Why Gus Malzahn was impressed with how Auburn QB Malik Willis spent spring break

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AUBURN, Ala. — Like many college students, Auburn quarterback Malik Willis went to the beach for spring break.

But Willis wasn’t down in Miami last week to relax. He was there, in his words, to “grind.”

Willis took his week away from Auburn spring practice to train with his private quarterback coach, Sean McEvoy, several college signal callers and even a few NFL receivers.

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Willis spent time last week slinging passes to Pittsburgh Steelers star Antonio Brown, former Auburn wideout Ricardo Louis and Atlanta Falcons target Mohamed Sanu.

Earlier in Gus Malzahn’s tenure, the sophomore quarterback — who is the de-facto No. 1 for Auburn this spring as Jarrett Stidham recovers from shoulder surgery — wouldn’t have been able to spend his spring break that way. Malzahn kept his quarterbacks from working with outside coaches for the first few years of his Auburn career.

That changed last season, when new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey allowed Stidham and Willis to work with private coaches.

A year later, Malzahn sounds fully convinced that the outside training is a good idea.

“Very rarely will you see anybody on their spring break putting in that kind of time,” Malzahn said Thursday. “So I would say that’s a big-time positive. It really shows the importance that [Willis] has. To be honest with you, I was pretty encouraged with it.”

Willis’ extra work in Miami continued what has been a strong offseason for the sophomore backup from Atlanta.

Coaches and teammates have been impressed with the progression of the young quarterback, who went from early enrollee to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Stidham in a matter of a few months last year.

“Malik, he’s been doing well,” junior wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers said. “He’s been spinning it all spring. He’s been doing good. I think he’s going to help us out, too.”

Gaining and maintaining 🤷🏾‍♂️

A post shared by Malik Willis (@_mw14_) on

Willis primarily was a rushing threat last season for Auburn whenever he got into games, carrying the ball 16 times for 221 yards and a touchdown.

But the extra practice he’s getting as a passer is showing on the Plains.

“I think he’s balanced,” Craig-Myers said. “Probably freshman year, yeah, he was a runner. But now, he’s learning the offense. He’s worked on a lot of things. Now, he’s finally stepping into [being] a different guy.”

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