Bo knows this was a great day!
War Eagle, everybody! Another A-Day has come and gone, and what a nice celebration there was! Prior to the scrimmage, Auburn recognized its three Heisman Trophy winners with a crowded statue-unveiling ceremony. Thousands of fans like yours truly crammed the walkway on the east side of Jordan Hare Stadium to watch the historic unveiling. The only possible complaint is that the amplification was inadequate. Even Bo Jackson asked the sound folks to "turn it up!" We heard bits of Bo's speech, and could hear most of Cam's. Cam can really project! For those who couldn't hear, go to the Auburn website and replay the whole thing. A more concise version is available on YouTube, here. Sound complaints aside, I think most of the folks there were ecstatic to be there in person with all three great Auburn men!
One could not ask for better A-Day weather! It was warm and sunny, but a cooling breeze kept the heat from getting out of hand. I'm not sure what the media estimates of the crowd were, but to my untrained eye I'd say there were maybe 35000 seats filled. Most folks know by now that a Chizik A-Day is more like watching a practice, than a real game, and I think most fans there were happy to watch. Aubtigerman and I picked out a roomy bench in the south end zone, against the middle walkway rail. While I could not see down and distance well at all, it was a great vantage point to see all the player numbers, and watch the battles in the trenches. After all, failures on both lines of scrimmage doomed last year's team to 5 lopsided losses, and I really wanted to see how much progress the Tigers have made on both sides of the ball there!
As has been true the past three years, the coaches really tried to minimize giving away too many of their cards. Prior to the game, defensive line starters Nosa Eguae and Kenneth Carter were already out. Tackle Jeffery Whitaker played very few snaps. Corey Lemonier and Dee Ford tended to wreak havoc when they were in there, particularly on the right side. On the few plays where they went after the number two O-line, it was child-abuse. Up front on the D-line, I'd say a lineup of Angelo Blackson, Jamar Travis, Craig Sanders and LaDarius Owens got at least 70 percent of the snaps. Blackson had some good plays, as did Owens. Auburn's starting linebacker corps of Bates, Holland and Frost played a lot. Much like last season, they had trouble fighting off blocks, but did a pretty sure job of tackling. I'd say the most encouraging thing out of the starting linebackers was a noticeable improvement in pass coverage. Frost and Bates tended to knock runners down immediately on those short dump-off passes. It's been a while at Auburn since we've seen linebackers cover passes in the flat! Auburn's secondary is deep and talented, particularly at corner. The defense gave up no TD passes, and very little down the field. Quarterbacks really could not do anything on Robensen Therezie's side of the field. Definitely had the look of your excellent "lock down" corner! Only quibble on the secondary is that they failed on several chances to pick errant balls off.
Most special teams work was not fully live in this one. Didn't really get to see Steven Clark really tee off on any long punts. Most of his efforts were pooch jobs, and the coverage failed to down any of them. Cody Parkey appeared only to kick two extra points. Walk-on freshman Alex Kviklys handled all three kickoffs, booting them to the 14, 20 and 11 yard lines. They weren't terribly high, either. Hated to see Quan Bray drop the first kickoff, although he did get it back quickly and head upfield.
I don't mind admitting that I was pretty worried about the offensive line this spring. After A-Day, I'm still concerned, but I saw reason for optimism. Center Reese Dismukes and left guard John Sullen were able to handle any tackles we played in this one, even Whitaker. Angelo Blackson got the better of Sullen once or twice, but not consistently. Frankly, I'm not sure Dismukes ever missed a block. His guy pretty much universally got nowhere. The right side was shaky. Auburn's starting true freshman Patrick Miller at right tackle. Guy has quick feet, but he looks to me to be only about 270 pounds, soaking wet. Communication on the right side seemed not to be there at times, as either Slade or Miller would be left with no one to block, while damage was being done in the backfield. The second team was pretty far behind the first group, and got both of the penalties that were called during the game. Looked like the 2nd team tackles had carte blanche to just grab and tackle the ends, and holding wasn't going to be called. Looks like we REALLY need Greg Robinson and Patrick Miller to stay healthy!
