brushed aside chatter he could be on the hot seat with a disappointing season, despite the substantial contract he signed after the 2017 season.
“I got a job that expects to win championships, and I expect to win championships. I knew that when I signed up for that,” Malzahn said. “In the years that we win championships, it’s good. The years we don’t, it’s hot seat this, hot seat that. And it’s just part of the job description. Some places eight wins, they celebrate. That’s just not part of Auburn. We expect to win championships.”
Malzahn voiced his excitement about the return of several prominent players who could have gone to the NFL draft this past offseason.
“We had eight of our juniors that seriously considered leaving early to NFL that chose to come back. I really think that’s where the core heartbeat of our team is, with those guys,” Malzahn said. “They are very hungry. I feel like they’ve got something to prove, and we have very good leadership.”
Many coaches have been asked this week about the transfer portal and how it affects their program.
“I think everybody’s got an opinion, but I think the bottom is I think it’s probably here to stay.
The biggest challenge I think from a coach’s standpoint is roster management. And I really believe the teams that can manage the roster the best, it will be an advantage,” Malzahn said. “I think moving forward you’re going have to know about the heartbeat of your team. And then I think there’s something, too, about relationships, just having those real good relationships, those honest relationships with your players, their parents and everything that goes with it. And I think the teams that can do that the best, I think they’ll have an advantage.”
As for the team he has now, there is plenty to be excited about, Malzahn believes.
“We got a lot of great players,” he said. “And this whole offseason has been really, you know, dictated with that. And we’ve had all kinds of speakers, former players, we’ve had our former players on our staff that coach, that won championships, getting in front of our, you know, team. And really just to go back to our core values, work, hard work, things like that with our creed. And it’s been really special.”
Malzahn didn’t let Media Days go by without acknowledging the deaths of Rod and Paula Bramblett. Rod Bramblett was the play-by-play announcer for Auburn football, basketball and baseball. The couple died in a wreck in May. The teenage driver of the other vehicle was charged with manslaughter in their deaths.
“We lost a very important member of the Auburn family two months ago, Rod Bramblett and wife, Paula, were in a tragic car wreck,” Malzahn said. “He’s a guy you don’t replace. He was a blessing for me, and our staff and I know all of the other coaches at Auburn to work with. He’s going to be very well missed. I just ask everybody keeps his family in their thoughts and prayers, not just now, but really this whole year.”