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An Electric A-Day! (Breaking Down 2017 Spring Game)

By on April 9th, 2017 in Football 20 Comments »

The Tigers had some sensational throwers on hand, including Sean White during warmups!

(All photos by Acid Reign)

     War Eagle, everybody! It’s time now for the Acid Reign Report on Auburn’s 2017 A-Day game. I’ve been to a number of these spring shindigs over the years, and I really think this last one was the best I’ve seen! There was much to like, and some of the things in recent years that I did not like disappeared. Reports that Auburn would throw the ball more and better are definitely true! I also loved a starting Auburn defense that limited the second unit to just 3 yards per play in the first half.

     This year, I think I had the best seat in the house. I lined up before the stadium opened in an express line and was one of the first dozen or so let in at 11:00 AM. I made a bee line for the 50-yard line and got a seat right over the tunnel. This meant no spectators in front of me and a railing to rest my camera on. I hope readers enjoy the shots I got!

     One of the main complaints one hears about A-Day is vanilla schemes. While there wasn’t a ton of razzle dazzle, the offense didn’t shy away from running combination routes and slinging the ball around. The defenses did some blitzing, particularly in the second half. Coach Kevin Steele really sent the house after the young quarterbacks at times, and it was fun to see how they reacted. While most folks are raving about all of the deep throws, I saw a well-executed short- to medium-range game plan as well.

A Day Stidham Hastings

Stidham finds Hastings underneath. Opposing defenses are going to get sick of seeing this!

     I was also extremely pleased with the short-yardage game. Auburn has blown a lot of games in recent years by not picking up the first down and settling for the field goal. At A-Day this year, things changed. On 3rd and 1 or 2, in came both Jalen Harris and Chandler Cox. They lined up together next to right tackle Braden Smith, and the handoff was unstoppable, even with little running backs like C. J. Tolbert and Kam Martin toting the rock. I was very much reminded of the late 2013 triumvirate of Robinson, Prosch and Tre Mason.

     I complained bitterly last season about Auburn’s route drills and how the receivers had to stop for the quarterback to target them. Those drills were gone, this year. There was a real emphasis on hitting guys in stride during warmups. We saw some great 7-on-7 drills where everyone was running full-out on their routes. I liked very much that the defensive backs were out there at the same time, and everyone was competing. I don’t think a skeleton drill has nearly as much benefit.

     Auburn is going to be nasty in the front seven, once again. And, they will likely be deeper than last season. The second unit even had success at times limiting the starting offense on the ground. The second offense got nothing done on the ground against the top unit. Both defenses surrendered passing yardage, and frankly the second unit was porous. Every quarterback that played was mobile in the pocket and able to avoid rushers. I don’t think Auburn has ever had 4 guys at quarterback that can run!

     I do worry about the second unit secondary. A top defensive priority in the coming months has to be to develop some depth. Much ado was made about a lack of safety depth in pregame stories, but cornerback play was the real problem on A-Day. Nate Craig-Myers and Darius Slayton got behind them, repeatedly. It was left for safeties Nick Ruffin and Michael Sherwood to clean up loose receivers, usually well after the damage was done.

     I was worried during warmups when the only punter I saw working was Daniel Carlson. Was Ian Shannon hurt, or in the doghouse? It turned out that Shannon was attending a family funeral. Our condolences to him and his family. I was looking forward to seeing Shannon punt. He has looked good in the past couple of A-Day warmups.

     I got a big kick out of the new field goal net in the north end zone. I’m really not sure why it was installed. Are visiting fans stealing footballs? Or is it a liability issue if some fan gets clobbered? I watched Daniel Carlson practice kicking field goals, and nearly every one of his attempts went over the net. It wasn’t till Carlson made a field goal from 45 yards that the ball hit the net. What a waste of money! The net is also, quite frankly, an eyesore.

Unit observations after the jump!

     As mentioned above, the starting defensive line is going to be nasty. Dontavius Russell and Derrick Brown started at tackle spots, and folks, that’s about 650 pounds worth of mean muscle for interior lines to have to deal with. Then, you’ve got Marlon Davidson as the strongside end, and he was able to flat out dominate any tackle he went up against. Buck end is still a work in progress, I think with Jeffery Holland and Paul James, III we’ll be solid there. Holland played only limited minutes, and James got a chance to make some plays. There is quality depth all the way across this unit, as well.