I was greatly relieved to watch sophomore Brandon Fulse in action at tight end. I wondered if we'd have any skill position blockers behind Lutzenkirchen and Prosch. Fulse just attacked ends and linebackers off the ball, and did a great job up front. My favorite plays of the day were when the starting left side of the line blew up the defense, with help from Fulse and Prosch. The skill guys would shift around, but end up on the left with Sullen and Robinson. Fulse would explode off the ball and take the DE out. Robinson would bulldoze a linebacker. Prosch would clean up whomever was left, the running back easily was into the secondary.
Love that road-grading left side!
In the passing game, I think even the most cautious observer has to admit that sophomore Khiel Frazier appears to be WAY out in front in the quarterback race. The others made mistakes, in some cases a lot of mistakes. We didn't have any dropped balls by the experienced guys out there. In fact, the only two drops I saw on the day were on Sammie Coates. He dropped a couple of easy ones, but made some tough catches. He was thrown to a lot. Don't know whether it was by defensive design, or just ends getting buried inside, or linebackers over running the play, but the QB keeper was really effective in this game. We were basically left with a safety out there to deal with it. Both Frazier and Zeke Pike are going to win a lot of battles with a safety in the open field. Luckily for the defense, it was one-hand touch on A-Day.
Strategy wise, Auburn played mostly man coverage with the corners, with two safeties over top. If Auburn lined up the two receivers on one side, the best two corners (Therezie and Davis) went over there as well. This allowed the offense to pick on Ryan White at times on the other side. White did hotly defend the throws, but shutting down the likes of Emory Blake or a healthy Trovon Reed is a tall order. Loeffler liked to call a lot of quick throws to the flat, and I was pretty impressed with how quickly a variety of corners were there to instantly stop the receiver. We've been hounded out there the past three years by guys catching it and running for 10 or 20 yards.
Let's celebrate the death of the soft cushion zone!
Unit comments after the jump!
Defensive Line: I have to say that I'm somewhat disappointed in this group. Yes, Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier did wreak havoc in the backfield at times, but they didn't play that much. What was worrisome is that they could be attacked by the tight end and neutralized. I also didn't see tackles collapsing the pocket very often. All of Auburn's quarterbacks moved in the pocket, dodged ends streaking in there, and made throws under pressure.
Linebackers: I enjoyed seeing coverage in the flats. However, this unit does not handle fullback or tight end blocks well at all. Admittedly, they were facing an All-American fullback. It showed. If Jake Holland wasn't blocked, he made some tackles. He seemed to know where he needed to be on most plays. Kris Frost is a fast, strong athletic talent. The reserves at linebacker have a long way to go.
Secondary: We've got a stable full of talented defensive backs. There were essentially 3 starters (T'Sharvan Bell, Demetruce McNeal, and Erique Florence) out, and yet this unit made plays all day. With the starting unit, the strategy seemed to be to put Robensen Therezie on the field side, Ryan White on the boundary, and Chris Davis on the slot. The offense tried to work on White, with the most notable pass being a back shoulder fade to Emory Blake. White did as he was taught, though. Can't turn around with no safety help, or you might give up a long TD. Jonathan Mincy made some great tackles, limiting those flat passes severely. His only big bust was letting Trovon Reed get wide open on an out route out of the slot in the second half.
Special Teams: My vote is for Cody Parkey to be healthy this fall. I really did not like the kickoffs on A-Day. I understand the "kick it short and make the tackle" strategy given this year's rule changes. However, it needs to be kicked higher to succeed. The punt coverage team needs to work on downing punts. I'm hoping Quan Bray's opening drop of a kickoff was an aberration. He was pretty sure-handed last season returning punts as a true freshman.
