“We have to earn it.”
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! It was an incredible day in Auburn Tuesday, as Auburn University announced the hiring of Bruce Pearl as the new men’s basketball head coach, and a wild all-day celebration followed. Lost in the euphoria and welcoming of Pearl was the beginning of spring football drills. Head coach Gus Malzhan had the right message with the above quote. The Tiger football team must earn it. Starting now, the SEC Tittle and improbable comeback of 2013 means little. A new slate of games awaits, and it’s a very tough schedule this fall.
At the crack of dawn Tuesday, Auburn began a new grueling regimen. What was evident quickly on a day in shorts is that the off-season hasn’t been wasted. The team looks bigger and faster, and a quick look at reported weights on the roster bears that out. There are guys out there like Shon Coleman and Shane Callahan who’ve added more than 10 pounds of muscle. Likewise, a few guys who were overweight last season have trimmed down. Of particular note is that starting Star position senior Robensen Therezie has put on 8 pounds. In a defense without a true strong-side linebacker, the star has to sometimes make that tough tackle. At 212 pounds, Therezie should be even better this spring.
Position by position breakdown, after the jump!
Auburn defensive line was the strength of the defense last season, and it returns a good number of players this season, although finding a few more ends is crucial this spring. Missing from yesterday’s practice was senior starter LaDarius Owens. Don’t know if that was a class conflict, or something more serious. Carl Lawson was running first team, in Dee Ford’s former spot.
Auburn appears set in stone as to the starting linebackers, Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. Building quality depth behind them will be a priority. There are plans to play junior Justin Garrett, who missed last season with injuries at both linebacker and star. Yesterday, he was working at linebacker.
On the back end, Auburn will be missing starting safety Joshua Holsey, who’s recovering from a knee injury last season. While Holsey won’t be cleared till fall, he was taking part in non-contact drills, which was a good thing to see. While Auburn begins spring with 19 defensive backs on the official roster, a notable one who is not there is Trent Fisher, who has been a valuable special teams guy the past 3 seasons. Jermaine Whitehead and Jonathan Mincy likely have starting spots locked down, but Auburn will look at a lot of new faces this spring. At least on the first day, the most impressive-looking of the bunch was JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief. At 6′ 2” and 218, he gives Auburn more size than we’re used to seeing at safety. Trovon Reed worked at corner for the first time, and looked like a natural. He has switched to number 25.
On the offensive line, Patrick Miller appears to be getting first crack at replacing Greg Robinson at left tackle. Miller took first-team reps on that side, with Avery Young on the right side. Coaches have said that they’ll look at Miller, Shon Coleman and Robert Leff as possible replacements.
Most years, I worry about Auburn’s numbers at tight end and h-back. This year, things look as good as ever. C. J. Uzomah has added another 6 pounds, and looks the part of a tight end at 264 pounds. He and fellow senior Brandon Fulse should give Auburn the best pair of blocking tight ends in the SEC this fall, and we also know Uzomah has a knack for making the tough touchdown catch in traffic. Ricky Parks has returned to the team at H-back, and looks to again be in the playing rotation like he was last spring. Gage Batten returns after backing up Jay Prosch last season to compete for a starting job.
Even with Trovon Reed moving to cornerback, Auburn returns a deep and talented receiving corps this spring. In drills yesterday, newcomer D’haquille Williams looked impressive. He’s got size, moves, speed and hands, and might be a threat to take a starting job. Another guy who’s evidently taken a jump forward is Tony Stevens, who played sparingly last season. Stevens is Auburn’s tallest wide receiver at 6′ 4”, and he’s added about 8 pounds of muscle. Auburn has really increased the size of its receiver corps in recent years. Auburn can rotate through Coates, Williams, Stevens, Ricardo Louis, and Jaylon Denson and not have a guy shorter than 6′ 2”. Add in slot guys Quan Bray and Marcus Davis, and it’s a deep and talented group. On the injury front, Jaylon Denson was at practice, but did not do any drills.
One of the bigger questions on most folks’ minds is who will replace Heisman Finalist Tre Mason? Taking first team reps was Cameron Artis-Payne, with Corey Grant on the second unit. Auburn only has 7 running backs listed on the roster, but more big-name talent will arrive in the fall. For spring, I think the big names will be Artis-Payne, Grant and redshirt freshman Peyton Barber. On A-Day, I’d look for CAP and Grant to be sat down early, and the majority of carries given to the younger guys. That’s the way it usually is. I’ll be looking to see if junior transfer Lawyer Tillman gets a few carries. Yes, we have a Lawyer Tillman on the roster again! He’s the son of former Tiger wide receiver who scored the winning touchdown in the 1986 Iron Bowl.
At quarterback, Gus Malzhan has his first returning starting quarterback since Mitch Mustaine in 2005. Nick Marshall will go through his first spring at Auburn, and I think everyone is looking forward to seeing what he can do with a greater command of the offense. As Jay Coulter wrote yesterday, I think the offense will run much faster this season. Rounding out the spring depth chart are sophomore Jeremy Johnson, junior Jonathan Wallace, junior Ben Durand, and sophomore Tucker Tuberville.
The Tigers return to the practice field this morning, and will have a full-pads practice Saturday.