War Eagle, everybody! The A-Day game is almost upon us! It’s the pinnacle of spring football practice. It’s a chance to get a glimpse of what awaits next fall. It will have to sustain us through a long, hot, dry summer! The weather looks mighty fine for the game, with a high of 85 degreesF, partly cloudy skies, and only a 10 percent chance of rain. That’s a far cry from last year’s 70 degrees and haze. Rather than scrimmaging offense vs. defense, this year’s event will feature two teams that will be picked by the coaches.
We Auburn faithful are far more optimistic now, than this time a year ago. Last year, we were wondering if we even HAD an SEC quarterback on the roster. A no-name, drop-prone receiving corps had plagued the team for years. Who would lead block? Would anyone step up in the middle and stop the short passes and runs? Most Auburn fans were just hoping to avoid another losing season. With all of the offensive questions a year ago, Auburn was able to put up 33 points per game on the scoreboard. With most of the principal players on that offense returning, plus the addition of some fine talent, we are hoping for a record number of points in 2010!
1.) Who will win the starting quarterback job? It seems that this question is asked every year lately! All eyes are on transfer Cameron Newton. The big guy has gotten a disproportionate number of reps, and most practice accounts indicate that he’s ahead of the others. We know he’s a serious threat running the ball. We keep hearing about rushing touchdowns by Newton in the scrimmages. And this is with the orange jersey on. All a defender has to do to “tackle” the quarterbacks is touch them. What I want to know about Newton and the others is, can they throw the basic passes accurately? Bombs and strong arms are nice, but those don’t make a consistent offense. The 5-yard hitch, the slant, and the screen make it go. Can the quarterbacks throw those crisply and accurately? If not, we’ll be looking at offensive output like we had against LSU and Kentucky last season. When you spread the field, the quarterback is absolutely the key. He must get the ball to the playmakers consistently, without turnovers.
2.) Can the front seven step up? Last season, Auburn gave up 27.5 points per game, an Auburn record for defensive futility. The most glaring statistic to jump out is that the Tigers gave up over 4 yards per rush. To compound Tiger woes, our biggest tackle (Jake Ricks) and our best end (Antonio Coleman) have graduated. I am VERY uneasy about our front four. Blanc, Fairley, Goggins and Carter are veterans, but none has been a star to date. I shudder to think of what might happen if one of them gets injured! We’ll be carefully watching those backups. If they get manhandled, it will be a very bad sign for the Auburn defense in 2010. The linebacker corps has issues, too. The latest bad news is that Eltoro Freeman is running second string at middle linebacker. Is this just an experiment? Freeman was moved to the strong side at the beginning of spring drills, and if he was being counted on to start a new position, you’d THINK he’d need all the reps he could get! Of late, sophomore Jonathan Evans has been running with the ones at the strong side linebacker position. We know that Craig Stevens and Josh Bynes are solid veterans. The shuffling elsewhere is alarming.
3.) What’s up in the secondary? We’ve heard “highlight reel,” and “all-SEC” in conjunction with Demond Washington on one side. We’ve heard raves on previously marginal players T’Sharvan Bell and Ikeem Means. Of projected starters Neiko Thorpe, Aaron Savage, and Mike McNeil we’ve heard little. McNeil was publicly admonished by Gene Chizik to “step it up” this week. Will A-Day reveal a deeper secondary, or will there be wide-open receivers running uncontested all over Jordan Hare? It will be interesting to see.
4.) Why do we hear complaints about “ball security” in every interview with Gus Malzhan? Cameron Newton was identified on a sack fumble in an early scrimmage, and the backup quarterbacks have thrown a few interceptions. Otherwise, we’re in the dark as to who’s disappointing the offensive coordinator. I’d like to see an A-Day with no turnovers. If we’ve got a back or receiver that’s coughing the ball up, they’ll likely repeat the violations in front of tens of thousands of fans and a national TV audience. We must get the turnover-prone identified, and parked on the bench!
5.) What playmakers will shine? Last season, if a defense stopped Ben Tate and Darvin Adams, they stopped Auburn. We know this year that defenses will pay special attention to Adams and Mario Fannin, who’s the likely starter at running back. The Tigers will desperately need other team members to pick up the slack. We know that Onterrio McCalebb can explode, if he stays healthy. Who else do we have that can make elusive runs, and snag the great catch in traffic? We’ll be watching for those plays on A-Day!
One question that likely WON’T be answered is who will return punts. Last season was the worst in memory for punt returns. We could neither field the ball reliably, nor run forward if we did catch it. There were no punts in last year’s A-Day, and they dispensed with kickoffs in the second half. I would think that this year it would behoove the team to at LEAST do mock punts during the game. Like kickoffs, the ball could be blown dead after the catch. We want to see who will catch the ball!
Another area to watch is the right side of the offensive line. We are STOUT on the left, with Lee Ziemba, Byron Issom, and Ryan Pugh at center. The right side, with John Sullen and a pair of JUCO transfers is a mystery. It will also be interesting to watch the backup linemen. We had a VAST gulf between the ability levels of the starters vs. the reserves, last season. Has that gap closed any?
We’ll have a review of the A-Day game up next week, and we’ll speculate on what transpired on the field. Have a great day, and War Eagle!