Fall Camp Has Begun!
Early, rare positive superlatives are out there on this team
War Eagle, everybody! Fall camp has started, and we finally have a bit of actual news to comment upon! From the beginning of fall drills there are some rave reviews all around. Most importantly, there seems to be an urgency, perhaps missing in the past with this staff, to get a starting lineup worked out quickly and then to really polish and perfect various schemes before the season opener.
Word out of Auburn is that there will be a full-pads scrimmage as early as Thursday, and head coach Gus Malzahn would like to have the depth chart pretty much in order after that practice is concluded and analyzed. This is encouraging! After 3 years of September initial struggles, it is good to see that the staff is not standing pat. This year, I think Auburn means to identify starters very early and work hard with them to create a cohesive and solid team identity with which to attack early and often.
Auburn is working to put previous “September swoons” to rest. In the previous 5 years, we’ve seen an Auburn team that was just not ready in Baton Rouge in 2013. A team that struggled at times before a big loss in Starkville in 2014. A team that was lucky to beat Jax State the next year before initial SEC losses to LSU and Mississippi State. Head coach Gus Malzahn’s 4th team took early beatings from Clemson and Texas A&M before getting the ball rolling. In 2017, Auburn gave up 11 sacks at Clemson and struggled mightily against mediocre FCS homecoming opponent Mercer before lifting out of the doldrums. It is certainly encouraging to see that the coaching staff is not standing pat on its methods and is actively working to correct previous failures.
I can’t really get a bead on the play of the front seven on defense, yet. Auburn has worked only in shorts and shells thus far. There is little useful information to be gotten until the pads go on. That happens Tuesday of this week. We expect Auburn to be strong and nasty in this spot, based upon returning experience and talent.
In the secondary, Auburn is looking to build depth and is possibly juggling the starting lineup. The rapid development of former wide receiver Noah Igbinoghene at cornerback will likely shake up the starting lineup. From all accounts, Igbinoghene is playing like a starter, which gives Auburn the luxury of moving veteran Ryan Davis to the slot/nickel spot. Or, resting Davis for punt return opportunities. The biggest surprise thus far has been the play of redshirt sophomore Jayvaughn Myers, who has worked with the first team defense at nickel. It is good to see the staff identifying additional depth early.
On the punting unit, the big news is the leg of the newly arrived Arryn Siposs. I’m encouraged to learn that the guy can clearly nail 70-yard punts. Given how much punt return yardage Auburn gave up last year, I’d like to hear more about that sort of velocity translated vertically. Auburn needs a punter that can launch ’em to the sky. I’d rather see a a punter with super-high hang time and maybe 40-45 yards of distance. Auburn wants return men to have to signal for the fair catch, not take a running start at deep punts. It is yet to be determined who the starting punter will be. By all accounts, last year’s part-time starter Aiden Marshall has worked hard and seriously upped his game.
On offense, the biggest question this fall is on the offensive line. After seeing walk-ons play most center snaps on A-day, guard Mike Horton has taken the bulk of the offensive snaps this fall. With Horton moved over, there is competition for that vacated guard slot, and Auburn seems to have moved young Calvin Ashley over from tackle to take that spot. Veteran transfer tackle Jack Driscoll seems to be moving to solidify that position.
Wide receiver seems to be pretty settled with veterans Nate Craig-Myers, Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton returning. Watch for some freshman playing time behind these guys. Head coach Gus Malzahn has raved about the play of freshmen Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz and Matthew Hill. It’s pretty rare for Malzahn to brag on any individual player early in camp, much less freshmen!
Running back was an open question coming into fall camp. From the sound of it, Kam Martin has hung onto the starting job, and we’ll be seeing a lot of freshman Jatarvious Whitlow.