A Day D Line

Malik Willis has only taken a 3-step drop, and the pocket has already collapsed!

     Quality linebacker play went more than two deep, especially against the run. Handling short passes wasn’t as good, particularly the play of the backups. Deshaun Davis has the look of an All-SEC player now. Tré Williams was a force out there as well, and he nearly came up with an interception. The starting unit really did a good job on the edge, stringing runners out for nothing on sweeps.

     I thought the starting secondary played pretty well. They were only allowed a couple of base coverages, and the White team had the route concepts to test them, so some catches were made on them. However, the guys still did a good job of turning catches into incomplete balls by jarring the ball loose. There was one play when Carlton Davis and Tray Matthews collided with one of Auburn’s young receivers, and I was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to get back up! Jeremiah Dinson played well at the nickel spot, too. He appeared to injure a hand in the first half, and I was worried that his long return to action was going to be over too quickly. Dinson shook it off and got back in the game.

     Daniel Carlson was the story of the day on special teams. I think he missed all of one kick in warmups. He hit an upright during the game on one attempt, but it bounced through for the points. It was amazing watching him hit that 60-yard pressure kick at the end with the whole team surrounding him and yelling.

A Day Carlson

Mr. Automatic. What an amazing weapon!

     There was some mixing and matching at times on the offensive line, but basically the starting lineup featured Austin Golson at center, Mike Horton and Kaleb Kim at guards, and Braden Smith and Darius James at tackles. About the only thing to complain about regarding the starters was a holding call on Mike Horton. Braden Smith is going to be a nightmare for SEC defensive ends. The backups are still a work in progress. They had their difficulties going up against a good defensive line.

     As mentioned above, I liked what our starting H-back and tight end did. Jalen Harris looks the part of an SEC tight end and had several passes thrown to him. We also saw a lot of newcomer, Sal Cannella, but not much with him in tight. Auburn lined him up wide and mostly used him as a blocker for quick screens. Cannella did a nice job with that and also caught a contested slant pass for a 15-yard gain. I guess the backup I saw in this spot with the most playing time was Robert Muschamp.

A Day Sal

Sal Cannella (80) can lock ’em up!

     I saw a few drops during warmups by the receivers and a couple of bobbles during the game. As much as Auburn threw the ball this game, that’s going to happen. There were some great catches, too. Nate Craig Myers had the best one, late in the game down the southeast sideline. He was well covered, but shielded the DB off and snatched the ball in at a bad angle. Having Craig-Myers and Darius Slayton to either side creates a problem for secondaries. They either have to be given a cushion, or safeties have to be committed to help out. I really enjoyed the TD catch by Marquis McClain. He caught a medium-range pass over the middle, shook off a would-be tackler, and was off to the races. It was really a nice display of running ability and using his blockers. I liked the use of Will Hastings as a thorn in the linebackers’ sides, too. I did not like the fumble, though.

     Color me disappointed not to see Kamryn Pettway nor much of Kerryon Johnson, who went out with a twisted ankle. I liked the play of the backup runners, if not the one fumble by Kam Martin. Auburn seemed to be able to get these guys open on flare routes at will. I liked the running of C. J. Tolbert. He’s got a burst and a knack for picking out the tough yards. We didn’t see as much of Malik Miller, but he was a wrecking ball when he was given carries. It’s nice to see him back in action!

     To say I was pleased by the quarterback play is an understatement. Jarrett Stidham had a great day. For the most part, he hit receivers in stride and threw masterfully into some tight windows. He’s also quite mobile. I’ve seen some commentators whining about the missed fade route to a wide-open Jason Smith. My take was that it’s a timing route, and Smith was jammed pretty hard at the line. Smith broke free, but the QB has to release the ball on that play before he knows for sure. A fade route is a gamble. It is thrown up, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

     It has been proven pretty convincingly the past two seasons, that this offense can go into the toilet pretty quickly if the starting quarterback doesn’t pan out or gets hurt. I think Auburn has at least 3 viable options this season, which is a huge relief to me. Freshman Malik Willis looked great at times but stuffed a couple of balls into ill-advised spots. I really enjoyed seeing scout team quarterback Devin Adams get a long touchdown pass! I didn’t see enough of Woody Barrett to judge. He hit a couple of crisp passes, then took a bad sack, and didn’t get back in the game. I enjoyed watching Sean White throw during warmups. He can still find the open man and get it there accurately.

