It's almost time for their to be real live football news, again. Yes, your first dose of off-season methadone begins Tuesday as the Auburn Tigers hit the practice fields to begin the 2015 Spring Practice.
This year, Spring Practice will run from March 10th through A-Day on April 18th. That's over a month that there will be actual football news to report, which is glorious if you're a football junky like me. However, that will not be a solid month of daily news. The number of practices will still be limited to 15.
One thing that is adding a week into this year's spring schedule is Auburn's Spring Break. Normally in the early part of March, this year it is the last full week of the month. The Tigers will practice five times prior to Spring Break, and then return for the final 10. That off week will allow the coaches to examine the first five sessions at length and better plan the direction of the final two-thirds of the Spring.
The schedule has practices on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays, except for the Saturday beginning Spring Break. Then there will be one final practice following A-Day (Monday, 20 April) to close up the spring football schedule.
We'll be here to give you as much news as possible, although it is unlikely we will learn very much. The media is not allowed to observe all of Auburn's practices, and we here at College and Mag aren't really even media, so we don't have access to anything that's not reported everywhere else. We just try to aggregate it all into one nice spot and have fun talking about it like the fans that we are.
There are going to be a number of battles for spots. Running back will be one of the most closely watched. I think Auburn will excel at this position no matter who carries the majority of the load. It's going to be a crowded stable with Roc Thomas, Peyton Barber, Jovon Robinson, and Kerryon Johnson. If history is any indicator, the carries will be spread out early in the season until one shows himself to be the best of the bunch, and then we'll ride that horse hard.
Auburn only has one true Tight-End on the roster this spring in Chris Laye. The TE/H-back job will be open between Kamryn Pettway, early enrollee Chandler Cox, and Laye. Cox is capable of catching the ball, so if he has the goods to play immediately, I expect we'll see a lot of him. He provides the ability to be the perfect hybrid that will allow Malzahn to run full speed without substituting players.
The offensive line rotation is in question, and the pecking order at Wide Receiver will also be up for grabs behind Duke Williams. On the defensive side of the ball, there are questions around the backups at linebacker and who will be the third linebacker slot in the 4-3 set-ups. Cameron Toney has moved back to linebacker, and Derrick Moncrief has moved to the linebacker position, as well. I think the Safety slots will be set with Rudy Ford and Tray Matthews.
Then there's the quarterback spot. There will be a competition for the quarterback position. I'm not saying it's going to be a battle or that I think anyone beats Jeremy Johnson for the top spot, but there will be a competition. Sean White will have the opportunity to show he can do everything Johnson can. Jason Smith will have the chance to show he can perform the Nick Marshall role if Gus has any inclination to keep Auburn's offense looking the way it has the last two seasons.
Speaking of that offense, just how IS it going to look? That will be dependent on who does take over at quarterback. If Jason Smith wows the coaches and wins the job, it will probably resemble the 2013 and 2014 offenses. If, as everyone expects, Jeremy Johnson wins the job, then it will probably look more along the lines of Gus Malzahn's Tulsa offenses or Auburn in 2009.
Johnson does have the ability to run, but it is unlikely he totes the ball anywhere close to as often as Nick Marshall or Cam Newton. His strengths will be in his ability to sling the football, and he will have quite the talent to throw it to. Duke Williams' return for his senior season assured that.
The other question will be the pace that Auburn will play at. WarRoomEagle will be along next week with a post on Auburn's lack of hurry-up in the 2014 offense. With three recruiting classes and more players set for his system, Malzahn is getting much closer to having his dream of being able to put personnel on the field who can handle any play and any situation without needing to substitute until a an official stoppage of play.
This is the big question for all Auburn fans. Auburn scored 30 points in three of its five losses this past season. Until the 2013 BCS Championship, Auburn had gone almost two decades without losing a game when scoring 30 points. It's unfathomable that Auburn lost three such games in 2014.
The idea of a Will Muschamp led defense has Auburn fans salivating. Even just a small improvement and the Tigers likely defeat Texas A&M and Wisconsin. A slightly better defense may have been able to contain Amari Cooper enough for the Tigers to defeat Alabama. Shutting down Georgia's rushing attack and forcing them to throw the football may have opened up Auburn's offense to be more productive.
It really won't take much. The offensive tools are there to put up points. A lot of points. With a capable defense, this team will be a terror for any opponent they play.
So, how capable will it be? That will depend on a number of things. Carl Lawson's return will hopefully jump start a pass rush that saw no Tiger record more than 3.5 sacks in the 2014 season. Byron Cowart is on his way, but he won't be around in the spring. Neither will DaVonte Lambert, who is out with an injury sustained in the Samford game. There will still be plenty of linemen pushing, though.
In the defensive secondary, it's going to be fun to watch Tray Matthews and Rudy Ford work together. Early enrollee Tim Irvin has a chance to make some noise, but I doubt he pushes for much during the spring. At cornerback, Johnathan Jones returns. The addition of Tray Matthews to this unit is the biggest, right now. Matthews has potential to be all-SEC in his Sophomore campaign after sitting out last season following his transfer from UGA. He is a fantastic talent, and provides an immediate boost to the secondary unit. It's a unit that needs a boost after losing Jermaine Whitehead to graduation.
How quickly can the Tigers grasp Will Muschamp's defense? I'm not sure we'll get a straight answer during spring practice, but it's possible we'll have a decent idea by the end of practice on Thursday, 19 March. That's the fifth practice, and the pause for Spring Break.
It's said every year, and yet every year fans will ignore it. A-Day is a glorified scrimmage. Cam Newton looked less than stellar during his one A-Day. It's a day that is mainly for the fans. It's our big shot of that football methadone before we go into the worst part of the off-season: the doldrums between spring and SEC Media Days.
So what will we see on A-Day? I imagine we may get another glimpse at the Jeremy Johnson Show. We'll see our first look at Jovon Robinson. Hopefully nothing along the lines of last season's freak injury to Peyton Barber on his first carry of the game occurs.
Auburn won't show much during A-Day. We'll see base plays and formations, and probably a very basic defense, as well. I doubt the Tigers will be ready to show off too much in the spring game. We may not even see Carl Lawson play on A-Day, as he will still be somewhat limited as they ease him back into full-speed.
It's real, live ,football. It's all you're getting between now and the beginning of summer/fall camp prior to the 2015 season. So, soak it all in. Relish all of the new information that comes out. For the offseason is dark, and full of terrors.