Five out of Auburn's fifteen Spring Practices allowed under NCAA rules are in the books. With the team taking a week off for Spring Break (and since there's little other news to report, right now) I figured we'd take a look back at what the key storylines have been, so far. If you want to get another look at the full practice schedule, you can find it here.
1) The Team Is Having Fun
That's something that can't be understated. Austin Golson and Chandler Cox both said that there's a different feeling to practice, this season. Carl Lawson noted the same thing. There's another article somewhere in which one of them states that last year the team couldn't wait for Spring Break and this year the team can't wait to get back to practice. The 2013 team was special because of the chemistry they all had. That's been missing over the last two seasons. If Auburn can get that back, it will go a long way towards making 2016 much better.
2) The Defense Likes Kevin Steele
Carl Lawson indicated in the same press conference linked just above that the defense is responding well to Kevin Steele and that they like his style of getting the point across without screaming. I think they all appreciated Will Muschamp as a coach, but I think they're having fun playing for Kevin Steele. It remains to be seen how that will translate on the field, but if they're learning the same things and not stressed at getting yelled at, it could be a much-improved unit over the last few years.
3) Tempo Is Key
For all the criticisms last year's offense took, there's one thing that many pointed out repeatedly: it looked absolutely nothing like a typical Gus Malzahn offense. Whether that was due to the QBs alone, the need to substitute more often, the lack of explosive plays, or one of any number of other reasons, I don't know. What I do know is that Gus was not running the offense the way he wants to: fast.
That's one reason why I've been treating 2015 as an outlier rather than a trend. 2014's offense worked, and it didn't play that fast, either. If Gus can get back to what he needs to do in order to play fast, then the offense will be fine. If the defense improves, then 2016 will be a good year.
4) There Are Players Moving Around
On defense, we know Josh Holsey is cross-training at both defensive back slots. Rudy Ford has gotten some peeks on offense, as well. He was recruited as a running back and is electric with the ball in his hands. I don't expect to see him going both ways, much, though. I can't help but wonder if this is due to Kerryon Johnson's shoulder surgery. Either it's more of an issue than we've been told and they need another speed back, or Ford is just getting work on the offensive side of the ball in Spring to simulate him.
Kamryn Pettway getting reps at the running back slot is one of the most intriguing things, to me. He didn't touch the ball much, last season, but when he did, he was a bruiser.
5) We Still Don't Know Much About the QB Race
The order at QB during Spring Practice #4 was Johnson, White, and Franklin. I wouldn't read too much into the fourth time on the field for a QB, though. We know Franklin is electric, and I've seen other reports that he's a 4.0 student who is very smart, as well. If he can throw the football accurately, I would have to say Franklin is the favorite to win the job, but we don't know anything about that. We'll have to wait and see what we can see during A-Day.
Gus has said the QBs may go live at points during the Spring. I think that's a good call in an offense that requires the QB to be at least a threat to carry the ball. I know Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech has his QBs live most - if not all - of the time because of how much they get hit. He wants them to be used to the contact. Getting used to that could help Johnson or White become comfortable enough to keep the ball and provide that running threat combined with passing ability.
If Franklin doesn't win the starting job, I'm not going to write the season and Gus Malzahn off as lost, as some seem to be doing before we even get out of Spring Practice. The offense will look different, but as long as it goes fast and there's a threat for the QB to keep, it'll be fine. I've got an article idea on that which I hope to do, soon.
The Tigers will return to the practice field next Tuesday, March 22nd. A-Day is April 9th.