War Eagle, everybody. WOW, was there ever a better obfuscation of a team's abilities on national TV EVER? Auburn's A-Day has come and gone with few observers drawing any meaningful conclusions on what is to transpire this fall with this team! The defense was severely handicapped, in that they could not use all-out blitzes. However, they could SHOW blitz, as long as they sent only 4 guys on the rush. Sadly, this did pretty much destroy the running game, even so. Appearances by the first team secondary were scarce. We saw little of McNeil, Savage, Thorpe or Washington. Instead, we saw a VERY deep receiving corps work against the likes of Ikeem Means, Drew Cole, Blake Poole, Dorian Rhodes, Tyler Mickens, Rodney Cofield, and Woody Paramore. As a result, we saw no interceptions, few defended passes, and a whopping 488 passing yards in a very short scrimmage. The various Auburn offenses managed a ridiculous 74 percent completion percentage, for 9.7 yards per pass, with no interceptions and a pair of touchdowns. Missed tackles were a HUGE problem. Lest anyone get excited, the offense also managed only 50 yards rushing, on 37 attempts, for a sorry 1.35 yards per rush. Much like last season, special teams were again a mixed bag. Wes Byrum hit every point-kick he attempted, but we still can't make the end zone on kickoffs, and punting was atrocious. Every kick return looked on the verge of breaking it. If there's a silver lining on special teams, it was that no kicks were dropped. Wow, we need that to continue!
It seems that a deliberate attempt to keep probable quarterback starter Cameron Newton under wraps was on. Newton played a few series in the first half, but these drives were ALWAYS started with a handoff on first down, and followed by deep throws against the first team defense. Newton wound up with only 3 completions in 8 attempts, with at least one throw off the back foot out of bounds toward a triple-covered receiver. Ugh. Caudle, Trotter, and Mosely were given numerous screen and quick-hitter opportunities. Newton ALWAYS seemed to be looking deep. Was that by design? Or is Newton the sort of QB that will ignore the easy screens, and always try to force the deep pass? In Newton's defense, we got a good look at Coordinator Gus Malzhan giving Neil Caudle HELL about checking down to a successful draw play. Newton may be only guilty of not deviating from the script. Coaches gave Newton exactly one zone-read opportunity, and Newton kept. With Mario Fannin headed towards a blown open side of the D, Newton instead kept, and headed right towards an unblocked Michael Goggins, who did an admirable job of breaking down. Ooops. Sack for Goggins. Maybe in a live QB game, Newton shakes him off. Maybe. Goggins had perfect position. Wrong read, any way you slice it. Not that other quarterbacks distinguished themselves on the zone-read, either. Caudle was one of two on the option read. The other two didn't really have the opportunity.
Receivers took a step backward in this game. We saw a number of drops. Tight end/H-back Jay Wisner had several go through his hands. The normally sure-handed Eric Smith had an ugly drop, although his blocking play was near-flawless. Phillip Lutzencirchen, the heir apparent at the "3" spot, appeared a bit bigger, and pretty awkward and slow receiving. He wouldn't be the first athlete that the Auburn staff bulked up into receiver incapability. Onterio McCalebb got numerous looks at inside running. He was bigger looking, but still incapable of moving the pile. Heavier and a step slower, McCalebb is in danger of being sidelined.
Taking advantage of an unbalanced offensive line, defensive coordinator Ted Roof abused the right side of the Auburn offensive line. With JUCO tackle signee Roszell Gayden sidelined with an injury, as well as guards Mike Berry and Bart Eddins, Roof set Antoine Carter (defensive MVP) up frequently to wreak havoc on the right side. Backups John Sullen and Brandon Moseley didn't play, either. The right side of the O-line was a mess. Pressure came early and often on all quarterbacks, from the right side. Kudos to all four Qbs, for minimizing the situation. The D STILL managed only nine sacks total in the game, with the touch rule on Qbs. Linebacker stalwarts Josh Bynes, and Craig Stevens had solid games. Jonathan Evans also contributed 5 tackles. We had hoped Eltoro Freeman would have an improved spring. Freeman was frequently around the ball, but made only one tackle on the day, much like last spring.
Position by Position Breakdowns, after the jump!
Defensive Line: The only A-list tackle that played was Nick Fairley, and he was a FORCE. Fairley only recorded one tackle, but the middle was CLOSED for runners. We didn't see Mike Blanc, Zach Clayton, or even Derrick Lykes. But the middle was still clogged. That's a huge kudos to coach Tracy Rocker. Well done!
Linebackers: Wow, is Craig Stevens EVER more well-suited to the weak side! He was much more effective in space. Jonathan Evans on the strong side did well, too. The run was shut down. Josh Bynes led all tacklers. We'll be ok in 2010 against the run. How to cover the Jock Sanders' of the CFB world, well... it's still a work in progress. As is depth behind Stevens, Sanders, and Evans. Eltoro Freeman was essentially MIA.
Secondary: It was a repeat of a year ago. No one expected to contribute played any significant downs. The walk-on group was a step slow, and missed plenty of tackles.
Punting: Senior Ryan Shoemaker was the man, and he hit one monster 53 yard howitzer. The other two kicks were a short shank, and a 20 yard pop fly. More consistency is needed.