     It was a fine A-Day all the way around. My only regret is that I didn’t bring either my hat or the right sunblock. I had a bottle of Bullfrog Mosquito Coast and reapplied it several times during the game. It wasn’t enough at 30 SPF to combat a cloudless Jordan-Hare sun! I’m a little cooked today!

     We saw some different entertainment, this year. A girls’ flag football championship was played very early, and that was a lot of fun to watch! No pads, no helmets, and there was some brutal blocking going on at the line of scrimmage. Those girls are TOUGH! Congrats to the winning team, “Try ‘n’ Beat Us.” There was a cornhole bout. Then at halftime, we got to see a baby race. The most entertaining thing was the presentation on Auburn’s All Americans. Those are some awesome Auburn guys! The loudest applause went to Chris Davis! The kick-six lives on!


  1. Pine Mt Tiger Pine Mt Tiger says:

    Good stuff Acid. Your the best there is at this sorta of thing. Stidham looked like the real deal and receivers were crisp especially Nate Craig Meyers. I was concerned about the D-Line after losing Lawson and Adams but James Paul III looked pretty good and Marlon Davidson is a beast. I know it was just a scrimmage but I’m feeling pretty good abou AU football right now.

  2. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……Thanks, Mr. Tiger! James III isn’t even 100 percent. That’s very encouraging for next fall. Stidham was really good. I forgot to mention that he really took care of the ball, and played keep-away from the DBs. Not even close to having one picked off.

    …..My only concern for Stidham was that he did take off frequently. Hits on the quarterback do add up as the season rolls on. On A-Day, the officials blew the play dead most of the time when a quarterback ran, even if no defender was in the same zip code. I think Stidham was credited with 17 rushing yards, where in reality he might have been well over 50, if the “touch rule” had been in effect.

  3. AtkinsonTiger AtkinsonTiger says:

    I can’t ever remember an A-Day full of passing like Saturday and it was good to see quarterbacks throw more than short passes. Watching receivers make acrobatic catches was fun to watch too. It looks like Auburn will have a balanced attack this year. WDE!

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……2010 was a bit like this year. I remember both Barrett Trotter and senior Neil Caudle having big days throwing the ball. Of course, they were zipping quick passes out there, against the typical way-backed-off Ted Roof secondary. Cam only got to throw on 3rd and 10 plus, against a blitz We had no idea what we had, after spring, that year!

      • zotus zotus says:

        Acid, flashing back to 2010, I recall that the Auburn Tigers were 7 games into the 2010 season and somehow had survived against Miss St, Clempson, SoCar, Kentucky and Arkansas.

        I also remember folks telling me (in 2010) that, “There is no way those 5 games should have gone right down to the wire.”

        And, I remember folks telling me that, “the 2010 Auburn football team, with Cam Newton at QB, had the talent to have man-handled every team on the schedule right up to Amen Corner.”


        P.S. RE: “We had no idea what we had, after spring, that year!”

        It’s understandable why some Auburn fans, who were at the A-Day Game back in 2010, didn’t quite know what the Auburn football team had with Cam Newton, and some of the other players.

        But, what is most unfortunate, indeed, is that Gus Malzahn didn’t know what to do with the best QB in the SEC, once he got his hands on him.

        Here’s hoping history won’t repeat itself this time around.

        • neonbets says:

          Do you really think that Malzahn’s coaching of Newton in 2010 was ‘unfortunate’?

          Look, I get the frustration many have towards Malzahn…but that’s an absurd statement.

          Seriously, if you’re complaining about 2010 you should just step away for a while. And I don’t mean that in a belligerent manner. I just mean that you’re going to be miserable. Every game is going to suck for you.

          A miraculous comeback against Alabama? We shouldn’t have been down in the first place. If Gus knew how to run an offense, we’d have won by 25.

          A crackhead, perpetually chasing his first high, looks at that statement and says, ‘Damn, Zotus. Chill Bro. Perfection is the enemy of the good. Have a beer on me and relax.’

          • zotus zotus says:

            Dear neonbets,

            Since you are directing your comments at me, I am going to respond.

            First, let me say that If you’re interested in discussing (with me) anything that I have posted on this site, I’d be happy to give it a go.

            But, I can’t tell if you are trying to go that way, or if you’re just trying to be — if not “belligerent” — provocative.

            However, if you want to seriously discuss any of my comments about CGM, you have more than a few from which to choose.

