Post-spring report card: What the Auburn Tigers do well, need to do better
It looks like the quarterback battle will continue into Auburn’s fall workouts. An announced attendance of 41,489 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium for A-Day watched on as curiously as the rest of us as four prospects displayed their talents at the position.
Coming off a big bowl win last year probably helped fuel the enthusiasm for the first good look at the 2019 team. It didn’t disappoint and all four QB hopefuls had their moments as the Orange team took a 28-10 victory over the Blue squad.
Here is a report card for Auburn’s spring practices and something to potentially hold onto while the long summer months drag on leading into the 2019 football season.
QB situation: C
In terms of talent the grade is probably a little bit higher, but the situation in the spring did not resolve itself. Granted it appears to have been whittled to the top two, but nothing definitive.
Joey Gatewood and Bo Nix appear to have separated themselves. Both were outstanding on A-Day working with the first-team offense. Both threw a pair of touchdown passes. Gatewood’s 8-for-12 passing day (130 yards) rivaled Nix’s 155 yards on 11-of-17 attempts.
And while Malik Willis also performed well, throwing for 95 yards and a touchdown on a nearly perfect 9-for-10 passing, it is Gatewood who is inching closer to the comparisons to a former Auburn superstar. The redshirt freshman, who appeared in only one game Auburn’s Music City Bowl last season, is an imposing figure at 6-5, 233.
He was compared to Cam Newton in his first spring workouts last year. A thumb injury helped put those comparisons on hold for a season. But Gatewood is healthy again and the linking of the two is beginning to heat up again.
Running game: A-
The running game should be solid. Boobee Whitlow and Kam Martin lead the way, along with Malik Miller and Shaun Shivers, who missed spring practice along with speedster wide receiver Anthony Schwartz to focus on track season. Redshirt freshman Harold Joiner and freshman early signee D.J. Williams took advantage of the extra opportunity to impress.
Joiner ran 6 times for 21 yards and caught 3 passes for another 28 yards on A-Day while Williams carried 11 times for 57 yards. So while Auburn returns its top running backs, the position looks to be as deep as anyone’s.
Passing game (including WRs/TEs): B-
As with the quarterback position, the potential is there for Auburn to have a nice set of receivers. But they were just average this spring, partly because of the team’s top four receivers last year, only sophomore Seth Williams participated in spring football. Schwartz ran track and both Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton have moved on to potential NFL careers.
That left the door wide open for relative newcomers to take advantage. Williams earned Offensive MVP honors on A-Day with 4 receptions for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone, including a highlight reel catch in double coverage for one of his two scores.
Redshirt freshman Matthew Hill was impressive, leading all receivers on A-Day with 5 catches for 128 yards, and Eli Stove, fully recovered from an ACL injury that sidelined him last spring, caught 4 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown.
Hill and Williams certainly would dispute the spring grade.
"We're going to be the best receiving corps in the nation… forget Clemson and forget Alabama, we're going to make some plays." 😳😳😳
— Simone Eli (@SimoneEli_TV) April 13, 2019
In addition, Will Hastings, who caught 26 passes for 525 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2017 before missing last year and having two surgeries on his torn ACL, has been cleared for full contact, and Marquis McClain (6-2, 217), who played in all 13 games last season but did not catch a pass, add value to the receiving corps.
Offensive line: B+
Probably the most improved group over last year, Auburn’s offensive line returns intact and ready for business in 2019. The all-senior group of Prince Tega Wanogho, Marquel Harrell, Kaleb Kim, Mike Horton and Jack Driscoll all return to give the offense experience and leadership heading into next season.
What many considered a liability last season, could very well flip this season into a strength.
Run defense: C+
When you line up Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe along the defensive front, there isn’t much else that needs to be said. It’s behind them at linebacker that is the concern. That and defensive tackle.
To make matters worse, Chandler Wooten, one of the hopefuls to fill a spot at linebacker suffered a knee injury on A-Day.
Junior K.J. Britt appears to have worked his way into a lead roll at middle linebacker. Sophomore Zakoby McClain and 5-star freshman early enrollee Owen Pappoe have also impressed this spring.
Passing defense: B-
Auburn’s secondary returns nearly intact and the experience should play dividends in 2019. Most of the yardage gained through the air on A-Day was accumulated against the second-team defense.
Noah Igbinoghene and Javaris Davis have impressed at the corners with Daniel Davis and Jeremiah Dinton coming along at safety. Christian Tutt, Roger McCreary and Devan Barrett are also among those who appear to be counted on heavily as well.
Special teams: B+
Kicker Anders Carlson returns. He was a perfect 8-for-8 (24, 29, 35, 42, 45, 48, 50) on field-goal attempts on A-Day. Whitlow and Martin are certainly capable as kick returners, although Igbinoghene led the team last year and is back. Punter Arryn Siposs also returns.
Needs Improvement: LB/QB
It seems as though strides were made this spring in every department. The obvious concern is at linebacker and especially at quarterback. The potential certainly is there, but right now that’s all it is. The unknown can cause apprehension and until these signal-callers are tested against actual pad-popping competition, those anxieties will remain.