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Nerd’s Take: A-Day Expectations

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Some thoughts on tomorrow’s spring game.

Syndication: The Montgomery Advertiser Jake Crandall via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Usually this is when I’d say something like “tomorrow will be Auburn fans first chance to see this year’s team” but that’s not entirely true this spring. Auburn’s new head coach has already held an open practice and was planning on having a semi-open scrimmage before rain ruined the plans. So tomorrow’s A-Day will instead be another chance for Auburn fans to check out Harsin’s inaugural squad.

Here’s a breakdown of what I want to see tomorrow.

No Injuries

I know this is the most dad take ever but it’s the truth. A successful A-Day is an A-Day where the Tigers suffer no major injuries. Outside of Jeremiah Wright’s ACL injury, Auburn is relatively healthy as they get ready to close out the spring. We want to keep it that way and have this team near 100% health wise for the start of fall camp.

An Accurate Bo Nix

I don’t expect Auburn’s offense to light up the scoreboard tomorrow unless there’s a lot of 1st vs 2nd team. The Tigers’ offense is transitioning from a purposefully small playbook geared towards going fast to a much thicker one that puts more responsibility on the players. There’s going to be a steep learning curve and I don’t expect the Tigers offense to be anywhere close to clicking just yet.

So tomorrow is less about stats and more about evaluating the process. Is Bo not only completing passes but putting his WRs in position to avoid big hits or to make plays after the catch? Is he watching the rush and bailing early or is he buying time inside the pocket and delivering accurate balls under pressure? Is he waiting for wide receivers to break open or is he throwing them open?

I don’t expect Bo to look like Joe Burrow tomorrow afternoon but I want to see improvement especially in an environment where there’s very little pressure. If Auburn has any hope of making some noise this fall they need their former 5-star QB to start taking some big steps forward this off-season.

Ferocious Pass Rush

Bryan Harsin’s openness and honesty during his press conferences have been refreshing. He’s not shied away from the fact that Auburn’s offensive line continues to be a work in progress. It appears they continue to make strides as run blockers but pass protection is still inconsistent.

On the flip side, Auburn’s defense’s achilles heel in recent seasons has been their inability to get pressure on the QB. The 2020 defense would have been just fine if they could have found a way to get off the field on 3rd down. Instead, they couldn’t save the offense because they were ranked last in 3rd down defense.

That means I want to see this group get after Auburn’s quarterbacks tomorrow. I want to see guys like Derick Hall, T.D. Moultry, Jaren Handy, and Colby Wooden getting consistent pressure. This group should be more dominant than Auburn’s OL in passing situations so let’s see it.

Scheme Insight

Finally, what I am most excited about for tomorrow is the chance to actually see what the core of Auburn’s playbook, on both sides of the ball, will look like this fall. I expect the Tigers to be pretty vanilla but there can be plenty of insights from just base scheme.

What are going to be Auburn’s bread and butter run concepts on offense? What does Auburn’s base defense look like under Derek Mason? How “multiple” will Auburn actually be on both sides of the ball?

There has been a lot written about what to expect from Auburn’s new coordinators but Saturday will be a chance to actually see what will make up the foundation of Auburn’s scheme on both sides of the ball. My guess is we will see a lot of 12 (1 running back, 2 tight ends) and 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end) personnel on offense lining up in a variety of formations running a small amount of concepts. Defensively, my guess is you will see Auburn mostly utilize a 3-4 look against the offense’s heavier personnel and Mason’s 2-4-5 nickel package against those spread looks. Specifically, I am very interested to see what fronts Auburn favors under Mason and how certain players fit into that scheme.

Final Thoughts

We won’t really know how good or not good this team is based off tomorrow’s scrimmage. We also are unlikely to really know who is set to breakout this fall and who isn’t. We’ve seen in the past that a successful showing on A-Day is not a sign of an incoming breakout season just like a pedestrian performance doesn’t spell doom for a player’s chances to make an impact this fall. A-Day is just one of 15 spring practices and it’s important keep that context.

But spring games are always a little more exciting under a new regime. It’s a chance to maybe get a little taste of what this program might look like under new head coach Bryan Harsin. As always a daunting schedule awaits the Tigers this fall but tomorrow we can at least rest comfortably with the knowledge that Auburn is gonna win the football game.

War Eagle