Offensive Line: I was worried about the tackles going in, but my mind is somewhat eased, at least on the left side with Greg Robinson. I think he's going to be a great one before its said and done. I'm not sure how with all the linemen Auburn has, that a true freshman ended up starting on the right side. I suppose the coaches like Patrick Miller's attitude. He is looking for someone to hit every play, much like Auburn's trio of freshmen starting linemen way back in 2007. Another lineman I saw that looked to be really battling was Christian Westerman. He doesn't give up on plays! The most encouraging signs were in the middle of the line. Reese Dismukes looked like he played a whale of a game, and can handle anyone we send at him.
Receivers: Emory Blake looks like the go-to guy once again, able to find small seams, and make the grab in traffic. We're still looking for that second guy, when Blake's doubled. Trovon Reed showed an ability to get open and catch the ball, and maybe this is the year he stays healthy. The quarterbacks spread the ball around, hitting several backs, Brandon Fulse, Travante Stallworth, Deangelo Benton and Jaylon Denson with short balls that were all caught. Sammie Coates looked like the go-to guy for the backups, with mixed results. I was not particularly impressed with receiver blocking downfield. Secondary guys were in on a lot of tackles at the line of scrimmage.
Running Backs: Jay Prosch was a runaway freight train out there. If you had to single out someone whose guy stayed blocked, it was Prosch's man, along with Reese Dismukes. A lot of defenders out there looked to be more concerned with not getting embarrassed by Prosch, than with attacking the ball. At times, Prosch was successful at pushing two or three guys over on one play. He's going to mean a lot to this offense. We didn't see a whole lot of Onterio McCalebb or Tre Mason. Mason popped a couple of good runs up the middle, and was held out thereafter. McCalebb's problems of a few years ago seemed to have reappeared, tripping over yard lines and slipping down. He was trying to jitterbug the Auburn secondary, and those guys were having none of it.
Quarterback: I was very impressed with Khiel Frazier. He really only made one throw with poor form, his first of the game. On that play, both Dee Ford and Corey Lemonier tore into the backfield quickly, and I think it was a throw-away. Unlike last season, Frazier is squaring up towards the receiver, and his feet are set on those throws. He did a nice job in the pocket of stepping up, and finding guys under pressure. He's got a strong enough arm to make all of the throws, yet he didn't force anything. He's also a big threat if he pulls it down and runs.
Clint Mosley made some nice throws, including a deep out to Trovon Reed for a first down, which I didn't think he was going to make, with the sore shoulder. On the other hand, there were a few things reminiscent of last season, such as one where he had third and long, felt pressure, stepped up, threw awkwardly off his right foot leaning sideways and missed Grant, who would have been way short of the first down anyway. Most of Mosley's snaps were with the 2nd unit, and he was under constant pressure. He looked like he'd handled pressure before, and did a nice job of moving around and avoiding it.
Zeke Pike is still learning. He's got a big strong arm, and that Bret-Farve mentality that he can jam that ball in there, even if coverage is tight. Pike had several balls that might have been picked off. He also had a ball or two dropped by his receivers. Like Frazier, he'll be dangerous as a runner. He's big now, as a true freshman. A year of two of Yox down the road, he may be Cam-sized!
All in all, it was a great fun day in Auburn, with great food, history and a scrimmage in the sun. I made it down to Auburn before 8:00 AM, and really enjoyed walking around and watching everybody set up for the big day. It isn't often that you get three Heisman winners live, a delicious fried green tomato sandwich at the Amsterdam, and Auburn football into a single day! Kudos to Aubtigerman and his great crew of tailgaters, for putting up with my non-stop chatter! I'd also like to give a shout-out to the guys selling Blue Monkey iced coffee downtown early in the morning. I enjoyed a great frosty cup of that stuff as I checked out the Toomer's Corner oaks. You know folks, I think they might make it! They certainly looked great on A-Day!