With the season almost here, we're taking a look at previewing the 2016 Auburn Tigers by each position group. The previous entries can be found in this story stream!
I was going to save this one for last because I didn't know when we would hear anything on the starter. However, since Sean White was announced yesterday, I figured I'd go ahead and get this one out among all of the other articles on him and the overall quarterback situation.
Key Losses -
Key Returnees -
Sean White, Jeremy Johnson
Newcomers (includes redshirts) -
Tyler Queen, John Franklin III, Woody Barrett**
Causes For Optimism
I have somewhat covered this topic already in a post from two weeks ago.
Now, watch this highlight video from the 2015 season. Do those first few minutes look like a kid making his very first start in college football in a SEC game? Look at the way he stands in the pocket and takes the hit around 2:05 (and, familiarly enough, how the WR fails him by dropping the pass). Sure, he made mistakes last year. He was a freshman. His ceiling is much higher than many give him credit for.
I'm glad that video shows drops. It shows how so many of his passes would have been for 10, 15, 20+ yards and resulted in the "explosive plays" Gus wants to go full speed. There is so much potential there if he and the receivers get on the same page.
Look at the way he extends plays. Even in the Mississippi State game, in his very first game, he was rolling out, making sure he stayed behind the line of scrimmage, letting the play develop, and then dumps a pass off to Barber for a big gain. The first highlight in the Kentucky footage is another great example. He rolls left, then throws a perfect strike across his body to Ricardo Louis for a big gain.
Oh, and stay tuned to around the 10-minute mark. I'll come back to that play for why we should be stoked about Kamryn Pettway.
White has the confidence of the team, as was noted last night. That can't be overemphasized in importance. They love playing with him. They think he's a gamer who isn't going to fold (just look how many times he stands in the pocket and takes hits or lays it all out on a play in that video above). They're going to want to step up their game with him. I think they can do it.
Causes For Concern
Sean White struggled after his knee injury last year. I'm not going to call him "injury prone" for one injury, as some have, but that's still a bit disconcerting. If something should happen to him, who will be the next up? That's a bit more up in the air, right now.
Is Jeremy Johnson capable of regaining his original form from 2013 and 2014? If so, you'd think he would be the starter. Of course, maybe nothing has changed in practice and the coaches are just afraid of risking it in game time, right now. I don't know. It's still possible he could be the next up on offense.
Then again, maybe Auburn would roll the dice and go almost complete wildcat like Baylor did at the end of last season. I don't know where exactly JF3's struggles in the passing game lie, but if he were approaching Nick Marshall's level of accuracy, he would be starting. So, it must be very disconcerting. Marshall wasn't very accurate, either, remember. He just had a talent for the deep ball that made him worth rolling with.
The other big area of concern is whether or not the offense is able to achieve that fast pace that is needed for Gus' offense to work. When he has a QB like White and the offense is clicking, then you get his offenses at Tulsa. When it's not clicking, there's constant subbing, and things are slowed down, then you get most of 2011.
In order to achieve that level of speed, the other players around White will have to step up. The line has to give him time. The running backs have to be able to make the ground game a serious threat with the QB only being an occasional threat to pull and go. Most importantly, the receivers have to be able to consistently catch the ball. That's not all on them, of course. Many of the incompletions in that video above weren't the best of passes. They did, however, hit the WRs in the hands and should have been caught.
Part of that could also rest in a lack of time of Sean White having worked with the 1s in practice. The timing was off a bit, maybe. That makes this protracted QB race a bit more worrying since you want the #1 QB to have as much time to get in sync with his receivers as possible.
If the WRs struggle, then this offense is going to struggle. If they and White reach a level of familiarity and comfort and consistently come down with the ball, then we could be looking at an offense that is a whole lot of fun to watch. That's what we've wanted and expected from Gus Malzahn ever since his initial hire as OC in 2009.
I have every confidence in Sean White. Of the WRs who struggled with the drops the last few years, Marcus Davis wasn't ever really one of them. So, I have confidence in him. Past that? I don't know.
I think by fairly early in the season, we're going to be seeing a lot of the freshmen receivers. Don't count out someone like Jason Smith and/or Stanton Truitt stepping up, either.
I am the eternal optimist, and Sean White was my guy in the QB race all along, so, of course, I'm going to predict big things. Those big things are very dependent on the rest of the team. Should White struggle, though, then it would not shock me - depending on his health - to see Tyler Queen's name enter to mix at QB.
If White plays to his full potential and everyone else plays to theirs, then we're looking at an excellent QB. If he struggles, then this position will struggle, Auburn's season will struggle, and we'll be left wondering if Woody Barrett will start as a redshirt freshman next year or if Auburn may pull in another transfer (Jarrett Stidham being my choice).
I'm predicting White does well, though. Very well.