Punt returns weren't live, but Quindarious Carr caught and secured everything he attempted. That's a HUGE improvement from last season! Carr also fielded one at the four yard line. Ooops. I wonder if he was instructed to field it no matter what? He smartly let a similar kick bound out of the end zone for a touchback, earlier. I'm still really nervous about this aspect of the team.
Kick Returns: We used a variety of folks back on kicks, and all were fielded cleanly. If there's any significant A-Day improvement to point to from a year ago, it's the fielding of kicks. Nothing was dropped. The big worry was that all of the return men appeared to have BIG lanes, if it had have been live. We're still not covering well, I'm afraid!
Kickoffs: I had hoped that we might manage more touchback-endzone kickoffs this fall, but this A-Day didn't offer that hope. Senior Wes Byrum handled all kickoffs, and we averaged only the 6 yard line. On the positive side, they were all high, and there was nothing outside the 15. That alone is an improvement. Still worried about coverage, though.
Placekicking: Wes Byrum is still gold, hitting all of his kicks. Back up walkon Chandler Brooks missed a 22 yard chip shot.
Offensive Line: Lee Ziemba, Byron Issom and Ryan Pugh were DOMINANT. Other players in the game decidedly WEREN'T! We had soft coverage universally on the defense, so there were outlets for the Qbs. Short yardage running was miserable. That's no different from the past two years.
Inside Receivers: This was pretty much a fail grade. We caught ok, with Jay Wisner leading with 5 catches. None of the the slot/fullback guys blocked well. We need DRAMATIC improvement here, or a LOT more of Eric Smith. He had limited snaps, but did well while he was in, aside from one dropped pass.
Outside Receivers: We saw a clean-cut example of child abuse on Saturday. We lined up the deepest position on the team against walk-on cover guys, and managed a ridiculous 9.76 yards per pass. It's meaningless. We had few contested catches, and those that were tended to be dropped. Play the starters next spring at corner, please, Gene Chizik?
Lead Blockers: If Eric Smith was in there, guys were stood up, and things happened on the line in the running game. If Smith was out, we had nobody. This is definitely an area to be looked at in fall camp, when the new guys come in. We won't be able to run 2 rushes to one pass successfully in the SEC, without better blocking this year.
Running Backs: I was really happy for Mario Fannin. We know that over the past 3 years, he's been our most dangerous offensive player. He's also been one of the ones most likely to turn the ball over. This A-Day, we saw none of the turnovers, and lots of well-played downs on Mario's part. I feel a LOT more comfortable at RB, after watching Mario play. A LOT of the ridiculous QB numbers are due to Mario's pass blocking in this game. On the other hand, in Onterrio McCalebb, I see the next Markieth Cooper/Rusty Williams. He's bulked up, and has become an average-speed, undersized SEC back. We've made another mistake in the weight room. Dontae Aycock has good balance. Here's hoping he can and WILL adapt to the H-back role.
Quarterbacks: I was PROUFOUNDLY depressed about this slot after last year's A-Day. Not so, this year. Neil Caudle STILL locks in on one receiver with his eyes, but the guy knows where to go with the ball. If he runs, he's good! Barrett Trotter has a Dan-Marino-like release. He can get the ball out accurately, too. We'd do well, even if Moseley was the starter. You've got mobility and football smarts, any way we go at QB this year. Cam Newton was supposed to be all-World coming in, but I "hope" (HOPE!) they hamstrung him in this scrimmage! Newton was the only QB in the game not to get a first down passing attempt. All of Newton's throws were deep. He never really threw one up for grabs, but the high miss on a wide open TD to Wisner in the end zone worries me. There was another "sling it off the back foot" out of bounds third and long deal later on. More to the point, I don't really know how Gus Malzhan's check-down system works. What options did Newton have? We don't need a QB that will ignore the 10 yard swing pass in lieu of the 40-yard dangerous throw downfield, like Ryan Mallett did last year for Arkansas. I can't predict how the Auburn QB race will really turn out, but I feel confident that we won't see another stretch like 2009, where we couldn't do anything past 5 yard downfield, like the last season Arky/UK/LSU stretch. We're in a WHOLE lot better place, at QB!
On Defense, despite giving up 36 of 50 completions in the spring game, I'm cautiously optimistic about the defense. I think we held back most of our secondary starters, and we stopped the run well.
On special teams, I think the kicking race is sewed up. Wes Byrum is THE MAN, on scoring. If one of the newcomers can kick to the end zone, Byrum might lose the kickoff duties. Punting seems to be wide open. Shoemaker has potential, but he's been plagued by inconsistency, and was again on A-Day. I think we'll be fine on kick returns, and I think a special effort has been made on punt returns. All's not well, though, when the return man fields one on the four yard line on A-Day. Not fine, at all! Kick coverage still looks EXTREMELY worrisome!
On the O-line, depth has pretty much been the issue for several years. 2010 is no exception. Neither JUCO transfer replacement at right tackle, Roszell Gayden or Brandon Moseley made it through spring unscathed. Reserves on the O-line have been scarce as well. All hopes for a dominant Auburn offense in 2010 rely on this unit getting well!
It's a change from most years in the past decade, but I think Auburn has little problem at the skill positions going into 2010. Where the Tigers have issues are on the lines. How well the freshmen can contribute will hold the key, I suspect! All in all, I approve of how things were handled this spring. We've got a unique staff in place at Auburn, and we should celebrate while we can! War Eagle, and have a great Monday!