AUBURN — With spring football practices set to begin next Wednesday, Auburn has been preparing with winter workouts and improving on conditioning with players working up the three-tier system put in by new strength and condition coach Ryan Russell.
Players have had to earn their way up the ladder from an orange jersey, to blue, to green.
“Got to be a champion. That’s what the green represents,” defensive end Dee Ford said. “Being a champion, great body language, starting your drills and finishing them, not bend over tired, saliva foaming at the mouth.”
Ford was among the first three players to earn a green jersey along with fullback Jay Prosch and defensive tackle Gabe Wright.
“I think the coaches picked and I think they were going off of effort, how you finished each drill, how you acted,” Prosch said. “(If you were) tired, hands on your knees, how you composed yourself and how you encourage other players.”
Offensive tackle Greg Robinson said it took him until the third workout to earn his green jersey, due to an ankle injury which slowed him in the first two workouts.
“When I got back I was behind so I had to catch up and get the hang of the drills but then the second one I did a lot better,” said Robinson, who started 11 of 12 games on the blind side last year. “Then the third one I got mine and I’ve had it ever since.”
Several players said the differences from Russell’s regimen and the previous one under long-time strength and conditioning Kevin Yoxall are a more fast and up-tempo style which compliments head coach Gus Malzahn’s system.
“It’s a lot different in a good way,” tight end/H-Back C.J. Uzomah said. “We wake up and have a six o’clock workout. Kiehl (Frazier), Tre (Mason) and I, we wake up and we’re pumped. You feel that in the locker room, we’re pumped up. We’re like ‘OK we have to get better.’ We’re worried about ourselves right now. We know next Wednesday is going to come really fast and we have to be ready for it.
“We needed to find out edge and that’s what we’re trying to do now, is find our edge and get ready for the season.”
In a historically poor 2012 season, Auburn struggled mightily in the second half of games, appearing totally gassed and unable to keep up. There were reports of workouts becoming optional under coach Gene Chizik, undermining Yoxall, and former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder spoke throughout the season about the defense not being “built” with size and speed.
A glimpse at some of those issues appeared at Auburn’s Pro Day when prominent players put up some poor showings in the bench press.
Two of last year’s starting linebackers, Daren Bates and Jonathan Evans, did 15 and 13 bench reps respectively, which would have placed them last among linebackers invited to the NFL Combine. Bates, who is attempting to play safety in the NFL, had two fewer reps than LSU’s Eric Reid who like Bates, ran a 4.53 40-yard dash.
The accountability installed by the new coaching staff, particularly Russell, is leading to improvements off the field so far, and Auburn hopes it will pay dividends on Saturdays as well.
“We have a lot of older guys so we have a lot of guys taking a better approach to their training. All maturity, guys buying in to the new coach,” Ford said. “Yeah there were issues … we have a lot of guys taking a better approach to those things.”
Ford, Prosch and Wright led the change in approach and now almost everyone is at green status.
“I feel like coming into it I had my mindset ready,” Wright said. “I had a smile on my face, I was clapping it up.”