It's important to note that A-Day is not a measuring stick of future success. I think I've just about beat this dead horse until the corpse is coming apart, but it needs to be said. While there are some things we can possibly pull from A-Day, there are some things we can't even begin to fathom.
So, here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to give you some observations and then I'm going to tell you what it might mean and why it might not mean anything. I wish I could go into even greater detail of breaking down blocking, etc, but I'll openly admit to where I have a lack of football knowledge (it's a large lack; I really am just a fan).
1) Jeremy Johnson looked good throwing the football.
Yes, he did. Very good. He threw a lot of really crisp passes, and he threw some great deep balls. He looked about like what Auburn fans hoped for.
a) What might it mean? Johnson is going to be the quarterback we've dreamed of. Maybe not as good at running the football as Cam Newton, but perhaps a much better passer. And Cam was not too shabby throwing the football. Johnson was 14 of 22 for 256 yards IN ONE HALF OF PLAY. Those are pretty good stats for a whole game, honestly. Especially if we balance that and have 250 yards rushing.
b) Why does this not mean anything? He wasn't throwing to a fully healthy and full speed SEC-caliber defense. Auburn had so many players not involved in A-Day that it's really hard to gauge any of the offense's performance against them. That's a point I'm going to be coming back to a number of times. So whenever I say "refer to 1b," this is what I mean.
Plus, as I'll note again later, since neither he nor Sean White were "live," they weren't having to think about scrambling out of the pocket as the rush came. So you can't completely judge poise in the pocket and accuracy in the face of pressure when the quarterbacks weren't afraid of actually getting hit.
2) There were absolutely zero plays called where Johnson ran the ball.
This is very true. There were no QB draws. No packaged "pop pass" type plays when Johnson was in the game. There weren't really any when Sean White was in the game, either. Are the days of the QB running the football in Malzahn's offense over?
a) What it might mean. ESPN.com was spewing all sorts of definitive "what we learned" TAKES from A-Day. The biggest burning TAKE was that Malzahn's offense is evolving away from the way it was under Marshall and Johnson not running the ball and A-Day was a sign of that.
b) Why I think this doesn't mean anything. I don't really believe that. Will the offense evolve? Yes. I've said for the past year that Malzahn's offense is a style, not a system. If he thinks winging the ball will be more effective, then he's going to air it out. Maybe Johnson will be almost entirely a passing QB. I don't think so, though. One of my "things not to look for" was play calling. Nothing about the play calling with Johnson under the center in A-Day is remotely indicative of what the play-calling will be in the fall. Nick Marshall aired the ball out last A-Day, too.
When Tyler Queen and Tucker Tuberville were in the game (quarterbacks who were live, by the way), those "pop" plays were still there in force. They aren't going away. The quarterback option to run the ball off the zone read or on a packaged play will still be there. Go back and see how many times the defense bit down on the zone read and Johnson had a WIDE open lane had he kept the ball. I have a suspension that's due in part to the defense knowing Johnson wasn't going to be running in A-Day. I hope other defenses believe that, too. If they do, they're going to get one very large QB barreling down the field Newton-style.
3) Jovon Robinson didn't play very much in A-Day
Jovon Robinson said he wanted to run for 100+ yards on A-Day, but he really didn't touch the ball much at all.
a) What it might mean. Robinson is behind the power curve. Peyton Barber has two seasons under his belt, Roc Thomas has one, and Johnson is third on the depth chart at the moment while he's learning the offense.
b) What it likely means. The coaches know what they have in Robinson. Everyone else suspects what Auburn has in Robinson. Why show it until the fall? Rather, let's showcase Roc Thomas (who looks like he's starting to get a handle on that spin move while still powering forward) and Barber and show how good all of our backs are. I think if the coaches really needed to see more of Robinson running in a game situation, we would have seen him.
I think Auburn's running backs are going to be scary. Barber straight trucked Cass McKinzy on one run. Roc Thomas looks fast, still has that "circle button" spin move, and incredible balance (just check out his highlights in the video below). More importantly for Thomas, even through all of those spin moves he held on to the ball. He used the moves to try moving forward rather than just getting aside from a defender. The stable is deep.
