AUBURN, Ala. — With summer workouts, meetings and classes connecting spring practice and the fall, reporting day has lost its luster on the college football calendar.
“It kind of means you meet with reporters,” Auburn center Ryan Pugh joked, summing up the day’s formalities nicely. “That’s about it.”
Nevertheless, the Tigers convened at the Auburn Athletic Complex on Tuesday, officially beginning a stretch of August practices more than a month before the season opener Sept. 4 against Arkansas State at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The team had dinner before a round of nighttime meetings and will get on the practice fields for the first time tonight at 8:30.
“You’re more anxious when you’re waiting around here during the summer,” running back Mario Fannin said. “Summertime, you’re relaxing and working out and you get tired of working out. You’re ready to put on the pads and get out there. A lot of people are just anxious right now and want to get out there.”
The Tigers enter practice with high hopes in coach Gene Chizik’s second year. The entire coaching staff returns and the roster has 20 seniors back from a group that went 8-5 last season and won the Outback Bowl.
“Our No. 1 goal is to get to Atlanta,” defensive end Antoine Carter said, referring to the SEC title game.
“That’s our goal, to get back to that, that powerhouse that Auburn was,” right guard Byron Isom said.
An influx of freshmen will help. Auburn’s scholarship numbers aren’t yet back up to the NCAA max of 85, but the Tigers are deeper across the board, especially on the offensive line, where six newcomers (two junior college and four freshmen) join last year’s returners.
The veterans have taken note of the newcomers during summer workouts. Several players spoke highly of wide receiver Trovon Reed, Louisiana’s top signee last year, who could compete immediately for a role as a slot receiver.
Cornerback Demond Washington praised the freshman’s route-running and speed. Quarterback Cam Newton likes his attitude.
“Since the first day, Trovon has come in and pretty much kicked the door down,” Newton said. “Usually freshmen come in and try to do everything other than try to get better, but Trovon consistently (says), ‘Hey man, let’s go throw. Hey man, let’s go do this. What’s this, what’s that?’
“He’s always a gnat to learn something new in this offense. With that attitude, a player like that will be great.”
Newton, a transfer from Blinn (Texas) Community College who emerged from the spring atop the depth chart, used the summer to his advantage as well, forming a rapport with receivers while getting a better grasp of Gus Malzahn’s offense.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” he said. “I think I’ve got a grasp on it for the most part, but you never know with coach Malzahn’s offense.”
With seven starters back on offense, including four senior offensive linemen, Newton feels comfortable in his position.
“I feel protected,” he said. “With guys that have already been in the offense a year before I even came, they know the protections, they know the schemes, so it’s nothing new under their belt.
“Especially with them coming up to me and telling me they have trust in me. That plays a big role in the psyche of a player. With me knowing that in the back of my head, the sky’s the limit.”