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!