AUBURN, Ala. — An offseason of playbook study did little to prepare Auburn’s players for the fast-and-furious nature of Gus Malzahn’s offense after they stepped on the practice field for the first time Tuesday.
“We were dragging,” quarterback Kodi Burns said afterward, a sentiment echoed by a few players. “A lot of guys aren’t used to it.”
They’d better start. The Tigers intend to be fast on offense. And, this yea,r they mean it.
Such promises have been made before (see Franklin, Tony), but Malzahn, at least so far, has Auburn’s players believing Tuesday’s go-go-go attitude isn’t just an act.
“We’re going to actually run that tempo,” Burns said. “If you saw in practice, it’s a tempo offense. There’s not much looking to the sidelines for plays. We just run play after play after play. We’ll have an advantage over defenses by wearing them down.”
Malzahn, whose high-octane offenses at Tulsa ranked first and second nationally the past two years, was hired to bring Auburn’s attack into the 21st century, utilizing players in various roles and getting the ball to versatile play-makers in different spots on the field.
That means a break from traditional thinking, even if the personnel package (two backs, tight end) remains more conservative than Franklin’s four-wide base set last year.
Running back Mario Fannin worked with tight ends coach Jay Boulware for part of Tuesday’s practice, playing fullback. Tight end Tommy Trott, although limited by offseason knee surgery, spent most of his time with wide receivers coach Trooper Taylor.
“It’s going to put us in the best position to make plays,” Trott said. “And he’s big on making plays. We’re going to take at least eight shots down the field per game. And if we complete them, that’s great. If we don’t complete them, the defense has got to respect it.
“The safeties are taught one thing: Don’t get your butt burned. If we’re throwing the ball down the field, that opens the running game, that opens up everything underneath it.”
The offense will be based on timing, meaning the quarterback — Burns, Chris Todd, Neil Caudle or Barrett Trotter — has to play with a rhythm, leaving little room for improvisation.
“There was a lot of flexibility in the way you could run your routes in the last offense,” Trott said. “The quarterback could just sit back there and pat the ball because you never really knew where you were going to be. And that caused a lot of pressure, a lot of sacks and a lot of scrambling.
“This year, (the quarterback is) being told on your third step, you’re throwing the ball, and if he’s not open yet, you go to the next receiver and throw the ball. They’re going to know where they’re all going to be and which way they’re going.”
Malzahn, who is less outspoken than his predecessor in public, didn’t hold back on the field, giving his quarterbacks instruction after every play Tuesday while talking as fast as his offense aims to be.
“He’s constantly coaching,” Caudle said. “If you run into him in the hallway, he’ll coach you on something. … He never takes a second off.”
Early reviews — of Malzahn and his offense — have been universally positive.
“It’s an offense that, as a quarterback, you want to be in,” Burns said. “You need to know everything. It’s hard. But, if you get it down, it’s money in the bank.”