Fall practice has begun on the Plains, and things are a little... different.
For one, there hasn’t been a ton of turnover. That’s helped to lead in part to a pretty quiet summer as we head into camp. Auburn’s got the same coordinators, same quarterback, and the core of a defense back from what was a pretty salty unit in 2017. The team may actually be poised for a pretty solid year.
Of course, it’s Auburn, so we know that whatever prognostication we’ve got will turn on its head at some point. Cole Cubelic put it best on Twitter recently.
We could win the national championship or be a middling 8-5 group. I don’t know what could possibly describe Auburn better over the past few years. However, the Tigers have not been without notice and recognition in any one year since Gus took over. In 2013, we obviously saw them go to the national championship game. In 2014, they were ranked as high as #2 in the country before one loss, then #3 again before a second loss. Auburn began 2015 as a top ten team, and reached the top ten in 2016 before injuries decimated the stretch run. Finally, last year, Auburn rose to #2 in the College Football Playoff rankings before losing in the SEC Championship Game.
Auburn’s gotten the pub, they just haven’t been able to finish and win a championship in that time since Malzahn’s first season.
So what of Gus? The man of the stunted syntax and concise jib has opened up a bit more over the first few fall practices and become a little looser than I think we’ve ever seen him before.
This is the guy that’s routinely been on the watch list for quickest press conferences, but the first few days of fall camp have turned a new page on Gus.
Some things of note —
Even without Will Hastings and Eli Stove, we’ve got plenty of tools at the receiver position. Darius Slayton has become a true leader and has taken his game to the next level after a really spectacular 2017, and (shhhhh) apparently the offense has been working on more intermediate routes. It’s true that the offense at times went screen pass or deep bomb, so adding a little middle ground would be fantastic.
Speaking of receivers, there are some young guys that have impressed as well. Matthew Hill and Anthony Schwartz should be in line for playing time in the opener against Washington, mainly due to the absence of Stove and Hastings.
In the backfield, Kam Martin has bulked up but it remains to be seen if he can be the guy at tailback. He’s still not quite to 200 pounds, and we know how Gus likes to work the backs once he finds his favorite. Boobee Whitlow has apparently impressed and has played “with urgency” in the fall.
As far as the offensive line goes, there are some combinations to be considered. Calvin Ashley looks pretty committed to playing the right guard spot, as Austin Troxell and Jack Driscoll seem to be fighting for the tackle position. On the left side, it does appear to be settled, with Prince Tega Wanogho and Marquel Harrell taking care of the blindside. At center, there’s a bit of a battle with Mike Horton snapping the ball early, but Kaleb Kim is in the mix too. Horton could also play that right guard spot, which is more of his natural position.
What about the defense? There’s not much news, since the front seven is set with tons of talent and experience. The back end of the defense will have a couple new starters, but Malzahn praised Jamel Dean’s ability, so his spot seems settled. The first scrimmage is Thursday, so we’ll have more information on who lines up where when things go live.
Scrimmage time is when we’ll learn some more about special teams, including who has the upper leg in the punting battle — Arryn Siposs and Aidan Marshall are apparently in close competition — and we’ll get to learn more on the other end in the punt return game. Ryan Davis, Christian Tutt, and Matthew Hill are all candidates for that role at this point.
Oh, and coming as a surprise to nobody, Anders Carlson made all of his field goals at today’s practice. Color me shocked.
More to come, War Eagle!