A-Day is right around the corner, which means Auburn fans are close to getting a live look at Gus Malzahn's first edition of the Tigers. On the offensive side of the ball, the return of Malzahn means the return of the hurry-up, no-huddle. What are the biggest questions on offense we'd like to see answered Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium?
How much progress have Kiehl Frazier and Jonathan Wallace made at quarterback?
Auburn's offense was horrific in 2012, and one of the primary reasons was because of poor quarterback play. Frazier was completely overwhelmed in Scot Loeffler's system early in the season, and while Wallace wasn't bad at the end of the year, he wasn't outstanding. Throughout spring practice, we've heard of little separation between the two, and the race won't be over until Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson and Jason Smith get their shots in fall camp. Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee told al.com's Brandon Marcello just how tight the race is right now:
"They're splitting the reps right now," Lashlee said. "Nothing will change. One guy will do a little better one day; one the other, maybe. They've been pretty even. They've been great. They've been competing hard."
Details from previous scrimmages are sketchy, but we know there have been touchdown passes, and there have been interceptions. We just don't know how many of each Frazier and Wallace have. And it's hard to determine who should have the advantage right now. Frazier struggled on the field and with his confidence last season, and it wouldn't be surprising if he were still recovering from 2012 mentally. But, this is the offense he's known his whole football life. If anything should snap him back into shape, it would be a return to Malzahn's attack.
Wallace, on the other hand, is sort of in the opposite boat. His numbers last season -- 46-of-80, 720 yards, four touchdowns, four interceptions -- weren't catastrophic, especially considering the performances of Auburn's other starting quarterbacks, but he didn't prove to be a one-of-a-kind playmaker. And unlike Frazier, he isn't all that familiar with this attack. In fact, Wallace, who received little attention from Auburn in the 2012 recruiting cycle, was almost hand-picked by the newly-hired Loeffler on Signing Day. Yes, Wallace ran some spread-option looks last season, especially early in the year when he was used specifically in a wildcat package, but just how ready is he to run Malzahn's version full time?
Obviously, we won't learn a ton about the quarterback race Saturday -- hey, Frazier was MVP of last year's spring game -- but it would be nice to see competency and good performances from both players.
How are the wide receivers shaping up?
If quarterbacks are the offense's biggest question this spring, the wide receiver corps is definitely the second-biggest. Auburn's top-two pass-catchers from 2012, Emory Blake (789 yards) and Philip Lutzenkirchen (139 yards) are gone, and C.J. Uzomah, who caught seven balls for 136 yards last season, is the top returning target. Yikes.
The Tigers have plenty of talent out wide, as Quan Bray, Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray and Trovon Reed are all former four-star prospects. Plus, Auburn has good size at receiver. Coates, Louis, Ray and Jaylon Denson all stand at least 6'2 and weigh more than 200 pounds. For the first time in a good while, the Tigers could have several big bodies contributing on the outside. If you ask Coates, it's hard to top Auburn's group of receivers:
"This offense is made for each wide receiver to make plays," Coates told Marcello. "We're looking forward to making all the plays we can as a team and as a wide receiver group because we've got the best wide receivers group, I think, around."
Who's stepping up so far? Based on practice reports from the beat writers, it sounds like Denson and Louis are impressing coaches the most. That's not a big surprise since Denson has the best size at receiver, checking in at 6'3 and 216 pounds, and Louis likely has the most raw talent of the group.
What kind of role will Jay Prosch have?
When Auburn announced the transfer of Prosch before the 2012 season, it was big news. The Tigers were transitioning from Malzahn's spread to Loeffler's pro-style look, and having a big, talented fullback would make that transition much easier. Now, Prosch is in an offense that doesn't have much use for fullbacks, but he's much to skilled to be ignored. Coaches have said he'll take on the old Eric Smith H-back role, but just how much he'll be used as a runner and blocker remains to be seen. Plus, he showed the ability to come out of the backfield and help the passing game last year, making five catches in SEC games. Malzahn loves for his offense to have wrinkles, and giving Prosch a chance to catch a pass or two would certainly be a wrinkle.
Is Corey Grant the new Onterio McCalebb?
From 2009-12, McCalebb was one of the most consistent contributors on Auburn's offense, and in Malzahn's spread, he was a vital piece to the puzzle. O-Mac's speed and ability to get to the outside really opened up the inside running game for the Tigers. Now, Grant is getting some attention for his explosive ability, and he reportedly scored on two long touchdown runs during Auburn's last scrimmage. He didn't get much of a look in Loeffler's offense last season, partly due to injuries, and Grant told Aaron Brenner the new system is a much better fit:
"I think so: using my speed, it helps me get outside or hit creases harder and faster," Grant said "Overall, this is a better offense for me."
If you didn't know who said it, you could easily attribute that quote to O-Mac. If Grant continues to progress, he could be a major player for the Tigers.
Just how fast will the offense go?
Malzahn likes to go fast. We know that. We also know he was never able to go full-throttle for entire games during his time as Auburn's offensive coordinator. So seeing the offense running at breakneck pace 100 percent of the time will be a change. Many Auburn fans who prefer the traditional, lumbering power football seen in the SEC may not like it, but after 2012, we don't care what the offense looks like or how fast it moves -- just as long as its successful.