First Day in Full Pads!
Practice is heating up in Auburn.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)
War Eagle, everybody! This afternoon, the Auburn Tigers will practice in full pads for the first time this August. These are the days when the players separate themselves from the bench warmers. We’ve already heard defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson harp on the importance of tackling practice. Tackling was one thing that really improved on defense last season. Unlike the years previous, you didn’t see too many guys pulling away from Auburn defenders. Auburn may have had problems at time getting into position, but the runner went down consistently when an Auburn player caught up.
The biggest theme we’re hearing this fall is that Auburn players are light-years ahead of this time last year, in most ways. Players are bigger, stronger and faster, and they know the system well on both sides of the ball. If there are any negatives so far, it’s much as it is every year, on the injury front. Starting defensive end Carl Lawson had surgery this spring, and may or may not play this season. Freshman All-American guard Alex Kozan is definitely out for the season, after back surgery this summer. Now, Auburn is replacing two offensive line starters.
Position by Position breakdown, after the jump!
One of the biggest questions this fall on the defensive side of the ball is the end positions. LaDarius Owens is returning for his senior season, and he’s a proven, if under-appreciated commodity. Sophomore Elijah Daniel is penciled in on the other side, but he spent some of the spring practice banged up. During the spring, tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams spent time at end, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has indicated that this is continuing in fall camp. Further, we’re now hearing that starting linebacker Cassanova McKinzy is lining up at end on obvious passing downs. Is Johnson coaching for flexibility, or is this a sign of desperation on the outside pass rush?
Johnson seems confident that he has 2 very capable starters at linebacker in Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost. A lot of folks forget that this is just McKinzy’s third fall camp. He jumped into the playing rotation as a true freshman, then was a defensive mainstay last season as a true sophomore. Auburn’s question here is where depth will come from. Far too often in the past 5 seasons, the starting linebackers have had to play nearly every snap. Anthony Swain and Javier Mitchell have some experience, but both missed spring drills.
There have been moves made in the secondary this fall. Joshua Holsey is back from knee surgery, and the coaches feel confident enough in him that he’s been moved to boundary corner. The knee must be ok, if the coaches are expecting Holsey to run with the SEC’s split ends. Holsey is able to move from safety, because of the emergence of transfer safety Derrick Moncrief. Moncrief was quite the warrior last spring, and is still impressing folks this fall. Jonathan Mincy has moved back to field corner this fall, where he’s played most of his career. I’d figure that Jonathan Jones or Trovon Reed will start against Arkansas, and we’ll see how long Mincy stays on the bench.
On special teams, I’ve heard not a peep about new kicker Daniel Carlson and punter Jimmy Hutchinson. Hopefully, no news is good news. Evidently, the coaches are still looking for a punt return man, as it seemed half the team fielded punts yesterday. Included were Robensen Therezie, Jonathan Mincy, Marcus Davis, Quan Bray, Jonathan Ford, Markell Boston, Stephen Roberts and Gray King. The only two kick returners who saw action were Corey Grant and Ricardo Louis.
With the loss of the talented Alex Kozan on the offensive line, the new starting lineup is one we saw upon occasion last spring. Senior center Reese Dismukes anchors the middle. Left guard will be 5th year senior Chad Slade, with sophomore Avery Young at right guard. Sophomore Shon Coleman takes over at left tackle, and junior Patrick Miller moves back into the starting lineup at right tackle. This is still a very tough line. Even after attrition, this unit combines for 99 career starts.
The Auburn receiving corps continues to garner rave reviews. Chemistry is tight, and guys are catching nearly everything in seven on seven drills. Transfer D’haquille Williams continues to turn heads with his abilities, and from all accounts he’s a hungry player even when the ball doesn’t come his way. This is very encouraging. This same unit dropped about a half-dozen balls in last year’s season opener.
Some folks question whether Auburn will be as good at running back with Tre Mason gone, but Auburn has a stable of powerful runners back this ball. It’s highly unlikely that any back this year will break Bo Jackson’s records, because there are so many that Auburn can put on the field. Cameron Artis-Payne will get first crack, but watch out for Corey Grant. Even towards the latter half of last season, this speed back started running over defenders. He’s not going away quietly this year! And to push the two co-starters, Auburn has a trio of talented freshmen as good as any in the country in Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and Kamryn Pettway.
By all accounts, Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson are splitting starting quarterback reps 50/50. I think the plan all along was to use Jeremy Johnson more, and to prepare him for starting duties in 2015. What’s encouraging is that despite off-field turmoil, both quarterbacks seem to be doing very well running the offense this fall. Some folks say that if you have two capable quarterbacks, you’ve got a problem. What I see are two quarterbacks Auburn can beat SEC teams with. That’s a good problem to have!