Auburn set to kick off spring practice

Ben Cook

March 26, 2013 at 12:08 pm.

Although he struggled last season, Kiehl Frazier (10) will battle for the No. 1 QB spot this spring. (Spruce Derden USA TODAY Sports)

When teams open spring football practice, there is usually an air of excitement around the workouts.

Spring football means a new season and that means unlimited possibilities. No matter how good — or bad — the previous season was, every team opens spring practice with a clean slate.

And nowhere is that as good news as it is at Auburn. The Tigers need to put the 2012 season and all that came with that as far behind them as possible. The 2012 Auburn Tigers were one of only two teams in the Southeastern Conference that failed to win a league game. The 3-9 season was a disaster, and it cost Gene Chizik his job just two years removed from leading the Tigers to a national championship. But Chizik never really got the credit for the title. Instead, most of the credit went to Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.

When Auburn made a change at the coaching position it was only natural that it tapped Malzahn to lead the Tigers back to relevance in the SEC. Malzahn left Auburn after the 2011 season and took the head coaching job at Arkansas State, where he lead the Red Wolves to a 9-3 record and the Sun Belt championship a year ago.

Malzahn and the Tigers kick off the quest for returning the Tigers to their former place as a challenger in the SEC West on Wednesday.

“Every position is wide open. Everybody has a clean slate,” Malzahn told Charles Goldberg of “I’ve tried, even though I was here before, not to have any pre-judgments on any of the players. We’re moving forward.

“We’ll have a depth chart at the end of the spring, but, at the same time, the new guys coming in will be able to compete for positions in fall camp.”

Every new coach says that every position is wide open when he takes over, but Malzahn has every reason to mean it.

“Everything that happened last year is behind us,” Malzahn said. “I feel good about where we’re at going into the spring. Our whole goal is to get our edge back, back to playing good hard-nosedAuburnfootball. It’s getting back to whatAuburnis all about, and that’s on the field and off the field, the community. It’s everything.

“The fact that I was a high school head coach for 14 years really helps me. And the fact that last year, taking on a new job at a different level, was very beneficial for me to be in charge of everything and how everything works; and to understand the dynamics, not only on the field but off the field.”

One position that will get a lot of attention is quarterback.Auburnreturns two quarterbacks with experience — Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Both quarterbacks played in nine games last season and between them threw for six touchdowns and 1,483 yards. But they also threw 12 interceptions. Cutting down on that number will be a major point of emphasis for new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

“We’ll be smart this spring,” Lashlee said. “We’re not going to wear out our six wide receivers. We’re not going to kill our two running backs or quarterbacks. We have some other guys, anyway. This is a great opportunity for them to show they can contribute.”

On the defensive side of the football, veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is excited about what he will see on the practice field.

“I think there will be pretty good competition at every spot on the field,” Johnson said. “I’m optimistic because we have good depth right now. I don’t think, in the last 12 years, I’ve seen this many decent bodies lined up at every position. At lot of springs you don’t have much depth, but that’s not a problem. I think we’ll have a good, physical spring practice because of it.”

It all gets started on Wednesday and will conclude on April 20 with the annual A-Day Game. Following the game, the Toomer’s Corner trees will be rolled for the final time.  The dying trees will be removed on April 23.