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