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Lifting Off!

By on March 27th, 2014 in Featured Article, Football 17 Comments »
Spring Week Two Craig

Auburn is loaded with talented receivers this spring.
(Photo by Acid Reign.)

     War Eagle, everybody! Week two of spring drills is well underway, with another practice early this morning, and the first scrimmage of the spring is scheduled for Saturday. Positive energy continues to flow from the practice fields, and the Auburn Tigers appear to be making the most of their time this year. Watching various practice videos, the all-business approach by both the coaching staff and the players is evident. This team will make some noise this fall!

     I’ve had fun watching Auburn’s receiving corps, this spring. This is a very different unit from the guys on the field last September. Coach Dameyune Craig deserves a lot of credit for how his men have developed. It’s a lot of fun watching Coach Craig throw that ball at his guys in practice. Almost two decades after Craig was a record-setting quarterback at Auburn, the man can still sling that rock!

     Sammie Coates developed into Auburn’s go-to receiver last season, after some early-season butterfingers. While dropped balls tend to hang in my memory, it’s important to note that Coates really did not drop anything the last 7 games of the season, and made a lot of big plays. He’s catching even better this spring. I think that we’ll see JUCO transfer D’haquille Williams make a big impact this fall, as well. Williams seems to have that knack for positioning himself for the ball, and has great hands.

     Another thing that’s impressive by the receiving corps this spring is that they are a lot crisper on the receiver quick screens, this spring. That play is a staple of the Malzhan offense, and clearly it has been worked on a lot. Last season, we’d see the ball blooped out there late, the receiver would have to go get it, a block might be missed, and the receiver might not get past the line of scrimmage. This spring, the ball comes out there hot, the blocker locks up the corner, and the receiver is going forward in quick succession. That’s really going to help keep defenses honest this fall.

     Another fascinating aspect of the practice videos is watching the pace on the 11 vs. 11 segments. Most of the time, the offense is snapping the ball at ten seconds or less after the whistle from the previous play. Watch the little Youtube clock, and see. I don’t know if SEC officials will let ‘em rip plays off quite that quickly this season, but it’s clear that this offense hopes to go a lot faster.

Unit updates, after the jump!

     We noted before spring drills started that the defensive line was a mix of depth at tackle, and questions at defensive end. As is typical, the first week of spring drills has already claimed two victims at the end position. Returning starter LaDarius Owens is apparently out for the whole spring with an undisclosed injury. The last practice, sophomore Elijah Daniel was limited to the sideline, although Coach Malzhan says that its “nothing serious.” This situation has been alarming enough that tackles Gabe Wright and Montravius Adams have been working at the end positions on the line. The bright spot on that front is that Carl Lawson appears ready to take a major step forward this season. He was an occasional weapon as a true freshman last fall, and looks to become one of those guys every SEC quarterback fears.

     Linebacker depth is also a huge question mark this fall. Here in the first week, Anthony Swain and Javiere Mitchell have been sidelined, and they were the two guys penciled in to back up Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy. Thus far from what we’ve seen, Justin Garrett has done most of his work at the star position. I think it would really help the Auburn defense if both Robenson Therezie and Garrett could alternate, and stay fresh. Therezie played nearly every meaningful snap, last season. With the way the linebacker situation is playing out, we could see a replay of 2009-2010, where Josh Bynes and Craig Stevens had to play nearly every snap. McKinzy and Frost are veteran upperclassmen, and I’m confident they’ll be good next season. I just hope they aren’t going to have to play 80 snaps per game!

     With Josh Holsey still rehabbing a knee, and Chris Davis headed to the NFL, the secondary certainly has questions to answer this spring. One early answer appears to be transfer Derrick Moncrief at safety. Coaches are raving about how rapidly Moncrief is picking up the knowledge to play both safety spots, and he’s an obvious big talent physically. The battle between Jonathan Jones and Trovon Reed for a starting cornerback spot has been interesting, also.