            So, just click on the following link to be able to see all the posts that I have made on this site:

            P.S. My first CGM post, dated 9/4/2013, said this about Auburn’s new in-coming Head Football Coach:
            I share the hope that CGM will have what it takes to pull Auburn’s ox out of the ditch … but, I also am realistic enough to know that it will take him some time to get this PROGRAM (not one team team every 5 or 6 years) back to where every Auburn fan — that I know — wants it to be.

            Couple things keep nagging me about Gus though:

            1. Why, do you suppose, Gus didn’t throw his full weight behind the other AU coaches who wanted to offer a scholarship to Jordan Matthews? (Phillip Marshall says that Matthews wanted to play at Auburn but Auburn couldn’t find room for a WR who turned out to be a probable first round NFL draft pick.)

            2. Why, do you suppose, Gus didn’t didn’t throw his full weight behind going hard after Russell Wilson to follow Cam Newton as Auburn’s QB in 2011? (Yes, I remember AU came in 2nd for Wilson … but, in a 2-horse race, that’s also coming in last place. And, a very timid race run by Auburn, at that.)

            I’ve got some notion about possible reasons Gus may have had to take a public pass on these 2 guys ( while the proven state of Auburn’s talent at WR & QB when the decision was on the table was sub-par at best) … and, none of them good for Gus, by my lights.
            P. P.S. My most recent post, dated 4/10/2017, I made the following comments to Acid Reign:
            It’s understandable why some Auburn fans, who were at the A-Day Game back in 2010, didn’t quite know what the Auburn football team had with Cam Newton, and some of the other players.

            But, what is most unfortunate, indeed, is that Gus Malzahn didn’t know what to do with the best QB in the SEC, once he got his hands on him.

            Here’s hoping history won’t repeat itself this time around.
            P.P. P.S. For the record, I stand by the CGM comments in both of these posts, and stand ready to discuss them with anyone who wants to seriously discuss them in context.

          • Tiger Tiger says:

            zotus vs. neonbets….

            Probably two of the most long-winded, loquacious, and prolific posters in TET history…

            This will DEFINITELY be a war of attrition…

        • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

          …..Zotus does have some valid points about 2010. MSU in Starkville was scary. I looked on the bright side, that we had come out with the win and Cam had his first SEC road action without a turnover.

          …..Clemson mauled us, and was a better team at that time. Coaches let Cam scramble near halftime, and he got us a field goal. Cam, I think was green-lighted to take off, in the second half, and he led a big comeback.

          …..USCe was a strange game. Auburn had put in more plays for Cam, and really dominated that game. Fumbles by Fannin and Dyer gave USCe the 2 touchdown lead, but Auburn was grinding out the yards, and outscored the Gamecocks 28-7 after their second quarter lead.

          …..Kentucky was a case of roaring out to a big lead, then going into a shell. Arkansas was more about our defense getting shredded, than any offensive ineptitude. 65 points scored! THen followed 440 rushing yards against LSU. Auburn had arrived!

          • neonbets says:

            I think Tiger wins on this analysis. I am guilty as charged.

            Seriously, reading…well actually looking over Zotus’ response (cuz I stopped after my finger started to ache as I scrolled down the page…which reminds me…is there a carpel tunnel syndrome for an index finger?…cuz I think I got it now)

            Anyways…after hitting my PgDn button about 8 times it dawned on me: This is how everyone else feels when they read my sh*t!

            Oh man, not another NeonBets Manifesto. Damn…PgDn. PgDn. PgDn…Yep, he is STILL writing!…PgDn. PgDn. PgDn.

            OK, from now on I promise: Nothing but concise truncated comments from me. No more interminable bloviating.

            But before doing so, I’m going to address Zotus…

            Zotus: I jab people a bit because it makes things more interesting. Echo chambers are boring. But it’s not as personal as perhaps you are taking it. In return, I catch plenty of jabs in return–and most of it is deserved. None of it (well, almost none of it) bothers me because it’s the f*ing Internet. Who cares? I really don’t. Most people don’t feel that way, though; and I should know better by now. With that in mind: I shouldn’t have said your statement was ‘absurd’. It was needlessly inflammatory and frankly a stupid choice word-choice by me. I am sorry. Despite my sarcasm earlier with the Carpel-Tunnel Index Finger Syndrome, I actually enjoy your commentary and you definitely make TET a better place.

