AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn football coach Gus Malzahn understands that injuries are bound to happen during the course of fall camp. It’s not something he looks forward to, but he has come to appreciate that the accidental bumps and bruises may actually benefit his program.
“Anytime you go through fall camp and it’s physical, you’re going to have some nicks and stuff like that,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what it does, it also helps you develop depth.
“It gives some guys that may be with the twos get a chance to see how they respond with the ones. I think that will be a blessing as far as moving forward in a season and get that experience. There’s nothing like being out there with the first group and seeing how they respond.”
For example, a non-contact knee injury to sophomore Marlon Davidson put defensive lineman Nick Coe front and center. There was no better way for the coaching staff to evaluate the redshirt freshman. Coe practiced with the second-team throughout the 2016 season and he didn’t play in a game.
This preseason has been different because of Davidson’s injury. Coe earned praised from coaches for his work with the first team and Davidson even compared Coe to Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M.
“Nick is a freak of nature,” Davidson said. “Like the real deal. I look at him like Myles Garrett. He can really do it all. … It’s weird how long he’s come. He was just a little stick man coming in. Little, nothing. He grew a lot.”
Safeties Tray Matthews and Daniel Thomas and defensive lineman Andrew Williams also missed a few days during camp. But Auburn’s staff knows what they’re getting from Matthews, the CEO of the defense, and Thomas, a standout underclassman who emerged when he stepped in for senior Rudy Ford in the 2016 Iron Bowl. Even Williams provided depth for the Tigers’ defensive line last season.
Instead, coaches turned their attention to others with fewer first-team reps, such as Jason Smith. The quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-defensive back caught Malzahn’s eye.
“Jason’s got a lot of reps, now. He has got a whole lot of reps and I think he’s done some good things,” Malzahn said. “One thing that stands out to me, he’s got a nose for the ball now. He’s one of those heat-seeking missiles now. He’ll go, and he’s got courage. I think he’s gotten better at tackling. He’s got a lot of experience.”
Perhaps the best part of the situation for Auburn is that those who’ve suffered minor injuries were “back in some capacity” for the team’s final scrimmage.
The Tigers are closing in on their Sept. 2 home opener against Georgia Southern and Malzahn expects every defensive player to be available for the first game in Jordan-Hare Stadium — and to be better for the adversity navigated during fall camp.
The post Why Gus Malzahn sees preseason injuries as ‘a blessing’ for Auburn football appeared first on SEC Country.
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