4) Myron Burton looked great
He was the offensive MVP with over 100 yards receiving, and he had some nifty grabs and moves with the ball in his hands.
a) What it might mean. Burton is going to be the receiver who steps up to be another big target for JJ. He's going to light the world on fire as a dynamic pass catcher.
b) What might really be the case. Burton is good. I really think he's good. Many of his catches were clean and in open space. I don't know if that's because he's an excellent route runner or you can refer back to 1b. Perhaps the defense playing him just wasn't that great. I do think Burton can be destined for great things, but I think there are going to be other players who see the field much more, at least at first. He'll have Marcus Davis, Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Duke Williams, Tony Stevens, and possibly Jason Smith ahead of him. Keep his name in mind, though. Because it really COULD be that he's more awesome than we suspect and he could light the SEC on fire. Some of his catches were short passes, and some of them were deep balls. That versatility could help him get on the field much quicker.
5) Johnson and White had a good bit of yards throwing the ball; therefore the defense and the secondary in particular is going to be awful.
Johnson did look good. He had a few bad throws, but only one or two were at risk of being intercepted (come on, Deshaun Davis, come down with that ball!). White also looked very crisp and was hitting open receivers.
a) What it might mean. We're in for a long year of our defense getting torched, again.
b) Why it means nothing at all. See 1b. Not only were the Tigers short a lot of key cogs in the defensive backfield, but some of the Tigers' best pass rushers weren't playing, either. Plus, the QBs weren't live. That affects all sorts of things. Did Sean and JJ stay in the pocket longer because they knew they weren't going to take a shot? Just look at one of Sean White's deep balls to Myron Burton just before the half. I'd say that's the case. As the announcers pointed out, if that's a live play, then White gets DESTROYED by Elijah Daniels coming free on the rush. Daniels didn't play it as hard, and White stood in there unworried, because he knew he wasn't going to take the hit.
There were bright spots in the secondary, too. Tray Matthews looked every bit the part of a great SEC Safety. Stephen Roberts had some great defensive plays (including one while guarding Duke Williams). With everyone playing, I think this defense will be fine. It may not be fantastic, but it doesn't need to be, either.
A-Day is really set up to make the offense look good, in many ways. Sure, the defense gets its help when a "sack" is called from someone just threatening the QB, but the offense is going to look stellar as long as the QB makes good throws and the receivers make good catches. It doesn't mean the DBs are going to look horrible. I have a feeling the quarterbacks facing Auburn's defense aren't going to look quite as composed in the pocket as JJ and Sean White did, yesterday.
Just don't forget that also means that JJ and Sean won't always be that composed, either.
As for the rest of the defense, I thought they actually performed fairly well against the run. Roc is a special back, and he had that "circle button" spin move rolling strong. Other than that, though, I thought the defense did a decent job of containing Robinson and Barber. This is without a lot of key players on the defensive line, though.
It's a scrimmage. It's a scrimmage for the fans. We got to see Tucker Tuberville play quarterback in Jordan-Hare Stadium. We got to see our quarterbacks air the ball out just as we hoped. The fans saw what they wanted to see.
More importantly, the world saw what the coaches wanted them to see. No more. No less.
There just really aren't any definitive conclusions you can draw from Saturday's A-Day game. What I'll say is that I believe it reaffirmed things we suspected and left us vague on a few things we wonder about. Johnson can throw the football. Duke can make some spectacular grabs. Both are still mortal. There are other receivers out there capable of contributing. There are defensive players who could step up in the fall (Cameron Toney, Stephen Roberts).
There will be players coming in this fall with a chance to contribute early or who will be expected to contribute early (Byron Cowart, Jeff Holland). There will be some who need to redshirt. What it comes down to is that Gus Malzahn happy with the team he has. He sees room for improvement, and expects them to improve as the season continues in the fall.
There will be one more practice to report on before we finally close the book on Spring 2015. Then we can really start to get down to business.