            And with that out of the way: The New and Improved NeonBets shall heretofore heed the eternal wisdom of Dave Chappelle and from now on I will Wrap it Up!


  4. AETiger AETiger says:

    Acid – re: North Endzone netting. As a season ticket holder in that area, I received an email from the AD a couple of weeks ago stating that the net sponsored by All State was coming. Ugh.

  5. Im4Auburn says:

    Always look for your take on things Acid and very much enjoyed the read this morning. Just one question: Can we start the season now?

  6. Randyc37 Randyc37 says:

    Another great post! It was a great day to be on the Auburn campus. Of course, A Day is designed to entertain the Auburn fan base. After watching the first team offense and defense perform, there is renewed hope for the 2017 season. Auburn will need two good and healthy QBs to navigate the 2017 Football season and the road trip to Clemson will be the first test. The Auburn defense will be good against the run and Paul James III will be a good candidate for the “Buck” defensive end position. At times, I thought that I was watching Carl Lawson.

    The Auburn receiving corps looks promising and I feel that Nate Craig-Myers will put up some numbers now that he is healthy.

    Daniel Carlson should finally win the “Lou Groza” award this season. He may be one of the best kickers that I have seen at Auburn. I was walking back to my car from the Auburn softball game on Saturday evening and I could see Daniel Carlson on the practice field booming field goals.

    I left A Day with a renewed enthusiasm for next season.

  7. audude audude says:

    Thanks for another deeply insightful piece Acid. It’s interesting we seemed to show more on offense than defense. I hope we continue to develop the talent we have on all levels over the summer so we can continue to be strong and deep at all positions.


  8. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……The defense stunted, and blitzed. The starters shined, in my opinion. Look at my picture, above of the D-line. That’s buck end Jeffery Holland stunting up the middle, and tackle Derrick Brown setting the edge. Tackle-end twist. Auburn didn’t show every secret, but this A-Day was not nearly as vanilla as previous years. The team got some good work done.

  9. Tiger Tiger says:

    Thanks Acid. I didn’t get to watch the game, but this break down leaves me a little more optimistic than I was beforehand.

    Tremendously hoping this D-line is as good as we think. I love good D-lines!

    Another shout-out to Marquis McClain from Crestview! I grew up in the Panhandle, keep working hard, bud!

    Two names that I am a little concerned about having dropped off the radar…Byron Cowart and Eli Stove (another Panhandle brother)…where have they been the last few weeks and especially on A-day?

  10. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    ……I love the panhandle area, as well. I’m feeling a little guilty that we didn’t book a vacation in Ft. Walton Beach, this year. Wanted to try a house in the Ft. Morgan area, near Alabama’s Gulf Shores. I’m sure I’ll hate the traffic, already. I’m very familiar with the roads around Crestview and Ft. Walton Beach, and had routes down.

    …..My last picture above showed the one pass to Stove. You can see the ball in the air, if you look closely. He ran the wrong way off that block, and only got 4 yards. Cannella had the defender spinning outside, and the smart cut was straight up the field. Cowart played a very little. I had been hearing good things about him, prior to A-Day. Maybe he was nicked up?

    • Tiger Tiger says:

      Shouldn’t have let a little traffic stop you, Acid. Didn’t you hear? It’s been “improved” lately…now it only takes 3.5 hours to drive through Destin.

      Oh, good. I hadn’t noticed Stove’s number in your picture. I’m glad he was out there. And like you, I was reading a lot about Cowart until just one or two weeks ago, but he’s just disappeared. I hope it’s just a minor injury. I want all our guys to win, every day, on and off the field. War Eagle!

      • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

        …..Oh, geez! Destin is CRAZY! The main bottleneck in Ft. Walton Beach is the Miracle Strip, leading into Brooks Bridge. You can mostly skip that by taking Hollywood Blvd a couple of blocks north, and riding that through to the little side street next to the Publix. You’ll get a turn at the traffic light, and can insert into the mess right next to the bridge.

        …..We stayed near Miramar Beach one year, near the southeast end of Destin. Didn’t go back! Only benefit was that there was a big Walmart Super Center in the area.

  11. Tiger4Life says:

    Great insight as always Acid–
    My favorite part by far was this–” I complained bitterly last season about Auburn’s route drills and how the receivers had to stop for the quarterback to target them. Those drills were gone, this year. There was a real emphasis on hitting guys in stride during warmups.”
    If we put up 30 ppg we should win em all…