SDS will be looking at each SEC team’s spring practice and address concerns entering and exiting on both sides of the ball.
QB job still open: Between Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace, neither emerged as the starting candidate this spring. The starting gig is still vacant, and it seems to be waiting on Jeremy Johnson, Jason Smith or Nick Marshall this summer, as any of the three could win the starting job in fall camp. Both Frazier and Wallace improved steadily throughout spring in the coaches’ eyes, but neither emerged as the one roaring lion who could take the job. I would still contest that Frazier has the upper hand to win the job come August.
Potent running game: Between 1,000-yard returner and A-Day MVP Cameron Artis-Payne, the Tigers are going to have a very potent ground game. Mason is the burner of the two who can run between-the-tackles, while CAP can take the punishment at 215 pounds of an every-down back who flashed some hands during his impressive A-Day showing. The biggest question will be whether or not Auburn has a good enough passing game to offset the ground game. But having two studs as an offensive base is a great place to start.
No elite WRs: Auburn does have some talent at receiver, but no game-breakers like what Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee are looking for – or they at least didn’t discover them this spring. Jaylon Denson looks like the only receiver who has even locked up a starting job this fall, but others like Ricardo Louis, Sammie Coates, Quan Bray and Trovon Reed must make a big step forward this summer and through fall camp. But the receiver results directly correlate with quarterback production, and Auburn may just not have them on campus yet. “We’re not there yet [at receiver]. We’ve got to get some guys who raise their level even much more than they think they can,” Rhett Lashlee said.
A ‘Star’ developed: The lifeblood of Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense is a hybrid player who can bust a grape. In the Tigers’ case, it’s called the Star position. And Justin Garrett has taken it by force. The rising junior played sparingly over the course of the last two seasons, but he has a big one ahead of him in 2013. Garrett should be the big reason why the defense will improve under Johnson in year one. Watch out for Garrett; this kid can bring the wood.
Tackling in the box still must improve: Auburn worked on the fundamentals of tackling all spring, and that was Johnson’s emphasis for two months. It seems through coaches’ dialog this spring that the team improved in open-field tackles. Brian Van Gorder said it was a “size” issue, and that Auburn just was not big or strong enough to compete in 2012. But a whole new system and a fundamental mindset will show otherwise. “Fundamentally, things were not being done well. It didn’t look like it was always as physical as it could be,” Johnson said. “It was sort of like going through the motions, more like a form tackle instead of a physical tackle. There were some things of that nature we felt like we had to address.” Open-field tackling improved, but a stouter front seven and tackling in the box still has a ways to go.
PHoto Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports