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Auburn coach Gus Malzahn puts offense on ‘pace alert’ this spring

Auburn running back Roc Thomas carries the ball during spring practice at the university's athletic complex Tuesday, March 8, 2016.
Auburn running back Roc Thomas carries the ball during spring practice at the university's athletic complex Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Ledger-Enquirer.com

Coach Gus Malzahn sent players scrambling when his voice rang out over the public address system at Auburn’s athletic complex during an early portion of Tuesday’s practice.

“Pace alert, pace alert, pace alert,” Malzahn’s recorded message declared.

Players quickly moved from their individual position drills scattered around the outdoor field to get lined up on opposing sidelines for an up-tempo, five-minute period of 11 on 11.

Quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and John Franklin III each ran a series of plays without huddling. Johnson ran the first team offense with White quarterbacking the second team and Franklin the third team.

“Tempo is a big factor with us,” Malzahn said last week. “At times we didn’t have great tempo last year, and so we will play extremely fast in the spring and just get our guys back in that mode.”

Coaches weren’t tolerating players on either side of the ball gingerly getting into position for the two-minute type drill as Malzahn makes pace to be a priority for his team this spring. Last season, Malzahn’s offense averaged less than 70 plays for the first time in his three years as Auburn’s head coach.

“One thing from a coach’s standpoint is just the emphasis,” Malzahn said. “We always emphasis tempo, but there’s a difference in making it a priority. It’s going to be a priority with all of our coaches and all of our players. It’s just a way of life, and we got to get back to that and that’s what we’re going this spring.”

Malzahn even plans to be more involved in on-field drills and workouts to facilitate those improvements. At the start of Tuesday’s practice, Malzahn was on one knee pitching footballs to Franklin.

“I'm hands-on the whole offense,” Malzahn said. “I'm going to do more of the offensive coaching, helping the guys.”

Malzahn is also looking beyond his team’s practice habits for areas where he can improve the offense’s tempo. He used last year’s substitution pattern — the offense constantly rotated in multiple skill position players — as an example.

“If we can keep the same 11 on the field and do some different formations, that definitely helps,” Malzahn said.

Malzahn hasn’t addressed if he’s happy with the results of the changes since Auburn started practicing in pads on Saturday. Malzahn briefly touched on spring practice during a short pro day press conference Monday, but steered the discussion back to the program’s former players competing in front of scouts.

“I love our attitude,” Malzahn said. “I love our effort. I love our coaching staff. So far, so good. We have a lot of work to do, but the overall attitude is really good.”

Auburn cancelled Tuesday’s post-practice media availability session for Malzahn and players. Malzahn plans to address the media following Thursday’s practice.

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