Tigers Roar into August! (a few practice notes, and a brief look at game 11, Louisiana Monroe.)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Tigers Roar into August! (a few practice notes, and a brief look at game 11, Louisiana Monroe.)

Fall QB race

The gunslinger competition continues.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody, and Happy August! The dog days of summer continue, but we have football news to digest every day, now that practice is back in session. It’s a grand time of year. Everyone is undefeated. We know that we’ll only have a week or so left, of hearing the neighborhood kids shrieking. They’ll be chained to their benches in the school dungeons, soon enough. Optimism at Auburn is at a fever pitch, and it shows no signs of abating.

     My self-prescribed duty this week on this blog, is to preview Auburn’s week 11 opponent, Louisiana Monroe. I enjoy putting these things together, but I do recognize that a bunch of repeated, pasted Auburn blurbs, along with a ubiquitous “Advantage: Auburn” tag would likely be tiresome. Folks, ten years ago, we got the below shot, out of Louisiana Monroe.

ULM Tide Rolled

Wow, this was so much fun! Even the worst Alabama trolls were left speechless!

     Louisiana was an FCS school that moved up in 1994, and regularly took it on the chin from most FBS schools. Then Todd Berry arrived as the head coach, and he had a few notions about knocking off the big schools. Bama fell, in 2007, at their own homecoming. Auburn very nearly had the favor returned in 2012, as Auburn survived several potential game-winning kicks late, then nipped Louisiana Monroe in overtime, 31-28. The 2012 edition of the Warhawks took Arkansas to overtime, and narrowly lost to Baylor, 47-42, in compiling an 8-5 record.

     Since 2012, there has been a steady decline in Monroe. They broke even at 6-6 in 2013, then records followed of 4-8, 2-11, and 4-8. Last year’s edition was nuked by Auburn, 58-7. The year also had Louisiana Monroe losses of 59-17 to Oklahoma, 59-17 to New Mexico, 51-10 to Arkansas State, 42-17 to Appalachian State, and 30-3 to Louisiana Lafayette. I’m not too worried about this year’s pre-Iron Bowl tuneup, although I think the Warhawks will be a bit better than Alabama A&M was, last season.

     It’s that time of year when fall practice has begun, and there are flurries of “news” from Auburn that we devour with eager eyes. That said, it’s hard to read too much into the news without the pads actually being on, and hitting happening. The team practiced in shells yesterday (helmets and shoulder pads only), but the real hitting will start this Saturday. I’ve tried to watch every cell-phone video the press has posted, and draw a few observations, mostly based on conditioning and speed.

Practice notes after the jump!

     On the defensive line, I think the biggest surprise has been the moves and quickness displayed by buck end Jeffery Holland. I kind of had him pegged as the heir-apparent to Carl Lawson, but worried a bit when he was overshadowed on A-Day by Paul James III. Holland looks like a problem for the tackles to handle, this fall. It’s not a bad thing to have multiple players available at this position. All one has to do is look at what happened when Lawson was injured in 2014 and 2015, and Auburn had trouble generating a pass rush.

     I continue to worry about the Auburn secondary, as it continues to hemorrhage players. Of particular note was the departure of Mike Sherwood, who could play every position in the secondary. He started at corner with the ones on A-Day, a couple of years ago, and was a stand-out this year, trying to slow down the offense. As a result, we’ve seen receiver Jason Smith move over to safety. At this point, Auburn has likely starters Tray Matthews and Stephen Roberts starting, with Nick Ruffin for depth. Jason Smith is basically two nicked-up guys away from starting at safety. That’s worrisome, with Clemson coming up in about 5 weeks.

     Punting is another area where I’ve heard little news. I think Auburn will be fine here, whether Ian Shannon starts, or Daniel Carlson handles this job, or even freshman Anders Carlson. Of course, my real hope is that Auburn gets into the red zone frequently, and scores points. I’d love a year where Auburn sets more offensive records, and the punter gets less than 20 punts on the season. I can dream, right?

     In drills thus far, the Tigers have gone with the same starting offensive line that was featured on A-Day. This would be Darius James at left tackle, and Braden Smith on the right. Guards are Marquel Harrell and Mike Horton, with Austin Golson at center. I had penciled in transfer Wilson Bell to probably take one of the starting guard spots, but evidently that hasn’t happened, yet. The battle at center is another intriguing one. Transfer Casey Dunn is said to be competing for the starting job, but that’s going to be an awfully tough battle. Senior Austin Golson has played most of the snaps at center for Auburn the past couple of seasons, and knows the line calls backwards and forwards. I look to last season, when the line looked lost against Clemson and Texas A&M, early. Golson moved back to center, and Auburn started steam-rolling opponents.

     The names we have heard the most about, from the receiving corps thus far have been Kyle Davis and Sal Cannella. Davis missed all of spring drills for personal reasons, but by all accounts he stayed in shape, and is turning heads again this fall. Davis had the most spectacular catch of the year last fall, against Arkansas State, a one-handed snag of a high ball in traffic. Cannella was one that impressed me on A-Day. He was only thrown to once, but he caught it while well-covered. Cannella was a load out on the perimeter on A-Day, consistently locking up and driving back corners.

     This time a year ago, I was wondering what Auburn was going to do, at running back. Attrition had claimed Auburn’s top 3 runners from 2015. As it turned out, Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway did just fine, when they were healthy. This year, it seems that the Tigers have more options. Malik Miller and Kam Martin look like very capable backups, and transfer C. J. Tolbert is now eligible to play, after sitting out last season. Add in explosive true freshman Devan Barrett, and this has become a pretty deep unit.

     I can’t scroll through my feeds each day, without seeing yet more pieces on the quarterback race between Jarrett Stidham and Sean White. From what has been observed in practice, they are splitting first team reps evenly. My guess is that you’ll see neither one get bragged on over the other one, by the coaching staff. The first scrimmage won’t be till a week from Saturday, and likely we won’t know anything till the staff grades that event. Even then, the quarterbacks aren’t live for contact, this fall. Most quarterbacks suffer at least a bit in their executions, once they start taking hits. (Some more than others.) I’m glad that Auburn appears to have multiple guys that will be able to run the offense, this season.

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