     Notes on special teams include new kickers, and lots of candidates trying out as returners. While I’m going to be nervous next September when some of these guys take the field to kick balls for the very first time at Auburn, I really think we’ll be ok, here. The guys expected to win starting jobs, punter Jimmy Hutchinson and kicker Daniel Carlson are getting competition this spring. Tyler Stovall and Jack Bjork have had good springs punting, and Alex Kviklys and Duncan McKinney are getting in some good kicks also.

     Auburn is trying out as many as eight guys at punt returner. Senior Quan Bray has experience, but has not really broken out as a big time returner in the past. Coaches are looking at Jermaine Whitehead, Ricardo Louis, Gray King, Marcus Davis, Robensen Therezie, Jonathan Mincy and D’haquille Williams fielding the ball. One thing that caught my eye was what Mincy was doing during his turn. He was moving up on the ball, while others stood flat-footed. On some of the big returns last season, Chris Davis was doing that. An ability to bring it in on the fly is a big deal, as it will hold coverage men, who’ll slow up to avoid contact, plus the return man is headed upfield as soon as the ball is in hand. The real question is whether the return man can track both the ball and the defenders. Failure on that leads to turnovers, or the return man being lit up by the coverage. Chris Davis succeeded at having his eyes on both, last season.

     The offensive line continues to be impressive. The starting left tackle spot is a dead heat right now, with both Patrick Miller and Shon Coleman earning praise from the veterans. I think the line will be fine, regardless of who wins that job. During the 11 on 11 drills, it’s amazing to watch these guys get back to the line after the whistle.

     There’s an intense competition to be the main man running the ball, this fall. Seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant both ran for over 600 yards last season, and they are battle-tested. Payne was used as sort of a short-yardage, change of pace guy last season, and Grant was the speed-sweep artist. Both guys are showing this spring that they are a lot more complete than folks think. Add talented redshirt freshman Peyton Barber into the mix, and Auburn should have no dearth of talent to carry the ball next fall.

     I think folks who opined “he’s a DB trying to play quarterback” last fall will be in for a surprise, this year. Marshall really appears to have improved his accuracy this spring, and the timing with his receivers is good. I think some serious work has been done during the winter, and Auburn is going to surprise teams that load the box this fall.

Spring practice continues, leading up to the A-Day game on April 19th. I’ll be very interested to look over whatever stats are made available from this Saturday’s scrimmage. Those are the cauldrons that separate the men from the boys!

17 Comments

  1. DBAU81 says:

    The offense will be fine. We have more talent at every position on that side of the ball than at any time in recent memory.

    The big question marks for this year will be whether the defense can be more consistent and whether we can find replacements for the kickers. While the 2013 defense was a vast improvement from the previous year, it wasn’t a championship-caliber unit. We seem to have enough depth on the front line. The linebackers and the secondary are the areas of concern. It’s encouraging that we seem to be targeting bigger and more physical players with our recruiting in the secondary.

    And on a broader scale, the reports all indicate that the team and coaches aren’t resting on their laurels from last year. If coming within 13 seconds of winning a national championship isn’t a powerful motivator, then nothing else will be. It should be another fun and exciting season.

  2. restless6 says:

    I like what Cowherd said about Auburn. He basically said that Auburn will be Oregon with SEC talent and to not be surprised if Auburn hangs 60 or more on the first few opponents.

    War Eagle!!!

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Like I said, watch the hurry-up portion of the practice video I linked to. Keep one eye on the action, and the other on the video clock. I was astounded. If they can carry this off in real games, it’s going to humiliate some folks this fall!

  3. sullivan013 sullivan013 says:

    I feel the offense will be fairly vanilla but extremely efficient in the first few games. I don’t expect Rhett or Gus to unleash the beast too early in the season. The first four games are likely not going to challenge us as much as the final games, and there’s no need to show our hand for the better teams to assess and develop counter strategies. October’s stretch of games will be the time to watch how the offense develops in terms of difference between last year and this, and then Katie-bar-the-door in November, as I think we’ll see something truly remarkable in the final few games.

