The Tigers will be the last Southeastern Conference team to open spring when they hit the field for the first time on Wednesday morning, and Malzahn said the late start is by design because they needed extra time to get stronger and tougher.
“We’ve got to get our edge back, and that’s physically and mentally tougher,” Malzahn said on Tuesday. “We’re going to be very physical during spring practice. We’ll have the pads on and be getting after it with the basic fundamentals of football. Also we’re going to stress discipline on the field. That’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
Malzahn said the early weight-room reviews from strength coach Ryan Russell have been positive.
He twice emphasized in a speedy 10-minute news conference that it’s “a new day” for the Tigers after their worst season in six decades. They have a whole new coaching staff and significant style shifts on both sides of the ball.
Besides getting stronger and tougher, he said the spring goals are to make sure the players have solid grasps on the no-huddle, fast-paced offense and a defense that switches to a base formation with four linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs under coordinator Ellis Johnson.
“That’s very critical,” Malzahn said. “We want our guys when we leave spring to have a very good understanding of the responsibilities of our base offense and defense. The reason being, this summer we want them to build on things not develop bad habits.”
He said the depth chart starts from scratch at every position. The quarterback spot for one seems unlikely to be settled before August.
Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, who both started games with mixed results last season, are the Tigers’ only scholarship quarterbacks going through spring. Former starter Clint Moseley was one of five players who have left or been dismissed from the team since Gene Chizik’s firing after a winless SEC season, and three signees join the mix in the summer.
The new coach said both passers will start out getting equal passing repetitions and that he and offensive coordiantor Rhett Lashlee will keep close tabs to guard against overtaxing their arms.
“The good thing is those guys will get a lot of reps and have a very good understanding of the offense when we get finished,” Malzahn said.
He was hired after one season as Arkansas State’s head coach after serving as Auburn’s offensive coordinator, so there is familiarity with some of the players — including Frazier and, from the recruiting process, Wallace.
A team that must replace top tackler Daren Bates, defensive end Corey Lemonier and tailback Onterio McCalebb has plenty of question marks and a coach trying to give them a clean slate after a difficult season.
“I try not to have any preconceived ideas,” Malzahn said. “When I say it’s a new day, I’m looking for a fresh start to see what the guys can do. I do know that there will be guys that improved greatly from the time I was here. There are other guys that I’ve never even watched. I’m looking to keep an open mind on everything. From my standpoint, I’m just delighted to actually see what the guys can do on the field.”
The departures since last season include safety Erique Florence, a onetime prized signee whose playing time dipped significantly as a sophomore.
Malzahn said Florence has left the team for personal reasons.