Tigers Go Back to Work!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Tigers Go Back to Work!

Spring Drils 01

Spring Drills begin today!
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Practice for the 2018 Auburn football season has begun, as of today. It’s a bit of an early start this season, but nothing unusual for Auburn football this millennium. Former coach Tommy Tuberville believed in those early starts, as he would be able to boot-camp the team to death, and still have most everyone recovered for another brutal camp in the fall. Those days are long gone, now, as the NCAA continues on a regular basis to cut particularly full-pad drills down.

     The philosophy for current head coach Gus Malzahn seems to be a bit different than the past. The idea this year is to spread practices out, where Auburn doesn’t even practice on consecutive days. I think the idea is to keep the players well-rested, and allow more time for recovery from injuries. It is no secret that the last couple of seasons, Auburn could have been great on the field of play, but injuries limited the team to fair-to-good seasons. I’m seeing an effort by this staff to pad this team, both by being smart in practice, and of course to continue to add SEC-caliber players to the roster in big numbers.

     I am very excited about Auburn’s defensive line prospects this season, as at least a 10-deep rotation returns. Finding a new buck end to replace NFL-bound Jeff Holland is probably the top story, but I think Auburn may well end up rotating a lot of guys, even at that position. Auburn has multiple linemen like Dontavius Russell, Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe that one man just can’t keep corralled. That makes life miserable for SEC quarterbacks and offensive coordinators!

     Linebacker likewise seems to be a bastion of strength, led by Deshaun Davis, Darrell Williams and Montravius Atkinson, Auburn will be more than adequate here, once again. I really have to tip my hat to linebackers coach Travis Williams. A couple of years ago, he took over a unit that was a liability more often than not. Attitude and technique changed for the better, and Auburn has been really good at linebacker the past two seasons.

     There are opportunities in the secondary with 3 departures from last year’s squad to the NFL. However, the cupboard certainly isn’t bare. Javaris Davis and Jamel Dean both have adequate starting experience at the corner spots, and nickelback Jeremiah Denson was one of the better ones in the league, last year. Auburn will have a pair of new starting safeties this season, but there is experience on the roster. Daniel Thomas will have first crack, as he has played a number of positions pretty well in the defensive backfield in spot duty. Some of the more talented guys in this year’s recruiting class are defensive backs, as well.

     Auburn has some work to do on special teams, this spring. Poor coverage and blocked field goal attempts marred several games last fall. Coaching responsibilities have been shuffled on special teams, and now Larry Porter will have the title of special teams coordinator. Porter fielded some good special teams units at his previous coaching stop, at North Carolina. Presumably, the heir-apparent to replace departed kicker Daniel Carlson, is redshirt freshman brother Anders Carlson. I will be excited to see what kind of leg Anders has, on A-Day. Last season was a duel at punter between Ian Shannon and Aiden Marshall. They’ll battle again this spring. This fall camp, Australian soccer player Arryn Siposs will arrive, with every intention to take that punting job. He was a highly sought-after prospect, this past recruiting class.

     Auburn will have to rebuild a sometimes shaky offensive line, this year. With coach J. B. Grimes back at Auburn, I have every confidence that issues from the past couple of years will disappear. Auburn has talent and starting experience returning, although possibly not as much depth as in recent years. My guess as to eventual starters would be Kaleb Kim at center, Mike Horton and Marquel Harrell at guards, and Prince Tega Wanagho at left tackle. Right tackle is wide open right now, and may the best man win!

     Auburn is extremely solid at both starting tight end, and H-back, with seniors Jalen Harris and Chandler Cox returning. Both of those guys are multi-year veterans, and nasty blockers. As usual, we’d like to see them more involved in the passing game, but let’s not fool ourselves again this year. It’s not going to happen in this offense. Auburn put some intriguing backup blockers in on certain downs last season, and those guys will be a year bigger and stronger, this season. Those guys included Spencer Nigh, and Tucker Brown, both of whom were big and powerful.

     Auburn returns every receiver of consequence this season, and should be able to hit the deck playing at a high level immediately. The Tigers have record-setting Ryan Davis, deep threat Darius Slayton, the shifty Will Hastings, Eli Stove, Nate Craig-Myers, as well as a host of less-experienced talent. I predict that it will be a tough competition here, this spring.

     It is “next man up” time, at running back. Last year’s bellcows Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway will try their hands in the NFL. Auburn’s most experienced returnee is Kam Martin, who is shifty and explosive. Can he become an every-down back? Devan Barrett played meaningful snaps last fall as a true freshman, and Malik Miller is a big back who’ll get a chance to shine this spring. Auburn is bringing in some pretty explosive backs from the high school ranks, as well. I think the key questions to be answered on this unit are pass blocking, and durability. Successful answers at both will take Auburn far, this fall.

     Quarterback is a bittersweet position, this spring. Make no mistake, Auburn has 3 very good ones on the roster. We won’t get to see presumed starter Jarrett Stidham this spring, except possibly in a few limited warmups on A-Day. Of course, Stidham was one of the more electric quarterbacks in the SEC last season, when he wasn’t getting chased out of the pocket. I would have liked to see him settle in with a new line this spring, and work on quicker decisions on where to throw. Instead, we will get to watch an interesting battle between Malik Willis and early enrollee Joey Gatewood. Both of those guys are legitimate dual-threat quarterbacks with great running skill. I will be interested in seeing what they do throwing the ball. Last season on A-Day, officials blew the play dead as soon as a quarterback ran, even if not touched. Won’t be much chance this spring to take off and run.

     With the spring comes optimism, and new life. I believe that this is one of the more talented teams in recent years at Auburn, and if the coaches can put them in a position to succeed, the sky is the limit this fall.

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