What to watch for during Auburn’s spring game

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A-Day Game

When: Saturday, April 20th
Where: Auburn, AL
Time: 1:05 PM CT

A New Day: The Gus Malzahn era officially starts for fans Saturday at A-Day. Malzahn’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense will be on display, once again reminding fans of a high-octane offense that was. Hell, even Malzahn’s press conferences are hurry-up, keeping with the same tempo on the field. ‘A New Day’ is the slogan Auburn has adopted, prompted by Malzahn upon his arrival. Indeed it is a new day, and Auburn fans are foaming at the mouth to put a respectable product on the field after a forgettable 3-9 campaign in 2012.

Just one last time: Toomers’ Corner will be rolled one last time before the oaks are officially removed despite the two-year battle to save them, after they were poisoned by the now-infamous Harvey Updyke. The SEC will say goodbye to one of the best traditions in college football.

Game-like atmosphere: Auburn will divide teams up and actually play a spring game. That’s a welcomed change from some spring ‘games’ up to this point like Florida and Ole Miss, who basically had a glorified open practice because of injuries. The Tigers are healthy, and Malzahn and his staff want to see their players put in game-like situations and make in-game decisions. Particularly, Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee want to see the quarterbacks compete.

One position battle to watch: Oh, and speaking of quarterbacks – everyone will be watching to see the ensuing battle between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace. Malzhan and Lashlee have contested there is no separation or no clear leader at this point, and it’ll be fun watching this play out Saturday. But no matter if Frazier or Wallace exits spring as the ‘leader’ for the job, three other quarterbacks in JUCO transfer Nick Marshall and freshmen Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith will all compete for playing time in fall camp.

One player to keep an eye on: Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense has brought out the best in linebacker Justin Garrett. In fact, Garrett has been the most impressive defensive player over the last month to emerge as Johnson’s ‘Star’, a hybrid linebacker-safety role. Malzahn has repeatedly said that Garrett sets the tone for the defense everyday. After such a weak linebacking corps in 2012 that struggled to tackle air, Garrett stands to be a breakout candidate for 2013 in the new coveted position. He’s relentless and absolutely brings the wood on every hit. Watch for Garrett on Saturday.

Position group of interest: The front four was the biggest strength of the defense in 2012. But the front four never played up to their capability, leaving them as one of the biggest underachieving position groups in the SEC. In fact, the Tigers finished the season as the worst-ranked rushing defense in the SEC. With Corey Lemonier gone to the NFL, who is going to step into his shoes? Dee Ford, Nosa Eguae and Craig Sanders are great places to start. Ellis Johnson says there’s a huge drop off between the starters and backups, so depth is a concern. Angelo Blackson has been limited with an injury, and Gabe Wright and Jeff Whitaker have had strong springs. This group perks my interest for Saturday.

Photo Credit: Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports

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COMMENTS

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  • Quality depth on the defensive line will be a huge obstacle for Ellis Johnson to overcome for this season. There are basically two types of offenses in the SEC – the Spread and the Power running game. The key to stopping both offenses is a good offensive line. Either way you’re going to have to substitute. Whether its giving your guys rest from chasing Johnny Football around, or giving your guys treatment from colliding with TJ Yeldon and Jeremy Hill. I see the lack of depth becoming a problem throughout the season, and I don’t think Johnson’s 4-2-5 scheme is the answer.

    Auburn will, however, have a much better offense than they did a year ago. Rhett Lashlee and Gus Malzahn have an exciting system that’s tried and true. The War Damners are still a few years away from being on top, but they will probably be the most improved team in the West. Granted, they don’t get in trouble or anything…