There was probably a moment in the last few days, after all of the basketball had wrapped up, that you realized A-Day was this weekend. In fact, I’d wager to bet a large chunk of the Auburn fan base didn’t even realize spring practice had started. The magic that was March 2019 cast a shadow on the Auburn football program that I’m sure Gus Malzahn was elated about, because for the first time since he was in Jonesboro in 2012, the general public just wasn’t invested in his football program’s spring practices.
After a fall that was fraught with secret meetings, booster civil wars, and the University trying to bluff Gus into waiving his buyout, this spring has been a revelation for the program. This, despite a raging quarterback battle with no clear favorite, in a season in which 8 wins might result in a change in leadership on the Plains.
Alas, spring practices are coming to an end, and A-Day is here. Complain as you might about how pointless the game is and that’s it’s a “glorified scrimmage”, you know you’ll be reacting to performances in this game all summer long. So what exactly do we have to look forward to tomorrow?
The Quarterback Battle
Despite being the campaign leader for the wily veteran Cord Sandberg (#ForTheReCord), objectively I have to tell you this is still a wide-open battle. As a matter of fact, three different quarterbacks (Bo Nix, Joey Gatewood, Malik Willis) have been seen taking snaps with the 1’s throughout the spring. A rotation hasn’t been decided as of earlier this week, but I think it’s safe to assume all of the quarterbacks will get their shot. It’s sounded like the two freshmen have had the edge in spring practices so far, but I wouldn’t expect anyone to be named starter until the fall.
The Line of Scrimmage
No two units were further apart in performance last year than the offense and defensive lines. While the defensive front four was one of the top run stopping units in the country last year, the offensive line was a sieve in both run and pass block situations. This resulted in a breakdown in the chemistry and flow of the offense – even when the offensive line began to improve, the offense as a whole had become so dysfunctional that it could not put a consistent game together outside of the Music City Bowl. In 2019, the Tigers only lose one starter from either side of the line, DT Dontavious Russell. While his presence as a black hole in the interior of the defensive line will be missed, it’s safe to say both units should be expected to be the most experienced on the team.
The defensive line returns Nick Coe, Marlon Davidson, and, most surprisingly, Derrick Brown, along with a bevy of highly touted if inexperienced depth, such as Tyrone Truesdell, TD Moultry, Big Kat Bryant, Coynis Miller, and more. I’ll be interested in seeing the rotation of this group tomorrow, as even the second team has some players that would start on most teams in the country.
Meanwhile, the offensive line brings back all five starters. There were some serious flaws, particularly on the inside, as well as depth issues last year, but another year of experience for this group should hopefully help them significantly improve. From left to right, the starting line will probably go Tega, Harrell, Kim, Horton, and Driscoll. As mentioned, the unit improved and put up better than expected (though still not great) performances against UGA and Alabama before showing out against an undermatched Purdue team, but they will have to be blocking for a new quarterback this fall. While I don’t have high hopes for them against their defensive counterparts Saturday, a good showing would do wonders to ease the concerns for Auburn fans everywhere.
All New Linebackers
The strength of the team last year, Auburn is going to be breaking in a whole new set of linebackers this year. While they’ve gotten plenty of positive reviews, they will likely be targeted as the weak spot of the defense this year. Juniors Wooten and Britt are likely going to be the two guys who see the field the most, especially in the early season, but 5* freshman Owen Pappoe has been pushing hard this spring to show he’s more than just a highly touted recruit. Saturday will be the first good look most Auburn fans will get of Pappoe, and I for one am excited.
Remember, spring games are more for the fans than they are for the team. It’s a chance to get outside, catch up with your tailgating friends, get excited about what’s to come in the fall, and find something to talk about all summer while we count down the days. It’s a chance for some of the younger guys to show out in front of the home crowd. You won’t find out anything new about playcalling or scheme from this, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Just don’t take it too seriously.
And bring your sunscreen.