Auburn’s practice on Wednesday was the first time the Tigers honed in on week one opponent Louisville.
“We really started to get into game plan specifics,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
Those specifics include facing off against Cardinals defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins, and preparing for multiple possible starters at quarterback with distinct playing styles.
Rankins, a 6-foot-2, 303-pound defensive end, is the anchor of Louisville’s 3-4 defense. The NFL prospect had eight sacks last season, with 13.5 tackles for loss.
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“He's really good,” Malzahn. “There's no doubt about that.”
But Malzahn sees plenty to worry about beyond Rankins. The Cardinals have experience at linebacker with James Burgess leading the way. The senior has 30 starts under his belt, and is on the Dick Butkus award watch list.
Louisville also brings back its second leading tackler from last season in linebacker Keith Kelsey, and nose tackle DeAngelo Brown.
“They were one of the best teams in the country in stopping the run last year,” Malzahn said. “Turnovers and sacks. They're a really good defense. I feel very good about our guys and I feel very good about our guys up front but it takes a while to start gelling and the way that you gel is through games. It's a good challenge.”
While there are very few questions about what the Cardinals bring defensively, the same can’t be said about an offense with four quarterbacks competing for the starting job.
The team has no timeline set to make a decision, so Auburn could see a combination of sophomores Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon, junior Will Gardner and freshman Lamar Jackson in 10 days.
“I think you've got to be prepared for all of them,” Malzahn said. “I think that's probably the biggest thing, especially going into a first game. First games really are about adjustments. You've got to be ready to adjust. You can prepare for all the different scenarios but usually after the end of the first quarter, when everybody kind of shows their hand, you've got to be able to adjust if you're going to be successful in the first game.”
* Defensive back Blake Countess didn’t come to Auburn as a graduate transfer from Michigan to set on the bench. Countess continued to express a strong desire to play wherever the Tigers need him in the fall.
“It’s something we talked about before I made my decision, repping me at a lot of different positions,” Countess said.
“I’m ready to play wherever I’m needed.”
Countess rattled off spots where he could see playing time -- corner, safety, nickel and special teams. As one of the most experienced players on the team, the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder might see time on the field at all of them.
* Offensive lineman Will Adams talked about the improvements he’s made since last season under the guidance of offensive line coach J.B. Grimes.
“He’s really helped me with my hands, where my hands go,” Adams said. “My hand placement has been really bad in the past years. Also pad level, I have long torso so it’s sometimes hard to get low. He’s really helped me with that.”
The 6-foot-7, 303-pound junior knows he isn’t necessarily in line for a starting spot, but is hoping to get “in the mix” at an interior spot, and be the sixth or seventh guy in case of an injury.
Adams, a Georgia native, is eager for Auburn’s season-opener against Louisville at the Georgia Dome. He played at the Atlanta Falcons’ home stadium three times during high school.