AUBURN — Preparation for the season begins, in earnest, now.
Auburn opens preseason practice today, the first of seven straight days, with the season opener against Arkansas just four Saturdays away.
It’s been 105 days since the Tigers took the field on A-Day and the coaches are eager to see how the players developed since.
“What I would hope to see in that first practice is not only great carry-over mentally, but I would hope to see that our guys made improvement on their own over the summer because I can’t work with them with the ball, so they’ve been doing a lot of things on their own,” offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. “I said at the end of spring for us to reach the level we want to, our guys are going to have to come back in August and be better than when we left. I’ll be anxious to see real quick how those guys progressed on their own.”
The mentality is radically different than a year ago.
There is no quarterback battle, though there is still the pending punishment to Nick Marshall and Jonathon Mincy for their recent marijuana-related run-ins with the law.
The mindset is different for those outside the program as well.
Auburn is no longer the under-the-radar and wounded program of a year ago. The reigning SEC champion Tigers opened at No. 5 in the Amway Coaches Poll released Thursday. They trail No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Oregon.
“I think it's completely different,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said. “Last year we weren't on anybody's radar. We snuck up on a lot of people.
“This year we know we're going to be circled. We talked about that with our players. But at the same time I feel like that's good pressure. We've got our program back to where it should be, where people, have us circled.”
The first circle on the calendar is in 29 days when Bret Bielema brings his Razorbacks to Jordan-Hare Stadium.
The offense is further along than last year, when Marshall had to win the job and learn the offense in less than a month. The learning process, as far as it relates to football, is less about the basics now.
Auburn relied on Marshall’s running abilities in the zone read to rack up the most rushing yards in the country. The objective, whether Marshall misses any time or not, is to be less dependent on the run.
“We were able to dabble in some things (during spring practice) and then this summer, as coaches we felt that going into fall camp our guys will understand our base system well so there may be some areas that we can take advantage of some personnel for guys like Nick and others, they’re more comfortable in the system,” Lashlee said. “Then hopefully be more balanced, that’s the big thing.”