    Defensively, depth at linebacker continues to worry me. I think the team will be vastly improved in year 2 under Ellis Johnson in terms of technique and game strategy as his players will be much more adept at working within his system. I expect the defensive line rotation from last year will continue and result in a very capable and fresh front four at all stages of the game. Likewise, safety and corners coverage will be improved, as will the starting linebacker performance. But I just don’t see the next level at linebacker coming on line early. Hopefully that will develop this spring, in fall camp and during the fairly light September schedule.

    Special teams were such a key element last year in several games that I hate to minimize them, but my hope this year is that this team will need to lean on them a lot less than last year. Cody and Steven were outstanding contributors, and I wouldn’t change the outcome of last year’s Iron Bowl for any amount of money, but I think it would be nice to have a couple of touchdowns cushion in the fourth quarter, however fun winning the Internet every week or two was last year.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..We’re due a beat-down of Bama. Tuberville had it in hand in 2005, eased off the gas, and we only won by 10. We haven’t beaten Bama by more than that since Connie Fredrick took off on an 84 yard fake punt when I was 9 years old, and we beat ‘em 49-26. Last year’s 34 points were the most against Bama since then. And we really didn’t play a great offensive game…

  4. WarEagleEngr says:

    I think one of the most overlooked stories this spring is Trovon Reed’s move to cornerback. I’ve read almost nothing about it. Is he really battling for a starting spot? Can he make an impact in just one season?

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      ……Here’s what Ellis Johnson had to say today:

      …..“Trovon has had a really good camp. He’s still learning the system, but I think from what Melvin’s telling me about 1-on-1’s, just his cover skills and playing the position physically, he’s been a really bright spot. We think he’s going to help us tremendously.”

  5. Tiger on the mountain Tiger on the mountain says:

    Defensive depth worries me a bit. However the types of ‘worries’ that we are having today do not compare to the types of worries that we had even a year ago. The turnaround is so impressive.

    War Eagle!

  6. MyAuburn MyAuburn says:

    I am not worried about the offense, we will pile up yards and points at an alarming rate. Defense is another matter. With depth issues in a lot of places we are sure to get tired late in games.
    What worries me most is two new kickers. How many times last year did Clark rocket shots pin people deep or with zero return. Parkey was Mr. Automatic on field goals and PATs and his kickoffs set of NORAD radar signals almost every time. A reliable, pressure proof field goal kicker is a necessity to win games. Ask a Bammer about that one. Snicker, snicker!!

  7. Third Generation Tiger Third Generation Tiger says:

    How is Cameron Toney looking? We need his help at LB.

    • Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

      …..Johnson said that Toney is probably his number three linebacker right now, but stopped short of anything beyond that.

  8. win4au says:

    O is looking crisp. I certainly hope we snap the ball that fast against our first opponents next season. WDE

  9. footballBaseballetc says:

    Will not ever forget Auburn’s Chris Davis’ 100 yard return last November. Even blogged about it and Auburn’s rise to the challenge:

    http://sportsentertainmentfan.com/fourth-quarter-new-game/

    Wishing them even greater success in 2014.

  10. restless6 says:

    Again. Think Chip Kelley’s Ducks with Auburn uniforms and our athletes.

    I see beatdowns. Hello, Bert.

  11. sparkey sparkey says:

    Man, I was excited about our defense and now reality just killed me. I think we will be fine at defensive end just not like we were with Dee Ford but Carl Lawson might have that type of season. Our linebacker situation is what worries me the most. I like the fact we have two guys who can play the “Star” position well instead of just one. I just don’t like our linebacker depth issues. Plus, the corner position bothers me a great deal but if Reed and Ford turn out to be solid there, we’ll be fine I think in that department. Again though, we’re just paper thin at linebacker.